The importance of defining dynamics when preparing our pieces
It is easy for us, pianists, to forget about the importance of phrasing. Sometimes when dealing with pieces which are not particularly challenging, we can be tempted to ignore the importance of making musical sense out of them. Unreasonable as it might sound, this is the case of some advanced student performances.
There are several ways in which a phrase can be organised and these options will go in line with the style of each piece. In classism, contrasts are paramount. There is a particular way to deal with dual repetitions, another one to deal with sequences, and a different one to deal with codettas, for example. All these common practices derive from the particular characteristics of the instruments for which the pieces where composed originally. The possibility of alternating keyboards and therefore timbres, shaped the way in which composers dealt with repetitions all together. In order to take full advantage of the instrument potential it made sense to repeat phrases twice, one using one register and another using a different keyboard and therefore sound.
When performing these type of pieces in the modern piano, we should try and emulate the effect of alternating timbres by alternating dynamics; for example, playing one repetition in f and another one in p. One of the first composers in introducing the dynamic “cliff” effect of [p subito] was Beethoven. Of course we can find this indication in earlier composers, but he is the one who used it most assiduously. On the other hand, if we go for generalities, classical music is dynamically smooth, with a dynamic layout which resembles waves. This treatment of dynamics allows us to approach each phrase in a smooth and natural way.
Defining the dynamic profile of a piece is decisive in order to forge the perception we have of the musical work. The technique will then accommodate to the needs of expression.
In our next Piano Masterclass, we will try and go deep on these matters making sure we correlate syntactic structures with enhancing dynamics.