I had my 4th lesson today, by far the best lesson in terms of a sense of achievement. My teacher also seemed happy at the end of the lesson about the fact that I had made good progress both during the previous weeks (after the last lesson) as well as during the course of the lesson itself.
The first piece I played today was Debussy's Prelude 1 (book 1): Danseuses de Delphes or Dancers of Delphi). We began by talking about impressionism (e.g. Monet paintings). The idea is to make suggestions of different possible colors. For example, Monet would paint a haystack at different times of the day to make suggestions as to how the same thing might look entirely different at different points in time. Similarly, Debussy's style of composing is one that gives people suggestions about sound color. We will come back to this later.
We then talked about tempo. I was playing it too slow and so he wasn't getting the feel of the pulse of the piece. It needed to be a slow dance, and so rather than three separate beats, it should be heard as groups of three. So I had to play it slightly faster as well as with a conception of movement from the sixteenth note of the second beat to the third (I was delaying the sixteenth note too much).
Coming back to impressionism and the suggestion of colors, measure 4 is where a full chord with a full long pedal followed by harp like descending chords appear. The pedal is held till the end of the measure. We might think its too muddy but really, that's what impressionism is all about.. sound colors, its not about individual notes. Also, the pp harp like chords are played so light that they don't really sound all that muddy if played right! The texture here is very different from the texture in say measure 21 where it takes on a much nobler and serious tone (and all this is implied by Debussy's use of registers. So pay attention to the different registers used and decide on your voicing, pedaling, etc based on what the register used SUGGESTS!). To play the harp-like chords, use a upward floating motion of the arms as well as caressing top to bottom motion with the fingers on the keys to get the light touch required. (It really does work, I think I achieved it to near perfection during the lesson, which both teacher and student were happy with!).
Measure 11: maintain a nice legato line, with the pedal held down long, lift pedal towards the end and maybe some half pedaling in measure 12.
Measure 15: Again, pay attention and play a nice legato melody (octaves). Maintain the pulse throughout.
Measure 17 pedaling: Pedal on each beat but late on the third beat to make a better line through that measure.
Measures 19-20: Each of the C octaves at the beginning of each of these bars need to go down in volume gradually. Similarly the pp chord on top also needs to go down in volume as you progress from measure 19-20.
Measure 21/22: Here is where Debussy uses the middle of the keyboard. He uses the thirds of each chord. This choice of register suggests a more noble character. Again, be extremely mindful of giving a good legato to both left and right hands here for the melody line.
Measure 23/24: Now Debussy uses 3 octave notes and moves upwards. Now this requires a different character than measures 21/22. The different character is implied by the choice of register! So now use an outer voicing, i.e., bring out the top and bottom notes.
Measure 29: The forte chord here shouldn't be super loud, it should just be a full chord. The pedal stays then and the soft chord in measure 30 is played on the same pedal from the previous measure.
Last note: Needs to sound like a muted gong (and soft)! When taking off the foot from the pedal, if its too slow when it comes up, you will get a twangy sound. So do not be too slow while lifting up the foot.
Finally, I couldn't find the exact meaning of the French suggestions in the piece "doux et soutenu" and "doux mais en dehors". I ran them through google translator and came up with these: "supported and gentle" and "supported but outside". Soutenu also probably means sustained, according to another website which might be closer to what is meant here.
I then played the Chopin etude (Op. 25, No. 2) as I had spent quite a bit of time working on the left hand. My teacher said that it was a huge improvement over the last time. I was unhappy with how I played it the first time but as the lesson progressed, my playing got better. I had pedaled wrong the first time but when asked to play again, I did it right and he was very happy with that.
Measure 35: The chromatic motion between E flat and F flat needs to be brought out (that's what the accent's about, it is not necessarily there for an increase in volume on that "accented" note). However, don't overdo it just as yet because when the B flat minor comes in (measure 39), that needs to be further exaggerated and finally leading up to the forte section.
Measure 47: Pedal each beat separately. It is not a chromatic upwards figure that needs to be brought out like in the earlier case (measure 35). So make sure they are separated. The poco riten. that I did (to his liking) needs to go on till the end of measure 50 because this is one place where we can afford to relax a bit (and to let the music breathe a bit).
Measure 64 - end: Can slow down gradually and relax.
Just need some more practice before this is performance ready, I think.
At the end of the lesson we discussed new repertoire. Since we were both enjoying doing Debussy, we decided that we'd do some more. So I'll be working on prelude 3 from book 1 next ("Le vent dans la plaine" or "The wind on the plain"). I was also asked to work on two Bartok pieces from the Mikrokosmos book 5: No. 22 "Stamping dance" and No.48 "Jack-in-the-box"). Since I expressed interest in Schubert, I was also asked to prepare one Schubert impromptu (of my choice except Op posth. 142, No. 3). I am halfway through the Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, No. 2. So I was asked to bring that in when ready as well. I will also play the Chopin waltz for him some time as that needs some help too (and I still need to finish the second movement of the tempest sonata!). Lots of work awaiting me..but all exciting and fun work!
One final note:
"I am trying to do 'something different'- in a way realities- what the imbeciles call `impressionism' is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics."
- Claude Debussy in a letter of March, 1908
That Debussy hated being branded an impressionist is something that my best friend (and composition and performance major at Berklee) Deepak brought to my attention. Articles on the matter claim that though Debussy hated it, there are still very valid arguments to be made for the case that Debussy was, at the very core, influenced by the impressionist artists and writers of his times. For example, see: http://www.tcd.ie/Music/JF%20History/debussy.html.