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James Berry Piano Literature Graduate Assignment: Debussy and Ravel 1. The two pieces that I would select out of Children’s Corner are No. 4 (The Snow Dancing) and No. 6 (Golliwog’s Cakewalk). Both of these pieces have many technical and musical elements to offer for a student. For the Snow Dancer, I think the most important technical element for a student to learn is the rapid sixteenth alterations, which must sound even, detached and very steady to the beat. This kind of articulation and rhythm has an easy tendency to rush. For the musical element of this movement, I would suggest to a student to identify the long phrases of the whole notes that are held as the sixteenth notes are played. Also, make sure to identify two different characters when one hand is detached and the other is more legato. Also, the overall effect of the piano, should be to sound as a harp. No. 6, Gollowog’s Cakewalk has several technical challenges, the biggest being the sharp syncopation that can be tough for any non-jazz pianists. I would also say that there are several leaps in both hands that should be practiced slowly for optimal accuracy. Musically, this piece should be played in the similar style of ragtime with stride piano. The left hand on 1 and 3 should be very prominent, with sharp syncopation in the right hand. In the B section, this should be light hearted and fun, mocking the very serious romantic quotation. 2. The first prelude I would choose for performance by Debussy would be the piece Le fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) because of its serene and beautiful setting. It uses wonderfully modern chord progressions to create a picture of the poem it represents. The poem by the same title is by poet Charles-Marie Leconte describes a beautiful girl shimmering the sun of the summer. The second prelude I would choose is also from the first book of preludes and is entitled La cathedrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral). This is mythical and nature and with Debussy’s use of quartal chord planing, he tells the story of the legendary city of Ys, which once a year has a cathedral that rises up from the water. The last prelude is more dance-like in nature and is the last in the first book, entitled Minstrels. This again has its origins from Debussy’s fascinations with the African-American cakewalk and Parisian early jazz. One could easily see a Vaudeville act taking place with this final selection. 3. I have selected the composition Le Tombeau de Couperin to identify its Baroque derivations. Mvt. 1: Prelude – This is quite similar to a prelude from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier in the sense that it is somewhat improvisatory and introductory in nature. Mvt. 2: Fugue – Again, this resembles a fugue from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier in its use of counterpoint, subjects, answers, and fugal composition techniques. Mvt. 3: Forlane – This is a traditional dance, originally of an Italian nature, however introduced to France in the 17th century. It contains a rapid rhythm and is in 6/8, similar to a Gigue. Mvt. 4: Rigaudon – This is also a dance, originally from the south of France, here found in duple meter. It is similar to the Baroque boureé. Mvt. 5: Minuet – This is similar to the Baroque dance of the same name, however instead of the trio, this piece contains a Musette. Mvt. 6 – Toccata – This last piece is flashy finger work emphasizing the touch of the keyboard just as a Baroque toccata would emphasize the technical prowess on the keyboard. 4. I have selected the impressionistic work Miroirs by Ravel to explain the significance of the work’s title and each specific movement: The title Miroirs literally means mirrors perhaps meaning a reflection of what is real. You can hear things that resemble reality, but yet there is still an element of impression. Mvt. 1 - Noctuelles – Night Moths The scampering chromatic passages in the right hand at the beginning of this piece certainly sound like moths swirling around. This movement was dedicated to French poet Léon-Paul Fargue. Mvt. 2 - Oiseaux tristes – Sad Birds Instead of the typical trills to represent birds, this movement has separate birdcalls for each bird. The beginning and end of this piece are filled with solitude perhaps depicting the loneliness of the single bird. Mvt. 3 - Une barque sur l’Ocean – A Boat in the Ocean This piece has all of the characteristics of a composition depicting the ocean. It has moments of intensity and moments of serenity just as the ocean swells. This piece also has the unique feature of glissandos in 3rd and 4ths perhaps depicting lightning of a storm. Mvt. 4 - Alborada de Gracioso – Morning Song of the Jester This is a song of a jester with a very Spanish flavor depicted in the introductory chords that sounds very guitar-like. The famous repeated notes in this piece also remind one of very fast guitar picking on a single note. Mvt. 5 - La vallee des cloches – The valley of the bells With this piece, one can certainly imagine tiny church bells ringing in the distance in the French Riviera. The harmonization’s in this piece are also very complex with beautiful melodies over top perhaps reminding the listener of several bells chiming simultaneously creating these unique chords.
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