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"That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune" ...

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Immediately after recording chorus music last week for an upcoming DVD about Emily Dickinson, we began recording some piano pieces she might have heard or played.

Again, my goal was to keep the listener in mind, achieving variety of tempi, dynamics, and styles.

Since free downloads of this music are not available, I hope my descriptions will suffice.  If you happen to be playing these pieces, then you already have a score!

Henri Bertini

Fingering for the keyboard in the 19th century was different from the system used today.  While “1” is the thumb for us, in Bertini’s time the use of the thumb was indicated by a “+” with the other numbers being 1-4.  In addition, the Bertini edition provided to me for this project replaces the “+” with a “x”!

Modern piano fingering:

1 2 3 4 5

              19th Century:

+ 1 2 3 4

    My edition of Bertini:

x 1 2 3 4

Confused yet?  Sometimes an “x” would appear above a note, and then a natural sign would be printed 1/8″ to the right and 1/8″ lower.  Since “x” indicates a double sharp to us, my brain needed an extra second of two to translate.

We chose six short exercises from Bertini’s “Piano Method Complete.”  The aim was to illustrate a progression in difficulty.

  1. Left hand quarter notes, followed by the same music with the left hand in 8ths, same pattern (i.e. same right hand melody, with left hand playing the notes it played before, twice as fast).
  2. Less predictable writing, more skips between notes.
  3. 3-note chords, beginning with 2 notes in the right hand and 1 in the left; then the reverse; then a repeat of the exercise with the left hand marcato and right hand playing 8th notes on each off-beat (i.e. 8th rest, 8th note, etc.).
  4. Staccato, more melodic right hand; chords in left hand.  ABA form, caprice-like.
  5. Legato 8th notes, left hand, including intervals of an octave.
  6. Broken chords, hands together in octaves.  Emphasis on fingering.


Op. 19, No. 2

​Left hand just noodles along
​3rd line, page 2:  E quarter note, d c 16ths, D quarter note; move tempo until 4th line, last bar.

Move left hand 8ths, last line

Move marcato 8ths at end, no ritard.

Op. 30, No. 6

This is a Venetian Gondola Song.  It just goes with the flow.  All that’s needed is to set up a groove and let it play.

End of line 1:  left hand 3rds are higher, so will sound more prominent on their own.  No louder dynamic is needed in order to honor the diminuendo indicated.  I tried it, and sounded like an outboard motor!

No ritard at the end.  The tide just keeps going, so let your gondola go off into the distance instead.

Op. 62, No. 3

Orchestrated by Moscheles, this is now entitled “Funeral March,” as it was played at Mendelssohn’s funeral.

This piece has a big dynamic range.  So practicing by skipping from one dynamic to the next is helpful.

With the 32nd-note triplets, it is important to realize when to use the pedal and when not to.


  • 2nd line, page 2: 1st triplet needs a sustained left hand, 2nd triplet releases left hand after the 8th note while right hand sustains.  These differences provide 2 different pedalling schemes.
  • 4th line, page 2:  release staccato left hand and depress pedal while sustaining the right hand.
  • Last line:  I chose to pedal until the release of the tied chord; next come a G quarter and an E eighth with no pedal; then pedal to the end.

Op. 67, No. 3

This piece requires clarity, lightness, and a moving tempo.  So many details!

In the repetitive middle section:  dynamics are “p” and “mp”.  I decided to rush from the “sf” G through the ritard.

The end has timing issues:  for me, it worked to wait for the ritard.  Keep moving.  Crescendo at least to “mp” so the final repeated notes can diminuendo comfortably.

​Op. 102, No. 6

This piece is hymn-like, but is slightly freer.  (No words!)  It needs clear phrases and dynamic contrast.

I practiced the opening few bars, then jumped to page 2 to ensure that the tempo was the same.  The left hand on page 2 is in 8ths, not quarters, and in octaves.  I wanted to slow down.

You will need to plan how you want to phrase the ending, and how you want to handle the tempo.


The “Pathétique” Sonata, Op. 13

My main focus was on clarity, ensuring that each part speaks from its first note.

What I could have done better

  • I could have settled on my preferred tempo for each Mendelssohn piece in advance.  Due to nerves and because I’ve never recorded for a DVD, my approach turned out to be a little different from what it would be for a concert.
  • I could have practiced at the venue.  We have more to record, so next time, I will!

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