How to play…… Beethoven – Rondo from Sonatina in F, Anh 5

This carefree ‘Rondo’ is an excellent introduction to the piano music of Beethoven for the intermediate student, offering a taster of what wonders and variety there is to enjoy and explore in his Piano Sonatas. Composed c1785, the Sonatina in F, Anh 5 is in two movements, and displays many of the style traits present in his more mature works.

The movement is in Rondo form, and the first thing I do when teaching this piece, is to ask the student to identify the rondo theme, and flag up wherever it appears later on in the music. We call it [A]. We then look for other themes and motifs – each new motif has a new letter (B, C, D etc) – to see how Rondo form is structured.

The score can appear daunting to the student who has been used to playing pieces of just a page, but a quick study of the score reveals that once the first appearance of the Rondo Theme is learnt, each reappearance of it can also be considered “learnt”, thus shrinking the piece considerably! I usually suggest some “listening homework” in the form of Beethoven’s Rondo a Capriccio in G, op 129, the famous ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny,’ where the contrasting Rondo sections can be clearly heard.

The effectiveness of this movement comes from Beethoven’s very clearly defined changes in articulation (staccato, legato etc) and dynamics, as well as the modulation into D minor (the relative minor of F major) at bar 37, and textural changes (the semi-quaver passages in the B section, bars 17-29, and the legato and drop slurs in the D minor section).

It is helpful to think of this piece in “orchestral terms” and to imagine which instruments of the orchestra might be playing at certain points in the music. For example, the opening 4 bars, marked piano, suggest an oboe or clarinet in the right hand, with a bassoon in the left. Be careful to observe the staccato markings exactly as written through these bars (and wherever this motif appears): the slur from C sharp to D adds a certain wit and humour. A neat turn (which should be kept as light as possible) leads into a forte section, suggesting the full orchestra (“tutti”), but be careful not to over-emphasise the bass notes through here. Again, observe the slurs and staccato as written, lifting off the staccato quavers. Students with a sufficient hand stretch can attempt to play the arpeggiated chord with “finger pedal” (spreading the chord but holding all the notes down), or a with a little direct pedal. A brief fermata here prepares us for the “bridge”, a little scalic pattern leading back into the Rondo theme. This needs to be played to indicate that it is connected to the Rondo theme, rather than an after-thought to what has just been played.

The left hand part of the A section offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the Alberti Bass, and a degree of rotary movement is useful through here to keep the left hand quavers from dominating. When working on this section, I ask students to play the upper notes of this figure, so that they can hear the simple melody embedded in there (a trick I learnt while working on Beethoven’s more sedate and elegant Rondo in C Op 51, no. 1). This allows some shaping within this Alberti Bass figure.

The B section, after the double bar, is busy with semiquavers, which require a light touch and some lateral arm movement to keep them fluent and prevent them sounding too “notey”. The notes actually sit comfortably under the fingers, so long as a good fingering scheme is learnt at the outset. Don’t be tempted to start the crescendo (from bar 21) too soon to achieve the full impact of the forte passage (bars 25-26), and don’t push the right hand. The chromatic scale (bars 27-28) is the next bridge back to the Rondo theme and there is scope for a fractional rit. through here, to increase the dramatic effect.

The C section is more lyrical and romantic. Be careful to achieve the right balance between the hands (use the same technique for the Alberti Bass as in the Rondo theme) and don’t be tempted to thrash that accents (think more emphasis rather than a “shout”). Observe the drop slurs in bars 46-47 – the fingering is there to help achieve the desired “drop-float” effect.

After the double bar at bar 67 is another bridging section, which has the sense of improvisation (a common device in music from this period). Again, be sure to observe the slurs in the left hand broken chords, and the rests. Enjoy the grand fermata (pause) at bar 71, and treat the “ad libitum” (which literally means “freedom to improvise”) as a mini cadenza (i.e. allow some tempo rubato through here). The ornaments in bar 74 turn this run into two groups of four semiquavers, which should be played as drop slurs.

The Rondo theme returns at bar 75, with a restatement of the exuberance and fun of the opening: enjoy the contrast with the preceding material.

Find the complete score at IMSLP

Further listening:

Beethoven – Rondo A Capriccio In G Major, Op. 129, “Rage Over A Lost Penny”

Beethoven – Rondo in C, Op.51, No.1

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At the Piano With……GéNIA

I recently had the privilege of interviewing the Russian pianist, teacher and creator of Piano-Yoga® GéNIA (Evgenia Chudinovich). The interview took place at London’s prestigious Steinway Hall and has been edited into six parts, each of which covers different aspects of GéNIA’s varied pianistic and teaching life and career.

Click on a video to watch the interview.

At the Piano With……Frances Wilson

AT THE PIANO WITH……is a series of interviews with piano teachers which is running on my sister blog, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, with occasional posts on this blog.

What is your first memory of the piano?

My paternal grandfather playing Methodist hymns and excerpts from Bach, Haydn and Beethoven on the Victorian upright piano in the “parlour” (front room) of his house in Ipswich.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

There was no “eureka moment”, or a driving ambition to be a piano teacher. In fact, it happened by accident. A friend of mine, whose daughter was in the same class as my son at primary school, knew I played and asked if I would teach her daughter. I thought “why not give it a try?” and so Rose and I set off on a journey of discovery together. It was a bit hit and miss at first, but I soon discovered I enjoyed it and developed my own teaching style and approach.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

My second piano teacher, Mrs Murdoch, in Rickmansworth taught me how to appreciate Bach, an appreciation I retain to this day. My music teacher at secondary school has been a major influence on my teaching: I often hear Mr Weaver at my back when I’m teaching. He was a very committed, enthusiastic and energetic teacher, and I hope my teaching, in a small way, emulates his. My current teacher is also significant: she unpicked 25 years of bad habits, accumulated between ceasing lessons in my late teens, and returning in my 40s, and has taught me confidence and self-belief. I would never have passed my first Diploma with distinction without her support.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

See above. My blogging has put me in touch with teachers and pianists around the world and I find the exchange of information and ideas very useful to my teaching and my playing. I find there is also a lot to be gained from talking to professional musicians (who may not be teachers).

Frances Wilson ATCL
Frances Wilson ATCL

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Every week something happens which is wonderful and memorable, but Lucy gaining a Merit in her Grade 1 was pretty special (the first student I entered for an exam). Seeing and hearing my students perform at our annual concerts is always lovely too.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

The interaction between an adult student and me as teacher is more interesting and often more involved than with a child. Adults are generally very committed and keen, but they tend to be far more nervous than children and need support and encouragement to overcome their anxiety. Others have slightly over-ambitious ideas about what they can play, but I would never discourage a student from trying repertoire that might be beyond them. If it is really impossible, one can always offer a simplified version…..

What do you expect from your students?

  • Respect – towards the piano, the score, the composer’s intentions, and me
  • Willingness to learn, and being prepared to put in the hours practising
  • Not playing when I am talking (very distracting!)

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams are a useful obvious benchmark of progress, and many students want to take them for this reason. I am not a teacher who lives by her results and I would never enter a student for an exam if I felt they were not fully prepared. I am wary of parents (and children) who see the accumulation of exam results as the be all and end all of musical study. My main aim is to share my enthusiasm and passion for the piano and its literature.

Festivals are a great opportunity to put repertoire before an audience, perhaps ahead of an exam, and the adjudicator’s remarks are often kinder (but no less useful) than those of an examiner.

I have had no direct experience of competitions, but my views are mixed. Some students see competitions as a means to an end – i.e. a professional career. But a win at a competition does not necessarily guarantee this. I am wary of the “Three C’s” – Conservatoire, Competition, Concerto – and feel that any student of music should have a rounded education, with broad musical horizons.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

Beginners – the will and enthusiasm to learn, and an ability to stick with it. Learning to play the piano is hard! But regular practise leads to noticeable progress.

Advanced students – stick with it! Play what you love, and don’t select repertoire just because you think it will impress an examiner, tutor or competition jury. Try to find your own musical voice and artistic vision, and don’t forever compare yourself to others.

What are you thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

A teacher who is teaching students to perform – whether in student concerts, exams, festivals or competitions – should be a performer him/herself. How else can you teach performance? Performance requires special talents, which cannot be taught unless you have direct experience yourself.

Who are your favourite pianists and why?

Maria Joao Pires – sensitivity and musical understanding, particularly in Schubert

Mitsuko Uchida – her Mozart playing is second to none.

Murray Perahia – an ability to highlight all the interior architecture in the score. He is particularly fine in Bach and Chopin

Glenn Gould – a maverick and a genius. No one else plays Bach like Gould did!

Marc-Andre Hamelin – technical prowess and proof than anything is possible

Pierre-Laurent Aimard – a profound and insightful pianist, particularly in Liszt, Debussy and Messiaen

Peter Donohoe – a formidable talent, and a thoroughly nice bloke, who is never too busy to offer advice and support.

Frances Wilson runs a busy private piano teaching practice in SW London. A keen concert goer, Frances writes music reviews for international concert and opera listing site Bachtrack.com, and blogs on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. (She is also the author of this blog.) Currently studying with Penelope Roskell, Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

More At the Piano interviews here