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.
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: