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Playing Mozart: Phrasing and Nuance

Expressing Mozart’s piano music beautifully is a composite of many ingredients that include vocal modeling; an understanding of form/structure and harmonic elements; sound imaging, and in the cosmos of the imagination, exploring how to produce what we want to hear. In our ongoing phase of “experimentation,” we delve through a terrain of unclarity, seeking ways to phrase expressively with shape and contour, accepting the premise that decisions we make are subject to change as our immersion deepens.

In a spirit of being receptive to a filter of new “ideas”, I revisited Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 332, (Exposition) recreating the steps I took in sculpting phrases.

Along the path of my renewed journey, I discovered the following “POINTS of Interest” about the Exposition that provided a necessary framing of my re-learning process. I borrow a few, in part, from Dr. Clark Ross: http://www.clarkross.ca/143_Mozart_k332_I_Exp.pdf

“There are several thematic ideas, if the transition is included. Each of the thematic ideas has a musical character that is distinct from the others.” (My comment, I found many more thematic strands in this Exposition than in most of the Mozart Sonatas I’ve studied, and each needs a unique realization through a synthesis of the musical and physical aspects of playing.)

“Principal Theme 2, (PT2) and Second Theme 3 (ST3) have similar textures (homo-rhythmic, homophonic) but their character is different. PT2 is playful, dance-like, while ST3 is more solemn and chorale-like.

“The direct modulation to d minor at the beginning of the transition (in a markedly contrasting section) is striking. It’s part of the abrupt dramatic change to the “Sturm und Drang” character. “Storm and Stress.” (from Wikipedia: Sturm und Drang is literally “turbulence and urgency.”)

(Paraphrase)…. This transition is uniquely syncopated and intense, emphasized by frequent Sforzando markings–(I note a poignant sequential modulation from D minor to C minor, via diminished chord entrances) SEQUENCES, like these, are formidable in Mozart’s music and provoke emotional/aesthetic responses.

Dr. Ross effectively reinforces structural and harmonic considerations in the Exposition that are important underpinnings of analyses, but these will not amply address the aesthetics of creating well-shaped phrases with a Mozartean singing-tone character.

In my tutorial, I absorbed a harmonic and structural dimension that ultimately complemented and expanded a hands-on, “experimental” journey through the Exposition. It included “emotional” responses to harmonic shifts and sequences that permeate the composer’s music, while it infused the learning process with a pronounced feature of attentive listening. (i.e Listening to the decay from a previous note or sonority into the next, especially in crossover measures) Riveted attention to dissolving tones, prevents unwanted accents in measures where students misguidedly believe that the first beat of 3/4, in this instance, comes with an unchallenged pronounced emphasis. If executed in this way, a phrase can be upended by interruptions in the smooth flow of a musical line. Similarly, crescendo’s made prematurely and peaking on a downbeat, because of metrical misconception, must be re-aligned otherwise to enhance expressive playing.

Where Mozart has a plethora of juxtaposed repeated notes in his contrasting themes, I demonstrate ways of shaping these, so they’re not robotically rendered.

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W.A. Mozart Minuets: Valuable Journeys of Discovery

It’s easy to be dismissive of the Classical era Minuet form, though in the hands of a wunderkind like Mozart, a set of these 3/4 meter Binary dances springs to life with a myriad of embedded learning and performance challenges.

For example, the Minuet in F Major, K. 2 composed by Mozart at age 6, (1782) and notated by his father, Leopold, presents a motif of broken chords cloaked in repetitive rhythms of two eighth notes followed by two quarters. If these figures are played without a consciousness of harmonic function, they will march along lacking the expressive dimension they deserve. Given the composer’s formidable vocal signature that cannot be lost through permeating rhythms, the performer must nuance phrases guided, in part, by how each unfolding broken chord in the melody, flows into the next. (An economy of TWO VOICES still provides the very markers of harmonic expression that enrich a reading.)

In the first measure, the outline of the F Major Tonic leads into the second bar on the level of the Sub-dominant (Bb Major outline), yet an illusion of the first measure feeling like the DOMINANT of Bb Major to an imagined new Tonic in a related key sets up a nice dip from Dominant to Tonic. I found this nuance to work well in the harmonic universe of thinking and interpretation. Naturally, the vehicle of redundant rhythms also demanded a decision about second and third beat note repetitions. Instinctively, I lifted the third beat and therefore lightened the repeated note (last beat) of each measure. Suspensions and appoggiaturas suggested a leaning on the dissonant note with a wrist forward relaxation motion upon resolution and groupings of notes/leanings and detachments in tenuto style factored into interpretation.

Measures 5, 6, and 7 encompass a blossoming crescendo that has a directional shift UPWARD through the broken chord melodic outline as compared to the opening. With the added vitality of an inserted triplet figure, the music spills robustly into a semi-cadence at m. 8 with a LEAN/relax appoggiatura. This DOMINANT C Major Cadence at mid-point, is UP-lifting!

The longer B section (measures, 9-24) proceeds with a tad of operatic drama, though one cannot take this perception to an extreme given the concise confines of a charming Minuet. Yet, the very entry into these measures through a broken diminished 7th chord resolving to the “minor,” (g minor) creates a mood shift that suggests a feeling of pathos. Such should not be lost or overlooked. (The B section, in general will provide elements of “development” that will unfold, albeit briefly, in the language of key change or modulation.)

Finally, a pivot broken chord in G minor serving as the ii chord of F Major (the home key)–measures 13-14, gracefully sequences the music back to the refreshment of F Major and the return of a more lighthearted conclusion to the work, but with a heartfelt delay of a Deceptive cadence (vi chord) in measure 20. (A fermata gives emphasis to the unexpected, and this infusion of embedded emotion defers gracefully to a charming ending on the tonic in the last measure.

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The Minuet in F Major, K. 5, (1762) is almost a polar opposite in character when compared to K. 2. Its formidably bi-rhythmic dimension juxtaposes a division of the quarter note in triplets against a division of the same into 4-sixteenth notes. (and in reverse) Yet, as always, the SINGING dimension of this composition must be preserved through its outpouring of rippling notes while an awareness of SEQUENCES, particularly in the B section is paramount to a convincing musical interpretation.

Page 1:

My Tutorial: (Provides details of analysis and strategies of learning)

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Minuet and Trio in G Major, K. 1 represents a form that adds a 3-voice Trio section. The outer sections, in two voices, are notably permeated by parallel tenths, with still quicker inserted 16th flourishes in tenths evoking an operatic duet.

The tutorial below explores structure, voicing, and ways to nuance phrases using a supple wrist, singing tone approach.

According to Notes provided in the Alfred Edition, this Minuet is “unusual in its shifting phrases and rhythms.” The composition was Mozart’s creation at age five.

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Would Mozart believe he was “banned” worldwide?!

Mozart

I thought it would never happen! An instant banishment from cyber-space! Mozart’s beloved Andante from Sonata K. 283 was the victim of pure and simple tyranny by the you tube police! The stand-in argonaut imperialist Hyperion, a recording company whose reach extended above and beyond PUBLIC DOMAIN, wrenched my upload from its earthly existence with a bundled threat to annihilate my Google Plus fueled Channel.

Should I be specific and name, Names? I’m sure the well-known pianist, who is one of hundreds to record the precious Mozart middle movement, had nothing to do with the iron fist of Hyperion, though I was made aware that his identity was woven into the plot to kill my posting. Perhaps he was innocently caught in the middle of a copyright infringement charge leveled at me, having no rhyme or reason to snatch my version of Mozart’s precious middle movement.

With a knee-jerk empowering reflex, I “disputed” the ban, checking pertinent boxes with an added typed footnote defending my right to play a dead composer’s creation that dated back to the 18th century. I reserved the RIGHT TO CLAIM that my posting had educational value, not redeemable in $$$…

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With satire put aside, scores of you tubing musicians are up in arms, rallying against prohibitions imposed on our Classical music uploads–We’re appalled at corporate ownership claims of long deceased composers. It’s basically a Citizen’s United crossover into the musical universe with the Corporate Recording INDUSTRIAL Complex (CRIC) using BRUTE FORCE to rid cyber of Indies, viewed as a threat to the MONOPOLIZING OLIGARCHY!

(DO I SOUND LIKE BERNIE SANDERS??! Who cares? He’s got my vote!)

Enough said.

My Online delivered defense against HYPERION’S CHARGES elicited a YOU TUBE channeled withdrawal of the world-wide ban.

In its place, a captioned “Disputed third party matched content” was affixed.

In conclusion, Regardless of bullying Big MONEY interests, musicians the world over won’t capitulate.

By example, I just posted another Mozart middle movement that narrowly escaped the Ban. So there!

UPDATE: November 10, 2105 at 8:38 a.m.
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Hi Shirley Kirsten,
Good news! Your dispute wasn’t reviewed within 30 days, so the copyright claim on your YouTube video has now been released.
Video title: “(HD) W.A. Mozart Sonata No. 5 in G, K. 283, Andante, movement 2”
– The YouTube Team

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Exploring Mozart Sonata No. 5 in G, K. 283 (First movement, Allegro)

The learning exchange between student and teacher is heightened when a new piece is introduced. In the case of Mozart’s charming, early period Sonata no. 5 in G, it became a revisit for me that brought new revelations that I shared during the course of weekly lessons.

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Mozart presents a challenge in capturing a singing tone that is emblematic of the opera. (From Wiki: “The work was written down during the visit Mozart paid to Munich for the production of his La finta giardiniera from late 1774 to the beginning of the following March.”)

At least when playing the opening allegro of K.283, even the Forte-pianos (f-ps), that might suggest more abrupt and decisive accents in Beethoven’s mid-period sonatas, are far more elegantly played in Mozart’s early sonata vocabulary so one should be able to sing them.

Bass notes in a parallel octave progression moving in an intensifying fashion seem to be yielding to those doubled in the treble, lest they sound too ponderous for the period. Therefore, one must respect a fine line of sensitivity in their execution.

Pianist, Murray Perahia speaks of the singing pulse in Mozart works, and I must agree. He states that a rubato lives within the composer’s music but not necessarily taken with such liberty as would apply to Chopin and the Romantics.

Finally, in my tutorial, I try to apply educated instincts and intuition to my exploration of the opening Allegro, K.283, with a focus on the singing tone, phrasing, harmonic rhythm and form.

The Exposition is naturally a springboard for my analysis of the whole movement that weaves in motivic and harmonic tie-ins.

Mozart Sonata K283 p. 1 Allegro 1

Mozart Sonata K283 p. 2 Allegro

Play Through:

Instruction:

From Wiki

“Piano Sonata No. 5 (Mozart)

“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in G major, K 283 (189h) (1774) is a piano sonata in three movements:

Allegro
Andante
Presto

“This sonata is part of the earliest group of sonatas that Mozart published in the mid-1770s. The first movement is a sonata-allegro movement that is concise, with an economy of materials. The development section is a mere 18 measures long. The shorter length and moderate technical demands make it an ideal piece for early-advanced study and performance.

“A typical performance takes twelve to eighteen (Richter) minutes.”

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Applying technical skills to sensitive music learning, and reading between the lines

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Just when I thought my wellspring of blog inspired ideas had endured a drought, I had a nagging thirst to explore how technical tools (playing scales, arpeggios, chords, octaves, etc) are woven into music study. Allied to this undertaking, was the idea of inferences and how we make certain decisions about phrasing, articulation, etc. based upon a firm bedding of knowledge wedded to intuition.

So having introduced this post cloaked in abstraction and a degree of eclectics, I'm coming down to earth, digging deeply into an exemplary composition that's packed with inferences, (reading between the line opportunities) while it has a touch/tone universe of color and expression worth sampling.

W.A. Mozart’s final movement, Allegro Assai of Sonata No. 12 in F, K. 332, is a gorgeous mosaic of Classical era expression. The composer runs the gamut from impassioned strings of 16ths careening down in the opener, to sudden coquettish interludes with varied detached notes, some of which are press-lifted, and not calling for crisp finger releases. To complicate matters, both hands playing together, are not always synched in with matched detachments. Even the Urtext edition may not give precise directions about execution of staccato, non-legato, potato, or tenuto, etc.

And that’s where inferences and good musical instincts kick in. (Performance practice is without doubt a vital ingredient in the mix)

In my examination of this final movement, I explore more than what exists between the lines. My focus is primarily how our technical repository feeds repertoire–how we must take our well honed skills and apply them to our pieces so they have relevance to our total musical journey.

Rather than write about aesthetic decisions and the intertwined skills we need to grow as musicians, I will reference the video below as the best living, breathing example of satisfying a personal quest for knowledge.

Instruction: (Technique, inferences, etc.)

Play Through:

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Boris Berman: How to connect with the music after over-practicing

I think Maestro Berman said it well, yet from my own experience, over-practicing is less a problem than failing to listen attentively through every phase of learning a composition. If a student does not fine tune each repetition, but considers only right notes in fast speed as the desired end, then phrasing, nuance and aesthetics, are unfortunately lost in the shuffle.

I use an example from my own practice room: a tricky 64th note passage in the Adagio movement of Mozart Sonata K. 332. Certainly one can render a fast chromatic without a second thought, but that is far below the ideal of shaping a line, and drawing the listener to what beauty the composer has created. I believe that experimentation is a big component of practicing that leads the player to new revelations in an unfolding creative process.

Mozart K. 332 Adagio tricky passage

LINKS:

http://music.yale.edu/faculty/berman-boris/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/inspiring-masterclasses-of-boris-berman-russian-pianist-videos/

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Piano Technique: Trills and the vocal model

Joyce Di Donato, “lyric-coloratura mezzo-soprano,” is my model for trilling. In an embedded you tube video, the opera singer emphasizes the undulating character of a beautifully executed trill that leans on the upper note. (Too often pianists deliver a robotic stream of alternating notes that’s shapeless and out of breath, ignoring an internal flow and contour.) If we listen to birds chirping with their never-ending auditory appeal, we might gain valuable insight into trill production.

Here’s Joyce working on trills with a student at the Royal College of Music in London. It’s a nice point of departure for a musical transfer to the piano.

Below is a brief supplementary trill instruction followed by my teacher snatches from a LIVE interchange with an adult student at her Walnut Creek home. In the latter, I demonstrate on her magnificent vintage Steinway A. (1911)

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My teacher examples, that are LIVE lesson recorded excerpts are meant to assist the student’s practicing during the week: