Heller’s “L’avalanche, Op. 45, No. 2” Piano Play-Along: Post One (Discussion Starter)
Welcome to the first GET IN SHAPE Piano Play-Along! with L’avalanche, Op. 45, No. 2 , by Stephen Heller (1813-1888). For more information on this play-along and how to get started, click HERE. You may join in anytime and reply with comments even after June 15, the day we all chime in with our thoughts about this gem.
A little discussion-starter here to get us going…..
This particular etude is probably Heller’s most popular from his sets of etudes — Ops. 45, 46, and 47, which all stem from the year 1866 when he was at the height of his career. His etudes are actually character pieces at the intermediate level and students love to play this one because of its high energy and showy style. Most of Heller’s etudes bear titles, though it is unlikely Heller supplied them. Generally, publishers added them at the time of publication.
I’ve always been curious about the title ” The Avalanche.” I imagine a heavier, more dramatic piano piece for an avalanche compared to the quick-moving figuration in this piece that seems to climb upward more often than downward. And wouldn’t you know? I found an old Carl Fischer copy that was entitled “L’avalanche” with the sub-title “The Water Sprites.” An avalanche of water sprites? I guess we should imagine a huge mass of them. Interesting…. I looked up “sprite” just to be sure. I had thought they were fairies and dictionary.com informed me that they were female water spirits. How many of you know about the “water sprites” sub-title? Perhaps it was dropped over the years, but it makes a lot better sense as a avalanche of water sprites than an avalanche of snow.
Coordination and continuity of the hands, especially as they alternate with each other to create both short and long phrases. The phrasing should be well-defined.
Rhythmic steadiness and precision is essential to the character and with that, the accents should be carefully observed. Note that several appear throughout and many are placed on half-notes with lighter, staccato chords to be played on the following beat.
In mm. 34- 36 and other similar measures, be sure to play both RH and LH legato with clear voicing in the soprano line and a tapered ending.
The dynamic contrasts are frequent and don’t forget the changes of tempo – poco meno mosso (mm. 13 -16, etc.)
Practice Ideas to Get You Started:
After a few slow readings, you might try dividing the piece into study sections of 4 measures. Once you have the continuity between the hands mastered in one phrase (and a consistent tempo), go on to the next section, and then join sections to make a longer group and so forth. Keep a reliable “working” tempo and gradually increase it to an Allegro vivace over the next 14 days. One of my editions lists a metronome marking of quarter note = 176-208.
I’ll post my final reactions about this piece on June 15, but I may add another blog post before then to ask how you all are doing. Chime in below and let me know if you’re playing-along, OK?
*** TAKE NOTE! I’ll be posting mini-video tutorials and practice suggestions for challenging parts of this piece on INSTAGRAM! Download the app on your phone or tablet and follow me at @pianoprof. See my previous post on Instagram for some how-to’s on downloading the app and setting up your account. Easy!
See you over there!