Edvard Grieg’s Arietta – Practising the Piano

Edvard Grieg’s collection of 66 short Lyric Pieces includes some of his best known music. They were published in 10 volumes between 1867 and 1901 and because most are accessible to the intermediate player, they will always find a place in the pianist’s heart. This does not mean that the music is only for the amateur; on the contrary, many of the world’s greatest pianists have recorded and programmed them.

The theme of the very first piece of the collection, Arietta (Little Song), was one of Grieg’s favourite melodies. You might begin by singing and then playing this beautiful melody alone, taking time where the music needs to breathe. Once you have a sense of its shape and flow, add the bass line, noticing its contours and how it supports the upper line. The middle element consists of broken harmony shared between the hands, similar in texture and design to Schumann’s Von fremden Ländern und Menschen (Of Foreign Lands and People), the opening piece from Kinderszenen, op. 15. Balancing the texture is one of the main challenges of the piece. It is a good plan to practise the middle semiquaver (sixteenth note) line by itself, making the connections as seamless as possible as one hand passes to the other (do this with and without the pedal). It is also excellent practice to omit the melody line; if you are feeling ambitious, try singing the top line as you play the accompaniment and bass line (tricky, but worth it!). 

A few pointers for practice:

  • Hold on to the long bass E flats (bars 1-4, 15-16), so that when you change the pedal the bass note is still present.
  • Avoid pedalling through the rests, but elsewhere change the pedal as the harmony changes. 
  • Where the harmony remains the same but the melody notes change (bars 2, 4, etc), it is best to pedal crotchet (quarter note) beats. 
  • In bars 9, 19 etc, aim for finger legato in the upper voice if possible

I demonstrate a few pedalling and other suggestions in the following video walkthrough:

As though to frame the collection, Grieg reuses the melody from Arietta in the very last of the Lyric Pieces Efterklang (Remembrances), this time as a waltz. Click here to listen to a recording of Emil Gilels playing both pieces on YouTube (external link).

This work (along with Schumann’s Von fremden Ländern und Menschen) is also featured on the Online Academy as part of our From the Ground Up Series. From the Ground Up uses using outlines and reduced scores to help you learn pieces more effectively. It can be purchased as a stand-alone collection here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.