Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Clementi's Sonatinas Op. 36 - Part 2

How to approach the second movement of the Sonatina No. 1

In this second video of the 3-part series, Robert tackles the second movement of the first sonatina.

Released on November 2, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin, with part two of a series of the three movements of the Clementi Sonatina, opus 36 number 1 in C major. Last week we discussed the first movement, the angularity of the dynamics, the precision of the rhythm, and most importantly, the differentiation of staccatos and legatos. Staccatos coming from the wrist, keeping the two sounds complete differentiation from one another.

Today, we're gonna talk about the second movement which is entirely different. The slow lyrical second movement presents tremendous challenges. To demonstrate this, I'm going to start off playing the beginning of the second movement, and I'm just going to play everything evenly. That is to say, I'm not going to play the hands differently from one another. And indeed, they are not written dynamically to be played different from one another. Some editions will put that in to help students understand that you need to, which I will discuss in a moment. But listen to it, playing the notes with equal volume in both hands, and you're going to discover something extraordinary.

Now, what happened there? It doesn't sound like they're equal. As a matter of fact, you can barely hear the right hand. How can this be when I'm playing them with equal energy? Well, it comes down to the acoustics of the piano. You play a note, and it's fading away as soon as you play it. The left hand has faster notes, therefore they will obliterate the melody unless you really put tremendously more energy in the right hand than the left hand. Now, do you do this by hitting the keys? Well, I could try that. This is the sound you'd get if you did that.

It sounds extraordinarily percussive. How do you get a singing line out of the piano? Well, this is a perfect way to practice it, this movement. The secret is, by utilizing the weight of the arm, you must start and carefully lift and then come down so you can get the right sound for the first note, and allow the weight of the arm to lean into your finger on the key. And then when playing from note to note, just transfer the weight. In other words, when you play that first note, even though you don't have to continue pushing on that note for it to continue to sound, you could have minimal energy, just enough to keep the key from coming back up, which is practically no energy at all. Indeed, you want to continue the weight so you can get a rise and a fall based upon the increase of the weight of the arm and the decrease through the length of the phrase, while the left hand stays right over the keys with minimum motion, because motion equals volume. If you use more motion, like if I raise my fingers in the left hand, listen to how much volume comes through.

Stay close to the keys and you can get a very, very whisper-quiet sound with control.

So the left hand stays close to the keys to be quiet. The right hand leans quite a bit of arm weight, but you're going to hear a much more beautiful tone than the percussive sound that I achieved earlier by hitting the keys. Now it's caressing them, letting that weight go from note to note in a smooth fashion. Notice how I lift. So when you lift it coming to the note, you can control it, think your rhythm before you start. So you're counting one, two, three, and down. And this is a subject unto itself.

Isn't that beautiful? That's how you achieve a melody on the piano, not just in Clementi and not just in Classical period music, it's the same thing for a Chopin Nocturne. Transferring the weight of the arm from finger to finger and having a continuous line is the analogue to the breath of the human voice or the bow of a violin. Now, when I went on, you heard the repeated notes. Remember, I'm using no pedal, and yet you heard the connection of those repeated notes. When you have the same note repeated on the piano, the damper hits the strings on the release of each note. So to get a smooth sound without utilizing the pedal requires changing the fingers for repeated notes. I'm going to play it without changing fingers on the repeated notes, and listen to the difference in this connection of the repeated notes.

Now, by changing the fingers on the repeated notes, you're going to hear a smoothness that's impossible to achieve with the same finger. Why is this? Because by using more than one finger, as one finger is going down, another finger is coming up, so they can be absolutely smooth. Listen to how it sounds.

This is, by the way, a general guideline for all legato repeated notes, as well as fast repeated notes where you have to change your fingers just to negotiate the passage. Later on, you have repeated notes but you can't change the fingers because you have thirds. How do you approach that? Well, if I just played it without thinking much about it, it might sound like this.

But you want to get a smooth sound. Here, since you can't change the fingers, keep your hands right on the surface of the keys, because any motion away from the keys will create space between the thirds. Listen to how smooth you can achieve a legato on repeated thirds by staying close to the keys.

So these are some general guidelines. So remember, use the weight of the arm. Start by lifting so you can control the volume of the first note. Keep the weight. And remember, all your phrases have a rise and a fall naturally, just like my voice does when I speak to you, and just like a singer will naturally do with their breath. You want to achieve that on the piano and you do that my utilizing the weight of the arm. Change fingers for repeated notes for smoother legato, and when that's not possible, when you have thirds or other intervals that are repeating, stay close to the keys and you'll get a beautiful legato sound in your playing. And you could achieve this not just with Clementi but with all the lyrical music you play.

Thanks so much for joining me here on Again, Robert Estrin. This is the second part of a three-part series. Next time we'll cover the last movement of the Clementi Sonatina, in C major opus 36 number 1. Thanks so much for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Wayne Leveille on April 15, 2022 @5:35 pm PST
Good evening!!
Was a video of the 3rd movement ever created? I can't find it here or on Youtube.
Leigh Sheppard on August 13, 2020 @5:21 am PST
Hi Robert , your video lesson on Clementi Sonatina part 2 was really excellent and informative. It helps me to practise with more insight.
Thank you for your service to music. Leigh
Robert - host, on August 13, 2020 @11:58 am PST
There are more tutorial videos in the works!
Maggie * VSM MEMBER * on August 5, 2020 @10:29 am PST
Thank you Robert for this very instructive demonstration. I play this sonatina and I think your comments will help me improve ! Maggie
Robert - host, on August 5, 2020 @1:00 pm PST
That's good to hear. There are more piano tutorials coming for you!
Maggie * VSM MEMBER * on August 7, 2020 @12:27 am PST
Thank you Robert. I look forward to more tutorials.
paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on November 2, 2016 @1:24 pm PST
I think we intuitively follow some of your recommendations when playing this piece, but it becomes a lot easier to practice when we understand the purpose better, with such a clear and concise language you are using. When I opened the video and saw it was to last 9 minutes, I thought I light get bored at some point, but I didn't.
I only wish you'd play some more of the piece.
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