Week 2: Quite Franckly Fantastic / by Maire Carroll

A week on from my first post and I have been engaged in all things musical. Today I participated in a masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music with pianist Kathy Stott, performing Schubert’s Trockne Blumen Variations with Kristan Swain on flute.  However, the Franck Symphonic Variations are always on my mind!

In my lesson last Friday, my teacher and l worked on the different tempi of the work.  As l previously mentioned there are three main sections: A serious introduction - A slow middle section of variations - An ‘Allegro non troppo’ section. We discussed various techniques and hand gestures that will help me to get the rapid finger passages at full speed and how I should practice the sweeping melodic lines that look effortless on paper but in reality require a lot of attention.

The works main structure is very interesting once you observe the first few bars of each main section. It begins with an idea (1), another bar with the same or slightly varied idea (1) and then comes a two bar response to it (2).  Therefore we can say it follows a 1 bar, 1 bar then 2 bar structure. Taking the opening entry of the piano:

 And the opening of the main theme:

Being aware of this 1 + 1 + 2 bar structure is crucial to the overall musical structure of the work. As the same material is constantly being repeated and varied, it must never sound the same a second time. Judging how to do this convincingly is challenging and requires a lot of spontaneity. The most important thing to get across, for any performer, is what you want to say with the music. For example: In relation to the beginning of the work which opens with  the stentorian, angry figure in the strings against the forlorn, drooping melody, (somewhat similar to the opening of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) it is essential for me to decide exactly how l want the 1 + 1 + 2 bar idea to sound. Which bar should be louder?  How can l make the repeated version say more or less?  All of these are endless questions that require lots of thought and patience.

And with that I should get thinking!  Perhaps another recording of the work could help give me some fresh ideas. This week l have been listening to one of my all-time favourite pianists:  Alfred Cortot performing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Until next week,