Practicing Valse le Printemps

This morning I decided to practice Valse le Printemps by Teresa Carreño. And now I think I’ve learned a new English term – appoggiatura. (Grace notes, but many of them.) If you play Carreño, you will very soon know what this is, I promise.

Well, I suppose my practicing habits are not always to be considered as “wise” or “effective” – or maybe that is what they are, I don’t know. As Boredom is the real kiss of death when you practice, I do anything not to lose my interest, and one little trick is to have lots of projects … actually too many of them, which means that my progress in each one of them may seem a bit too slow. Therefore, this walz has been peacefully resting for more than a week, while I had to focus entirely on Chopin and Fanny Mendelssohn for a while. On the other hand, I did not notice today that this has been bad for my dear Carreño. It did not felt dusty at all.

This is a walz, and before it I had some silly and vague ideas that walzes are easy, as the accompaniment in the left hand usually is very standard um-pa-pa. Problem is, that some of these um-pa-pa beats include long jumps over the keyboard and that is not totally trivial, especially in a fast and powerful piece like this one. So today I have made a lot of HS practice with just the walz beat. Have to be careful not to overpractice, though, as it is quite tough for my left arm. And how heavy should the first beat be, really? Need to think about it.

But hey, I love this piece. It is so cheerful, a real show-stopper so to speak. And be welcome to enjoy this video visually as well – the footage is delightful. This is also the only recording of this walz I have found on the Internet.

I brought this to the summer school in England last year, when I had not started with it “for real”. My teacher last summer, Philip Fowke, enthusiastically exclaimed “oh, I love this kind of music!” when he had tried a few bars. leprintemps1On the other hand, he also made some very strict remarks when we were sitting with the grandiose intro: “What are the harmonies here? You don’t know the harmonies? You will never learn a piece like this unless you don’t know the harmonies!”

I suddenly felt a bit unsure what a harmony really is, by strict definition, so there was a moment of slight awkwardness. Ok, but I think I have understood what he meant. Chord progressions. And being a dutiful student, I have really tried to pick out the chord progressions and play just the harmonies in pieces ever since. Yes, it has been helpful.

I also have a big, framed quote beside my notes, with his very firm directive DON’T MOVE UNTIL YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING.

That was also a real good piece of advice. Still I often bust myself when my hand is making some kind of vague waving in the air. No, I am not trying to conduct an invisible and unexistent orchestra, even if it sometimes may look like that. I am trying to quickly determine where I was going. Read my words above again about long jumps in fast walzes. Far too often I play a chord, then lift my arm to go … um … wait … and then I have to check, and if the chord is complicated I also need to investigate it once again, as I don’t know the piece well enough to have it perfectly memorized.

Some kind of poor sight-reading, that is. It was good that someone pointed this issue out to me, or I would not even have been aware of it. So, when I deliberately work with this, I let my hand rest on the previous chord while I plan my move, and then I make a very quick move. It may break the rythm a bit if my tempo is too fast, but I avoid the mistake. This is what I was doing today.

I have now also learnt the little trick of playing the lower bass note as an octave, which means that the thumb is supporting the fifth finger (as I am dead sure on how to play a simple octave, this is engraved in my hands now). This will make the long jump much shorter, and then it is not difficult anymore. Another tip which I got from, among others, Philip. Thank you!

Then the “complicated” chords – today I decided to play just the upper and the lower notes of a chord if I still hesitate. Yup, it worked. The notes inbetween just fell in place then I focused on upper and lower instead.

And so those appoggiaturas, who make this piece so lovely and yet are so difficult to make light and even all the time. My present teacher suggested me to use one day to play the piece without them, and instead practice them separately. Done. I was quite satisfied with the result.

One hour with this walz, that was. And I have not even played it all through yet … Next session should be about Chopin again. Or maybe Beethoven. I haven’t made up my mind yet.


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