Jump to content


Photo

Clair de Lune - why not an exam piece?


  • Please log in to reply
27 replies to this topic

#1 EllieD

EllieD

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1004 posts
  • Member: 897806
    Joined: 04-June 17

Posted 13 July 2021 - 10:21

Started having a go at this as it's so beautiful, and checked to see what Grade it had been set as in the past, referring to the spreadsheet someone kindly produced a while back - only to find it's never been an exam piece! Seems odd that a piece so famous hasn't been used, ever! So got to wondering why some pieces just haven't been set at exam level.

 

Is it that it's too long for Grade 7 but too easy for Grade 8? 

 

Or just that if it were set, everyone would play it and examiners would all go insane having to listen to it so many times!!

 

 

Doesn't matter, of course, as I'm not aiming for exams, I just think it's a lovely piece to play. There's a Youtube vid of Debussy himself playing it - a bit poor quality to listen to all the way through but he does seem to take it faster than a lot of the other pianists on Youtube do.

 


  • 0

#2 Hildegard

Hildegard

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2241 posts
  • Member: 887389
    Joined: 26-October 13

Posted 13 July 2021 - 10:30

Started having a go at this as it's so beautiful, and checked to see what Grade it had been set as in the past, referring to the spreadsheet someone kindly produced a while back - only to find it's never been an exam piece! Seems odd that a piece so famous hasn't been used, ever!

 

The Edexcel difficulty levels booklet indicates that it has been set as a Grade 8 piece in the past (it unfortunately does not say by which board).


  • 0

#3 Latin pianist

Latin pianist

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 4610 posts
  • Member: 711500
    Joined: 01-April 13
  • Cotswolds

Posted 13 July 2021 - 10:31

That’s an interesting question. I’d put it around grade 7 but have you ever seen Fur Elise set as an exam piece or the slow movement of the Moonlight Sonata? Maybe exam boards do avoid these very well known pieces.


  • 0

#4 corenfa

corenfa

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 7218 posts
  • Member: 95861
    Joined: 28-March 10
  • Here

Posted 13 July 2021 - 10:43

It could be that Clair De Lune does not "test" enough aspects of piano technique that the exam board feel should be required.  


  • 0

#5 agricola

agricola

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1939 posts
  • Member: 545
    Joined: 01-February 04

Posted 14 July 2021 - 08:03

I think that the problem is that most of those famous and beautiful pieces exist in recordings by concert pianists which demonstrate a higher level of control of balance, rhythm, tempo rubato and pedal control that is likely to be heard at a Grade 7 or 8 exam.  It could be difficult for an examiner to judge a Grade 8 level performance fairly if he is subconsciously comparing it to his favourite recording -- so it must be easier just to leave these pieces out of the syllabus. 

 

As a teenager I loved playing Chopin but my piano teacher would never let me choose one of his works to study with her so I had to learn them by myself.  I can see in retrospect that she was protecting her nerves from hearing me murder them.  I was blissfully unaware of that so we were both happy!

 

For the same reason most piano teachers avoid giving pupils Fur Elise even though the first section is playable at around Grade 1-2.  Personally, I am all for beginners  tackling this as it's one of the few famous piano pieces that is accessible at an early stage.  It gives them pleasure to be able to play it -- and bearing my teenage Chopin-murdering in mind I don't expect them to sound like Alfred Brendel!


  • 0

#6 fsharpminor

fsharpminor

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 19048 posts
  • Member: 7089
    Joined: 07-June 06
  • Heswall, Wirral (originally Keighley, Yorks)

Posted 14 July 2021 - 08:16

I think thats a fair explanation Agricola.    Two of the other Suite Bergamasque pieces have been set for Grade 8, the Prelude (no1) and Passpied (no4), but not the Minuet (no2) or Clair de Lune (no3).


  • 0

#7 EllieD

EllieD

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1004 posts
  • Member: 897806
    Joined: 04-June 17

Posted 14 July 2021 - 08:41

Very interesting comments, thank you everyone! Has the benefit that the exam syllabus opens the door to composers and pieces we might never come across otherwise. We always knew Clair de Lune (and Fur Elise and Moonlight etc) were there, we can always find those and try them when we feel up to it. I might never have come across such gems as the Poulenc Novelettes without the exam book. OK, I'm going back to murdering Clair de Lune!  :)


  • 0

#8 Hildegard

Hildegard

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2241 posts
  • Member: 887389
    Joined: 26-October 13

Posted 14 July 2021 - 08:52

I think that the problem is that most of those famous and beautiful pieces exist in recordings by concert pianists which demonstrate a higher level of control of balance, rhythm, tempo rubato and pedal control that is likely to be heard at a Grade 7 or 8 exam.  It could be difficult for an examiner to judge a Grade 8 level performance fairly if he is subconsciously comparing it to his favourite recording -- so it must be easier just to leave these pieces out of the syllabus.

 

If that were the case, the syllabus would never contain movements from Beethoven and Mozart sonatas and works such as the Schubert Impromptus and Chopin Nocturnes, all of which occur almost every year and all (or almost all) of which are likely to be well known.

 

My own guess is that Claire de Lune has rarely been set because its rhythmic subtleties make a good interpretation hard to achieve for less experienced candidates, even at Grade 8.


  • 0

#9 fsharpminor

fsharpminor

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 19048 posts
  • Member: 7089
    Joined: 07-June 06
  • Heswall, Wirral (originally Keighley, Yorks)

Posted 14 July 2021 - 10:42

Very interesting comments, thank you everyone! Has the benefit that the exam syllabus opens the door to composers and pieces we might never come across otherwise. We always knew Clair de Lune (and Fur Elise and Moonlight etc) were there, we can always find those and try them when we feel up to it. I might never have come across such gems as the Poulenc Novelettes without the exam book. OK, I'm going back to murdering Clair de Lune!  :)

I too like the Poulenc 'Novelettes' they've all been in Grade 8, but the middle ones a bit tricky !  Also in Grade 8 has been set 'Hymne' ( No 2 from Trois Pièces) and a couple (I think nos 7 and 13 from memory) of the 'Quinze Improvisations' (some are good fun, eg ones dedicated to Schubert, and to Edith Piaf)). I suggest these if you want to pursue Poulenc a bit more.  


  • 0

#10 Yet another muso

Yet another muso

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 443 posts
  • Member: 103420
    Joined: 22-May 10

Posted 14 July 2021 - 21:55

I'd generally go along with the consensus view that the over famous and over familiar works are likely to be avoided, especially for piano where the repertoire is so vast. I've made some very nice new discoveries over the years thanks to ABRSM selecting things I didn't know for their syllabuses. 

 

That said, for anyone opting to do performance grades, they could now choose Clair de Lune as an own choice piece. 


  • 0

#11 Pickle

Pickle

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 82 posts
  • Member: 578811
    Joined: 20-November 12

Posted 15 July 2021 - 07:32

The Trinity harp syllabus for both pedal and non-pedal harp offer Clair de Lune at grade 8. One of my candidates for performance grades is doing it as her own choice piece. And yes, she's struggling with the rhythmic "elasticity". But she'll get there.

So I wonder why not on piano.....?


  • 0

#12 Aquarelle

Aquarelle

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 8749 posts
  • Member: 10531
    Joined: 05-April 07

Posted 15 July 2021 - 09:57

Some of my teenage pupils have given quite creditable interpretations of the "Moonlight" sonata first movement and also of  "Fur Elise." But they are teenage interpretations. These youngsters are at the very beginning of a long musical journey which will take them way beyond their present interpretations. Some may eventually  be able to interprete this sort of popular piece at much greater depth. Others will continue to get pleasure from playing them as best they can  but even greater pleasure from listening to versions by professional pianists of long standing musical experience. I once castigated "Fur Elise" on thesee forums and a poster wiser than i suggested I should listen to Martha Argerich's interpretation. I followed that advice  and I changed my mind. But I wouldn't expect any of my pupils to come anywhere near that kind of interpretation. Here in France the two aforementioned pieces plus Mozart's "Turkish March" are on the wish list of virtually every young pianist - and their parents. I once had a  non pianist mother who asked me if she could take lessons with me but just to learn to play the "Moonlight" - nothing else. She really thought that could be done and I had to let her down very gently. She never pursued the idea of lessons.

 

I don't mind my teenagers exploring their own wish list but I won't devote whole lessons to music that is way beyond thier present capacity. In the long run it can only lead to frustration. I do explain carefully why and above all I try to get them to understand that it isn't just a matter of the right level of technique but also a matter of wide musical experience and maturity. And then I try to help them to start to acquire just that. These are the pupils who years after they have left me will occasionally pick up contact despite their very busy lives and tell me how - despite the said busy lives - music is still with them.

 

So no, not party pieces - unless strictly for occasional fun - and not exam pieces  - because they require more than an examination can assess. 


  • 1

#13 elemimele

elemimele

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2120 posts
  • Member: 895612
    Joined: 17-July 16

Posted 15 July 2021 - 10:21

Two things...

 

You can produce a beautiful interpretation of a piece of music because you understand what the music contains, have worked on it, explored it, considered it, thought about how you personally want to play it. Or you can produce a beautiful interpretation because you've heard someone else play it and you're reproducing exactly what they did, like a parrot. (Of course part of exploring a piece of music may be listening to recordings, but this is an intelligent, curious listening, not just hearing-to-reproduce, which is the sort of listening that a tape-recorder does; and caveat: these are extremes, most people are probably somewhere between the two). 

 

I wonder whether exam boards don't set really well-known pieces, with a long history of multiple famous recordings, because they want to encourage examinees to do their own interpretation, rather than reproducing someone else's? Some people have a real talent for reproduction (and it's a valuable talent, and a useful learning aid - but not the whole story). It would be very hard to disentangle reproduction from fundamental good taste performance when every possible way to perform the piece well has been recorded at some point, by someone! 

 

The difference between the two approaches, of course, is that the reproducing pianist can only play what they've heard, while the rounded musician can work out what to do with a brand new piece in the absence of a good pattern to follow.

 

Other thing....

 

Aquarelle is right, I think. But I'd go further: an essential part of the process of acquiring musical maturity and wide experience is to go off and play all the pieces that your teacher has told you you shouldn't play, the pieces that are too hard, too unsuitable, or whatever - to play them simply because you want to. There is no better drive for learning, and the person who does this will come in contact with a lot more music. Curiously, there's a two-way beneficial interplay with their proper lessons: they'll find the stuff they're doing with their teacher much easier in comparison, which improves confidence; they'll be more committed to their own musical journey because they're in charge of part of it; they'll understand better why their teacher is telling them certain things, because they may see the relevance of what they're learning to other situations that they're encountering outside the pieces they're officially learning. And the other way, everything they are learning, they can take back to their unofficial repertoire, so they'll make less of a murder of it, and also they'll be practising what they've been told, in a wider range of scenarios. And realising that one has been murdering a piece involves developing the musical taste to distinguish that something's gone wrong, and diagnose what. The whole situation is win-win (though of course one has to be a bit restrained about this; teachers are not going to be impressed if enormous amounts of practice have been done, but none apparently spent doing what the teacher asked...). I'd bet half a mars-bar that when the average teacher decides to get a pupil working on a piece from a book of pieces, you could predict the success of the student based on whether they surreptitiously have a go at all the other pieces, or concentrate on what they've been told to do...


  • 1

#14 Hildegard

Hildegard

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2241 posts
  • Member: 887389
    Joined: 26-October 13

Posted 15 July 2021 - 10:45


I wonder whether exam boards don't set really well-known pieces, with a long history of multiple famous recordings

 

Except, of course, that they do set well known pieces with a long history of multiple famous recordings. Finzi's bagatelles for clarinet have seldom left the clarinet syllabus, movements from Haydn's Trumpet concerto constantly appear in the trumpet syllabus - Brahms' Lullaby is there in the piano syllabus, and Chopin's Minute Waltz has been set for Grade 8, Fauré's Sicilienne is a favourite choice for  flautists, and so on. Just because Claire de Lune seems to have only once been set for a piano grade should not, I think, be taken as a precedent for assuming that well-known pieces are not set.
 


  • 0

#15 Aquarelle

Aquarelle

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 8749 posts
  • Member: 10531
    Joined: 05-April 07

Posted 15 July 2021 - 11:24

Elemimeli, your last paragraph underlines clearly what I was trying to say. There is a great deal of truth in it. But as a teacher you do have to be careful about the balance between "inside" and "outside" lessons. when you teach a child to read words, you hope that they will end up reading literature, loving it and learning from it. When you teach a young person piano it's the same. I have had pupils whose desire to play music that was far too difficult for them has led them up a cul de sac. I have had others for whom it has been an enrichment. You need to know where the young person is at and you need to deal tactfully with the situation you have before you. It's one of the big challenges of the job.


  • 1