Piano songs - Ballade Pour Adeline

In piano songs the fingering used to play a phrase can be substituted with another to get a smooth connection, slow practice begets an insight into the songs

By varying the combinations, arrangement and rearrangements of a set of musical notes infinite patterns of rhythm are born into existence. In playing piano songs, the fingering used to land on the keys determine whether the rhythm survives or end in premature implosion. Connecting a rhythm of one musical phrase with the next smoothly is an acquired skill.

Using an excerpt from the song Ballade Pour Adeline as an example, to make a smooth connection with the next phrase, notice how the E is pressed with the 4th finger as shown in Image 1. Earlier, the same note in an exactly similar phrase was played using the 2nd finger. What changed?

The phrase that comes next is what changed. Not only does playing the E with the 4th finger enabled me to make a smooth connection with the upcoming phrase, but the substitution from using the 2nd finger to the 4th also signals a transition into a new subject in the music. The rhythm evolves into something that has not been heard before up to that point.

Turning points in piano songs

It is a decisive turning of the composition at which point, as demonstrated by the E in the phrase shown in Image 1, a change in the fingering has occurred. Having reached this juncture an opportunity is offered to express one’s unique musical interpretation, I would take liberty playing in rubato style here by slowing down as I head towards the E, then linger on it a bit longer, just barely noticeable, before transitioning into the new rhythm in the next phrase.

As a result, an image of significance is projected, in response the listener anticipates a grand entrance of something special – music that holds his attention and carries him away. By studying a composition in detail noticing its decisive turning points, I was able to conjure up an appropriate image of the song at the right time to give a performance that satisfy musically. 

Taking apart its elements namely the melodic line, its main element and the accompaniment, its secondary element thus gaining a deeper understanding has made such a performance possible. Know-how in deciphering a composition as such is priceless as hinted by Anton Rubenstein when he said, “Everyone knows how to play but only a few know how to perform.”

Having completed the transition to a new subject in the music, the rhythm picks up tempo drastically as shown in Image 2. Look at how the demisemiquavers are tightly lined up together across several bars. To me, it is the defining tune of Ballade Pour Adeline, the song’s climax. 

As a piano student, like many others, the song is one that is on my bucket list of songs that must be learned before I kick the bucket, however this phrase occupies a special place in my heart, giving it warmth and glow every time I hear it. So much so that I actually started to learn and practice the song with this phrase first instead of from the beginning like what normal people do.

Slowly played piano songs

The melody consists of entirely demisemiquavers which roughly amounts to playing the phrase in about ten seconds. However, it is wise to build up speed incrementally, therefore practice it slow initially. The benefit of playing slow is it gives time for contemplating the music. I am provided with time to think in between each finger stroke, hence allowing me to savor the intricacy of the music writing in the composition. 

It is an approach employed by Rachmaninov, described by Abram Chasins in the book ‘Speaking of pianists’; “ ...Rachmaninov was practising Chopin’s Étude in thirds, but at such a snail’s pace that it took me a while to recognise it because so much time elapsed between each finger stroke and the next”. In the book he tells, “ …twenty seconds per bar was his pace for almost an hour, the piece normally takes about two minutes to play, Rachmaninov’s chosen speed was so slow that he would have got through it only three times in an hour...” [reference: Michael Dervan, The Irish Times, 11/9/2019]

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