A year of ballet playing cards #43: A csárdás-like Nocturne by Schubert (D4)

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Schubert Notturno for piano solo: click to download the free score

Schubert Notturno for piano solo – click to download the file

A csárdás by any other name, almost

I didn’t mean to keep finding csárdáses everywhere, it just seems to have happened. I don’t know if anyone else would call this Schubert Notturno (nocturne) a csárdás, but even if it isn’t, it fills that slot in class where a csárdás can work really well: battements fondus, or one of those slightly ceremonial walky adages. The opening chords sound like the Raymonda principal girl variation, or the Monti Csárdás, which is how I made the connection. That introduction makes the meter indubitably a four of some kind. That lack of ambiguity is quite rare in introductions.

This is a piece that you’ll probably only find a use for once a year, but when you do, it’ll be gorgeous. It has obsessed me all week, the first 16 bars playing on repeat in my head everywhere, like a meditation (I can do without hearing the rest of it, that’s how obsessional I’ve become about it).  I first came across it when Christopher Hampson used it for a pas de deux for Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks. At the time, it never occurred to me to use it for class, probably as I’ve explained before, slow music and me don’t really get on.

The importance of the turnaround – even in a Schubert notturno

It has a lot of things that are hard to find: restful yet with a forward drive, grandeur without being bombastic, dramatic but relatively simple and concise, and – this is the really big one – it has a lot of action at the end of the bar. Now, they teach you in music classes that 4/4 goes 2 3 4 2 3 4, with a fat accent on the beginning of the bar. What they don’t tell you, is that most of the music that we like has a lot going on at the end, not just the beginning of bars or phrases: think of the “turnaround” at the end of a phrase in a song, the dramatic drum solo announcing  the EastEnders theme, the famous drum fill In the Air Tonight – they all happen at the end of a phrase, anticipating the big tune. Although “1” has an accent, think about the energy you invest in the “8” when you count “5, 6, 7, 8” into an exercise.

One of the problems of finding music for fondus is that you need something that has equal energy in the second half of the bar as in the first, rather than a dead, flaccid sink after the initial accent while you wait for the next bar to come along. This nocturne by Schubert is almost the opposite of that, and hence great for fondu exercises, I think: there’s energy and drive right on what is supposed to be the weakest beat of the bar (supposed to be, but don’t believe everything they tell you in theory classes, unless those theory classes are taken by top-notch theorists – see my Meter & Rhythm Page for some names to look out for).

Cutting options

The theme is beautiful, but it doesn’t resolve conveniently for class. I’ve given several options for ending it. The more dramatic version – using the coda – retains more of Schubert’s composition, but it might be just a bit too dramatic, and in addition, the rhythmic flow changes in a way that might work for some exercises, but not all. Handle with care. In the second part, I’ve put the violin pizzicato chords up an octave to get them out of the way of the tune, and so make it easier to differentiate between tune and accompaniment. I’ve also put in more notes than you might want to play, but I prefer to have them there so you can choose what to play and what to leave out.

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