Jon Lee


Bach and Mozart… they were a little naughty

A program is born

The new score arrived in the mail: Wiener edition for Haydn, Hashimoto via Schirmer for Scarlatti, Barenreiter for Bach, Henle for Schumann. After listening and reading through the suggested material, I found some additional pieces to fill out the early half of my repertoire.

Scarlatti was hard to figure out because I wasn’t familiar with many of his sonatas, and in the Hashimoto edition the selected sonatas were generally grouped in sets, when Scarlatti clearly wrote juxtaposed sonatas in the same hand. That suggested the sonatas could be performed as a set, and looking through most of them, they work. They are usually the same key, and if not, in parallel keys, and their styles contrast.

Initially I thought I could start at the beginning with the first sonata in the first volume, but quickly abandoned that idea. Reading through three volumes totaling 100 sonatas would take too much time. I found myself liking one in a set but not the other. I looked for something that had some technical flair (fingered glissandi, hand-over-hand jumps, repeated notes) but also dreaded the practice that might go into them. Many of the slower tempoed sonatas felt boring to me rhythmically.

So here’s the complete program:


Went through all four in a row, C major, c minor, G major, g minor. I got lost in the middle of the c minor and didn’t travel all the way up and down.

By the time I got to the G major it started to sound engaging, and it didn’t feel as nervous as the C scales.

Next, plan and execute dynamic patterns. Up until now I was just winging the “expressive and interesting” part. Instead, planning out the shapes means that not only would the work be more thorough and complete, but it makes it easier to “whip out” any of the shapes to change the expression of a real piece. So, for example:

  1. Crescendo to top, decrescendo back down
  2. Decrescendo to top, crescendo back down
  3. Continuous crescendo
  4. Continuous decrescendo
  5. Hands have contrary dynamic directions
  6. One hand constantly crescendos, or decrescendos

What I still notice is my tendency to rush when getting louder.

“Do you practice cantabile?” Everything I’m playing is still very articulated. What does cantabile mean, then, other than crossing over finger depression to create the sense of legato? It means digging deeper with the arms and wrist, and creating a singing line.

Tackling anxiety: try practicing literally twice as slow. That provides time to think about what to play then execute. Otherwise you are playing and then listening to judge whether it came out as you expected. And then when a bump occurs, you can begin to scramble.

Brahms #17

This exercise needs to be musical too. We decided next time to move onto the next four keys: B, C, C, D.

Brahms #20

The exercise progressively got tiring for me, and the A7 figuration didn’t feel solid because all of the keys were black, and I felt like I didn’t have an anchor in my hand. Contrast with any figuration involving white keys, and the non-playing finger could generally situate themselves between black keys, preventing the hand or fingers from slipping to another key.

A suggestion way to tackle this was practice the figuration by dropping the arm down on top of the keys, playing the second intervals together. Don’t soften the drop with the arm. Also, play the intervals twice before moving on to the next interval.

Prepping a program

The whole program is probably 90–120 minutes. With limited time to practice, how do you cover this much ground?

One possible tactic is to divide the repertoire into two columns, and tackle items in each column differently per practice session. On either side of the column is a group of pieces that have relatively similar difficulty. We discussed possible pairings, and this is what I recall:

Scarlatti Bach
Mozart Haydn
Schumann Prokofiev
Liszt Schubert

The scheme begins on day one by playing through column A, and noting problem spots. On day two, only work on the spots that were listed in column A. Then play through column B, and note problem spots which will be tackled on day three. This alternation helps maintain the pieces while also be efficient in time management.

The program is long enough that I haven’t been able to successfully execute this plan. I haven’t tried, but may need to go with the three-column approach, where each piece gets skipped every third practice.

Timing of the lesson

So far, all of the hour-and-a-half lessons have spent more than one hour on just scales, with less than half an hour on actual repertoire. I receive comments once, and do my best to note them so that I can work on them on my own. It feels like I’m in college than in high school.

Bach Allemande

Execute the repeats but reserve the ornamentation for the secondary repeat. The Barenreiter edition has additional ornaments that don’t need to be played the first time.

Clarity of voicing is important here. Prioritize finger pedaling over foot pedaling. To distinguish the two lower voices, one could make one legato (the bass), and the other detached or staccato (the tenor). The conclusions of the phrases in the opening involve sixteenth notes in the bass, which characteristically should be played with staccato.

The pickup note that opens the movement should not be louder than the downbeat. It should lead to it instead.

The e minor cadence in the second half could be ornamented where the dropping thirds in the left hand have an appogiatura note in between.

Mozart First Movement

Emphasize the long notes, and “ignore” the short ones. Doing so would help communicate the architecture of the opening phrase. My tempo was too slow.

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