Notes from the Keyboard – “Song of the Lark” by P.I. Tchaikovsky

Hello! Did you enjoy my previous post on Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28 No. 4?

In this shorter post, I will share some tips on how to play Tchaikovsky’s Song of the Lark from his Album for the Young, Op. 39 so that your performance shines. 

Without further ado, let’s begin! 

Tip Number 1: Know the subject

This piece is about the song of a particular bird—the lark. The lark is a small-to-medium-sized bird with a call more elaborate than most birds. Its small size also means that its call is in a higher pitch range. 

In addition to this, the lark in mythology and literature symbolizes daybreak. Shakespeare’s 29th Sonnet has the lines

Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

 

Here’s a picture of an Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensi), courtesy of Wikipedia.


So, we know that the piece has to have an air of morning freshness about it, punctuated by bird calls. This freshness comes from the simple harmonic scheme of the piece (Tchaikovsky did not stray far from the primary triads in the harmony) and the frequent use of the triplet and acciaccatura motives, which allude to the calls of a lark. Please see the music examples below.

 

Triplet motive

 

Triplet and acciaccatura motives

 

Tip Number 2: Clarity is Key to Characterisation

In order to communicate the character of the piece effectively, and since the bird call motives highlighted above play a significant role in the creation and communication of the freshness of the piece, you have to be able to play those motives clearly, with good, crisp articulation. 

Good and crisp articulation can be attained by ensuring that when you play the triplet (and also the acciaccatura—more information below), you curve your fingers. Flat fingers should only be reserved for cantabile playing, where brilliance of tone is not the goal. 

Playing with curved fingers helps you to ensure that you do not over hold consecutive notes, particularly in this situation where the beginning of the next note marks the end of the previous one, where clarity is paramount and the tempo of the motives is brisk.

If you experiment at the keyboard with two fingers, each playing one note and one followed by the other, you might even find that to achieve a really good legato requires more concentration when one’s fingers are curved. You need to keep the first finger held until it has to be lifted. 

We now turn our attention to the final point of this post: the acciaccaturas (as seen in the second music example above).

In addition to keeping your fingers curved, you have to just bear two more things in mind when playing these: 

Firstly, keep your fingers close to the surface of the keys. 

Secondly, the main note has to be fractionally louder than the ornament note, so the force you exert using your fingers when playing the acciaccatura has to increase between the first (ornament note) and second note (the main note).

I hope that you find this post informative and useful. As before, please try out my suggestions, leave a comment below, and I’ll see you in the next post! 

Meanwhile, here’s my performance of this miniature. Enjoy! 

Biography

Malaysian concert pianist Lee Jae Phang continues to astound audiences with his virtuosity, expressiveness, and searching intellect. He has been lauded for his “great ability to play a wide variety of repertoire with great interpretation and passion” and for his spellbinding accounts of complex masterworks such as Tippett’s Piano Sonata No. 3. 

Along with 15 other people, Lee Jae once held a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people playing the same piano simultaneously. 

Lee Jae is also a notable accompanist and chamber musician and complements all his performing with his passion for teaching.  He strongly believes that music enriches our lives and loves helping young pianists reach their full musical potential. 

Follow Lee Jae on his Facebook page to be part of his musical adventures:  Click here to see Lee Jae’s professional Facebook page!

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