I would be very glad, if you could help me: I'm teaching Beethoven's 'Variations on a Swiss Song' WoO 64.....
Thanks very much for any inputs.
I was hoping for more input by other teachers on this wonderful upper intermediate teaching piece. Beethoven strings together a set of variations which address many of the problems students will face playing his advanced works.
Here are some teaching thoughts in no particular order. First, for the benefit of teachers who do not know this work, the theme is presented very briefly as one treble line, with a single bass line counter melody, which harmonizes, of course. Variation 1 introduces RH triplets, with the melody restated as the first note of each triplet. The LH echos the LH theme from the "Theme." Variation 2 introduces a rhythmic LH against the straight forward RH theme. Variation 3 switches to minor, with an eighth note pattern in the RH. Variation 4 introduces octave playing in the RH, against a triplet pattern LH. Variation 5 uses 3rd and 16th notes in the RH, again restating the theme. And finally, Variation 6 is quite bravura with flashing RH scale runs and octave LH. By far the most difficult of the variations, with Variation 4 being a close runner up.
If their pedal technique isn't up to snuff, working on both metric and harmonic pedaling is called for, plus half and quarter pedaling.
The first general idea I teach the students is that in this classical style, the pulse must be maintained as you move from variation to variation. No time outs or pauses. The first note of each new variation must follow the exact pulse of the ending theme/variation. Tempo changes can occur between pulse 1 and 2 of the new variation.
The 2nd thing I generally do is get students to locate the theme in each variation, and also the bass counter melody. This isn't so easy in some of the variations.
The dotted eighth and sixteenth note rhythm of Variation 2 in the LH is problematic for most students, and they generally want to play a triplet. This needs careful attention.
About tempi, I generally start them out as the score indicates with an andante con moto, and then with each successive variation, a slight tempo increase, so that by variation 2, we're moving along at a solid allegretto. That allows us to back off with a slower Andante at variation 3; this variation has a repeat, which is really neat, because you can rebalance the voices on the repeat, to great effect. Then moving into Var 4, we take off at a solid allegro, pushing 144 if possible. Var 5 is marked sempre dolce, so we back off the tempo to moderato, and then finally, the 6th variation flies as fast as the student can handle it. If their scales are coming along, some of them are actually able to pearl their scales, which is really, really nice!
The octaves in var 4 & 6 are problematic for young students with smaller hands. You have to watch carefully that the axis of the arm is proper and that they don't bang the keys, but rather start each octave on the key and use arm and shoulder weight to get the sound they need.
If I think of anything else, will add it later. Have fun!
Oh, FWIW, I am generally teaching the easier Inventions, Mozart K535, and some Romantic pieces, such as Grieg's Notturno, along with this piece. And the Kabalevsky a minor sonatina.