What a treat for the left hand this piece is! A moody “‘cello” melody with plenty of scope for expressive shaping, with an agitated right hand figure of repeated chords, this piece is redolent of Chopin’s Étude Opus 25 no. 7.
Separate hands practice is crucial here – and not just in the early stages of learning. I learnt the Opus 25 no. 7 some years ago and rarely practiced it hands together, until the very late stages. Separate hands practice should enable proper balance between the treble and bass lines: we really want to hear that left hand melody, with the right hand chords “floating” above it.
Keep the right hand chords very soft. You can achieve this by not fully depressing the keys, nor allowing them to fully release. It’s worth practising them as single chords too so you can hear the changes in harmony. The dissonance in bar 4 (and bars 8, 14, 15, 16 and 18) adds tension and should be highlighted with a little tenuto (emphasis) on the first chord.
The quavers, in bars 3, 7, 13, 14, 15 and 17, signal the start of a new phrase each time. Lift the hand and drop into the first note of the quaver pair, allowing the wrist to sink below the level of the keys, to create emphasis. In bar 3, observe the direction to use the third finger: it is far easier to drop onto a note with the third finger because it is so strong. This will enable you to produce a sense of emphasis while retaining a good tone.
The left hand melody should be warm, rich and smooth. A cellist would play this with long movements of the bow across the strings: imagine this smooth, broad movement before you play and give each phrase dynamic colouring as the melody rises up the register.
At bar 9, the music modulates into F major (the relative major of D minor), and the forte marking at bar 10 suggests a brighter mood. However, don’t be tempted to make this forte harsh; think “warm” rather than “loud” as we still want the sense of a ‘cello sound.
At bar 17, the repeat of the figure first heard in bar 3 and then at 15, should sound like an echo or an afterthought. Fade to pianissimo with a gradual pulling back of tempo.
When I teach this piece, I often ask students to examine and hear the score of Chopin’s Etude Op 25 no. 7. This piece may be considerably more complicated than Gurlitt’s Allegro Non Troppo, but it shares many of the same features.
Here is Grigory Sokolov in Chopin’s ‘Cello’ Etude, Opus 25 no. 7. Notice the way he floats the right hand chords over the left hand melody, as well as his exquisite shaping of the ‘cello line’ in the bass.
Allegro Non Troppo