Granados, Heller & a Venetian Gondola Song!

Our next three videos for the 2023 & 2024 ABRSM piano examination syllabus are now available on the Online Academy. These videos feature works from the Grade 6 list, including a challenging, but charming prelude by Heller, the sentimental Vals poético by Granados and one of Mendelssohn’s wistful Venetian Gondola Songs.

New Videos

Grade 6 A1: S. Heller – Prelude in C# minor (No. 10 from 24 Preludes, Op. 81)

Stephen Heller is best known for his piano studies. Even though this charming piece is a prelude, it serves as an excellent study in leggiero playing. In this video excerpt, Graham Fitch offers some suggestions for how to approach learning the opening passage and achieving the desired touch:

Prelude by Heller

Grade 6 B2: Granados – Vals poético (No. 6 from Valses poéticos)

Enrique Granados wrote this romantic waltz when he was a student at the Madrid Conservatory, indicating that it should be played sentimentally, with freedom (quasi ad libitum). In this video excerpt, Graham Fitch gives an overview of the piece which requires a vivid imagination, flexibility in the singing lines and colour to convey the spirit of the music:

Grade 6 B3: Mendelssohn – Venetianisches Gondellied (No. 6 from Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 19b)

Mendelssohn wrote 48 Songs without Words – short, lyrical pieces most of which are suitable for intermediate players. Wistful in character, the main feature is the underlying rocking motion (supplied by the left hand) over which the right hand spins a melody (often in two voices). In this video excerpt, Graham Fitch demonstrates practice methods for achieving the correct balance between the different voices:

Mendelssohn's Venetian Gondola Song

Click here for links to view the full videos on the Online Academy!

Other Videos

Click here to view the full index of available videos, including links to several from previous and other syllabuses (further information on our project for the previous 2021 & 2022 syllabus is available here).

Videos for over 70 pieces have been recorded already and are currently in the various stages of the editing process. Several further shoots are planned and we will be releasing the videos in frequent installments over the coming months. Please click here to sign-up to our mailing list for updates and notifications on this project and our resources for piano examinations.

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Mendelssohn Song Without Words, Op. 19b No. 1

Mendelssohn published his first set of six Songs Without Words, Op. 19b, in 1832 at the age of 24. They were published together with six ordinary lieder (Op. 19a), in other words, songs with words, as if to underscore the young composer’s transformation of a vocal work into a new kind of piece for solo piano. These pieces were extremely popular with both professional musicians and cultivated amateurs, prompting Mendelssohn to eventually publish seven more collections of Songs Without Words, each containing six pieces.

Mendelssohn Song Without Words Op. 19b No. 1

The first of these 48 pieces, in the warm key of E major, is also one of the loveliest. The singing melody in the right hand is balanced by an equally melodic bass line, creating a duet between the outer parts. The phrasing is supple and occasionally irregular, with phrase extensions and connections helping to build long, arching lines. The harmony, shared between the hands in a rippling accompaniment of continuous sixteenth notes, contains numerous subtleties and some unexpected turns. Its technical demands are modest, making it an enjoyable and relatively quick study for pianists at the early advanced level.

Our latest edition in Ken Johansen’s From the Ground Up series provides the groundwork for an expressive understanding of this piece. The edition starts with two reductions which strip away the surface detail to reveal the essential structure of the music. This structure is reassuringly simple, allowing us to see and hear the fundamental lines and divisions of the music with ease. It concludes with detailed suggestions on how to practise and memorise the complete score.

Outer Voice Reduction

The first deconstruction features only the melody and the bass lines. These are quite easy to play, but doing so teaches us a great deal about the phrasing. For one thing, it allows us to play the essential lines of the piece up to tempo with relative ease, helping us to form an ideal sound in our minds without the distraction of working out the technical details of the accompaniment. It also allows us to hear the bass line more clearly, and to realise how much influence this line has on the inflection of the melody.

Blocked Chords Reduction

Converting passages with arpeggios or broken chord patterns into solid, blocked chords has two main benefits: it allows us to find our hand positions and it helps us to hear the harmony better. In the present case, the entire piece can be played in this way, producing a six-voice chorale that can be almost as beautiful as the original, and considerably easier to play.

Note – It is important to consciously engrain fingerings and to use them consistently at this stage as these are the fingerings that will be used in the final score!

Full Scores & Complete Edition

The complete, downloadable version of this edition is available for separate purchase from our store here or as part of a combined bundle featuring various works by Chopin, Grieg, Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Mozart. It is also included with an annual subscription to the Online Academy. Please click here to find out more about subscription options or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.

From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up is a series on the Online Academy devoted to learning individual pieces using outlines and reduced scores that help you to practise more effectively, memorise more consciously, and interpret music more creatively.

Each From the Ground Up edition starts with a reduced score or foundation which reveals the essential structure of the music. Detail is then added in layers through successive scores thus enabling learning a piece from the ground up rather than the top down. Please click here to find out more about From the Ground Up or on one of the following links to view the available editions: