02 September 2011
Read the start of Janet Newman's lesson on this gorgeous Chopin piece, which features in the Scores section of Pianist 62.
Imagine how this piece would sound if played by a string quartet and try to imitate the cellist in the LH as this helps to think your way into a warm, golden tone
All in the balance
Essentially, this introspective, melancholy piece is a study in balance between the hands. Having taught this prélude many times, I’m very aware of the difficulties that less-experienced pianists encounter with making the left hand (LH) more prominently cantabile than when the right hand (RH) has the melody. You will need to do a great deal of listening to the tone you make in order to achieve the correct balance.
One way to help with strengthening awareness of the LH is to practise a simple five-finger exercise, one I often use with my students. Play from C–G in both hands using 1–5/5–1 fingering. Start playing at the same level of tone in each hand but then decrease the sound in one hand while, at the same time, increasing the tone in the other. When you can really hear the difference in contrast between the hands, start to reverse the process so that the hand that was playing quietly becomes louder and the one playing louder earlier becomes quieter. This is harder to do than it may sound, but once you’ve mastered it, transpose the exercise into different keys – always making sure that you have not changed the fingering, even if it is in F# major!
Legato with the left
One of the hardest sounds to make as a pianist is a true legato – it’s actually impossible, given the fact the piano is classed as a percussion instrument. Right from the start of your work on this piece, you need to practise the LH alone a great deal. Watch out for ‘bumpy’ thumbs and experiment with fingerings to find the one that best suits your hand shape. You will notice that in some places in the LH (such as bars 2, 4 and 10), the score suggests that you silently change the fingering over a certain note. This will then allow for a smooth transition to the next note. This technique, finger substitution, is used a lot.
Once you have gained a familiarity with the nuts and bolts of the piece, consider how to best achieve that wonderful cantabile line mentioned earlier. I would suggest that you experiment with playing with flatter fingers – extend them and feel as if you have the maximum contact with the keys, almost ‘stroking’ them, as if to persuade the piano to sing out however ‘sotto voce’. If you find that there are still some isolated notes that stick out from the melodic line, it may be because you need to ‘grade’ the tone even more. Remember to use your arm laterally and follow the shape of the phrase with your arm; use no vertical movements at all. This really helps to shape the music to give you the utmost chance of achieving the arc of the legato line.
A note about the pedalling
The pedalling in this piece is relatively straightforward but calls, as always, for sensitivity to the clarity of sound. (Note: in most Chopin editions, pedalling is not marked into the score.) In our score, we offer pedalling advice in certain places.....cont.
The full lesson appears in issue 62. Alternatively, start a subscription to Pianist!