(How do you teach the difference between counting rhythm and musical rhythm?)

from the current issue, Winter 1999

Jennifer Merry's article continues . . .

In the Sailor's Dance by Bartok (For Children, Volume 1), a similar situation occurs.

While this piece is generally centered in A minor, the first section ends resolutely with two D-major chords (m. 8). The preceding measures lead one to expect a progression to D-minor, so the major sound is something to be savored. Since the chords also mark the end of a section, it makes sense to give them a bit more time. We might encourage the student to breathe slightly before the first major chord, giving it a sense of anticipation, and then make sure that both chords receive their full value, if not slightly more. Breathing again before beginning the next section at the original tempo ensures that the form is communicated to the listener.

To hear this segment performed as described, click below

221k, WAV sound file

Chopin's Prelude in E-minor, Op. 28, No. 4, which is often taught to late intermediate students, is a wonderful piece that is commonly played unmusically - how often have we heard this piece unwittingly played in 4/4, 1/4 or even 1/8 meter (rather than its actual 2/2 )?

To hear the beginning of this piece played in these three inappropriate meters, plus the authentic one, click below

WAV sound files, each one approximately 350k


The markings of Lento AND cut time may seem contradictory, but actually indicate that the music should flow with a sense of forward motion, even at a slow tempo. In measures 8 through 13, some rhythmic flexibility is needed in the right hand eighth-note passages. In m. 9, perhaps a slight accelerando through beats 2 and 3 would lead to a slight stretch in beat 4 to the F in measure 10. This flexibility is justified by the fact that these are the first eighth notes in the melody: the first four contain the high point of the musical idea which invites the slight accelerando, while the last notes create large intervals that seem to lead to the next downbeat, hence the slight stretch.

In m. 12, the right hand has the quality of a recitative: the accent on beat two (which is more a tenuto than an accent) suggests a slight lingering, then a reluctant pushing of the tempo through the triplets to the restatement of the theme in m. 13. This flexibility in tempo is justified because of the inner workings of the music: the first four notes contain resolving appoggiaturas that are widely spaced; the next five notes again seem to lead to the downbeat and the triplet functions as an explicit accelerando.

The high point of the piece occurs in mm. 16-18, where Chopin has written "stretto" into the music, indicating a rushing of the tempo up to the triplet of this climactic section. In general, this piece calls for an ability to play very long phrases, to be sensitive to harmonic events, and to breathe with the phrasing throughout.

To hear this segment played in this way, click below

1100k, WAV sound file


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