Piano teaching

Coffee Shop Questions: Beethoven ‘Tempest’ Sonata

JJ writes: Hi Fran – I’m having trouble playing the tremolos in Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata (1st movement) evenly and at speed, with L and R hands well synchronised. Have tried practising slowly, etc. but still having difficulty. 

Hi JJ –

These passages are tricky technically and artistically as you don’t want the triplets to have a robotic, “nee-naw” ambulance siren sound, and while you need to retain a clear sense of the pulse, they should sound dramatic while not dominating the melodic line. Maintaining the dynamic level is tricky too – these sections should be a ‘rumbling murmur’ under the melody.

Any figure like this requires a flexible wrist which will help with sound production and good tone (see above). This will sound counter-intuitive, but you want to try to avoid using your fingers too much here (!). Instead, use rotary movement in the wrist and forearm to drive the fingers across the keys to create the rolling, ‘trembling’ sound required for these passages. You can practice this away from the keyboard or on the lid of the piano: imagine you are turning an old-fashioned door knob or cooker knob. Watch your wrist as you do this and observe the wrist and forearm rolling from side to side in a circular movement. Note the position of the thumb and little finger and how they naturally touch the keys (or lid of piano) through this movement alone. If only the thumb and little finger move, the wrist is tight, the forearm is not engaged, and you are playing with fingers alone. This will eventually lead to tiredness and, potentially, pain when playing.

This is an excellent example of how technique serves the music, enabling you to create the desired dramatic sound effect.

For more detailed advice on practising this section, I’m going to refer you to one of my teachers, Graham Fitch, who has some excellent practice suggestions for the tremolo sections.



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