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Heller’s “L’avalanche, Op. 45, No. 2” Piano Play-Along: Post One (Discussion Starter)

Heller Blog Post 1

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…..


 


Stephen_Heller

Stephen Heller (1813-1888)

Background:

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.

The Focus: 

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.

Interpretative Content:

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!

Elizabeth

17 Responses to Heller’s “L’avalanche, Op. 45, No. 2” Piano Play-Along: Post One (Discussion Starter)

  1. Linda Westerfield says:

    I found it easier to start playing the 3 notes of the triplets together on the beat just to get familiar with the feel of where the notes are in relation to each other and then broke them apart. Using a mm to pick up speed after that.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks for the tip, Linda. This blocking technique is excellent for locating positions. I often refer to it as “location blocking” when working with my students.

  2. Rachel McClellan says:

    I found, on my first readings, this piece to be very darling! The water sprites make more sense! With the popularity of fairies now – it becomes even more relevant to today’s kid. Can’t wait for the polish!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I introduced this to a student yesterday who after thinking it didn’t sound like a snow avalanche, he remarked: “This must be an avalanche of something else.” Smart guy! I told him – “Exactly!”

  3. Jeanne says:

    Do any of you have a favorite edition of this piece?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Good morning, Jeanne. I don’t really have a favorite edition. I rely mostly on student editions (educational collections) for this particular piece and I find that the editions don’t vary from each other by much. One exception: I notice that “poco meno mosso” is sometimes replaced by “ritardando.” “Poco meno mosso” is in my older editions, so I’m inclined to favor that.

  4. I found a picture on ebay of the Carl Fischer copy and added the pedaling to my copy. What do you think of the pedaling in the Carl Fisher edition?

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’ve been looking through a couple of editions I own and have been seeing more variances between them than I expected, esp. when it comes to pedaling, staccatos, some dynamics, accents, etc. Let me take a closer look at that Carl Fischer edition and I’m also going to try to get my hands on a more authoritative edition which is still in print. I think the vast differences deserve more commentary in a future blog post. A little confusing….

      Thanks for pointing this out.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Ok. I just looked at the closer view of Carl Fischer copy on Ebay. I like the pedaling and would follow it, however I wouldn’t do connected pedaling in mm. 13-14 (and similar) where portato articulation is indicated. I might “dab” the pedal on those quarter-note chords for warmth. Tiny dabs. Hope this helps.

  5. Susan Paradis says:

    The water sprites story add so much to this piece and in my mind really changes the character. It is amazing what a mental picture will do!

  6. Debby says:

    Picked up the Faber & Faber edition suggested and gave it a few plays today. I do really like the song. Came to me quickly and am wondering if I didn’t play it somewhere when I took lessons many, many years ago.
    Two areas to ask about:
    1. m 13-14, My copy indicates the pedal with the up/down along with the staccato notes? Does anyone else find this weird? Not sure how to staccato a note but still catch it with the pedal and what am I trying to accomplish?

    2. m67-68, my copy indicates to use 3rd finger on the left hand as left hand descends legatto. Maybe something about left hand being high on the keyboard, & my body still middle & leaning, but I find this stretch awkward & switched it to thumb under. Think that’s acceptable?

    Thanks for the blocking suggestion. I frequently have my students do that, but didn’t even think of it as I practiced those triplets at a slower speed!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Debby: Good questions….

      1. I see pedaling indicated in mm. 13-14 in a couple of other editions and I agree it’s confusing when the passage is notated as “portato” (long, but detached quarters). I think editors often provide a pedal cue like this to indicate that it’s OK to give the portato notes a “dab” of pedal for warmth. I certainly wouldn’t connect the quarter-note chords with the pedal. Leave a little space in-between.

      2. I’m a little confused here. Wouldn’t your LH thumb already be on the bass “E” in mm. 66? And then it would rotate over to the Low A in m. 67 with a different finger. LH “2” is indicated for m. 67 in my old edition, but since the passage is played “P,” I would just use my convenient 5th finger on the Low A, then release the phrase with a wrist lift, and move to the octave “C’s.” I hope this makes sense.

  7. Debby says:

    Ooops! Forgive typo on legato!

  8. Marilyn Brennan says:

    Too busy to have gotten started on this yet, but getting around to it. So how do I get to your previous post on downloading instagram….I think I have it but had a fight with it a while ago. One reason I have taken so long to get into this is I do not use instagram. I was disappointed that I need to follow this on instagram, but we learn something new every day….
    I’ll try to get with it.

  9. Josephine says:

    It’s fun to work on a piece with you all! Like others, I found the blocking tip helpful…thanks! And I also wondered about the pedal under the staccato notes (I’m using the Bastien Piano Literature version). Thanks for the practice company!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Welcome, Josephine! And thanks for joining. I’m extending our exploration of L’avalanche through WED, June 24, so you have plenty of time to practice it and reply with comments. I now have a more authoritative edition of the piece and will be devoting a blog post to those little inconsistencies we are all noticing about articulation and pedaling. Stay tuned!

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