Dancing in the desert with Michael Head: Three Pieces for Oboe and Piano – Gavotte, Elegiac Dance and Presto

Pic for Head header

The Elegiac Dance is by far the nicest of the three, but let’s have a look at the other two pieces first.

The first dance, the Gavotte, is appealing in its simplicity and should be played in as song-like a fashion as possible with lots of work from the diaphragm to keep the line smooth: imagine you’re actually singing it. The piece loses all its charm when the performance is a bumpy one.

long slurred phrases

The bars to practise (sorry, no bar numbers!) are the two in which the player has to slur up to a top C#. It’s quite difficult to make this sound as if it’s an absolute doddle and the easiest thing in the world – because it isn’t – but this is what you have to aim for.

Slur to top C sharp Head resized(Suggested alternative fingering for the top C#: 2nd and 3rd fingers of left hand down, 1st and 2nd fingers of right hand down plus C key. It might not work for you, but give it a try. It makes it easier to slur up to the note smoothly and it stabilises the tuning a bit.)

nasty

The third of the dances, the Presto is a bit – well, ‘meh’, really, but it has its moments and can be made much more interesting by paying close attention to the dynamics and by taking it at as fast a pace as you dare; this might mean you have to double-tongue the staccato semi-quavers to avoid getting behind, but they’re always on the same note and in groups of only two, so it’s not as difficult as it might be.

Dynamics:

Dynamics in Head

Double-tonguing:

Double-tonguing in HeadThe staccato should in general be smooth rather than spiky, but this probably won’t be a problem if you’re playing the piece quickly enough because, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to move your tongue quickly enough to create a really spiky staccato at minim = 96 (!!). The 3/4 section is rather nice and again you can inject some interest by emphasising the temporary change in musical mood before the piece returns to the main theme at Tempo I.

The Elegiac Dance is just lovely. It has a sultry kind of lilt to it and the main theme always makes me think of a desert at dusk and brightly-coloured fabrics weaving gently in the warm desert wind. The opening phrase includes a turn which goes over the break – D-C-D-E flat – and you have to work on getting this to sound nicely even and smooth. The instinct is to move your body with the swing of the phrase, but it really helps the fingers to move cleanly if you can stand (or sit) as still as possible. The notes are quite fast, but it mustn’t sound like they are: the phrase has to sound lazy and relaxed – think of the quiet stillness of that end-of-boiling-day desert.

The bar that will probably need the most work is the 6/8 bar containing the eleven-tuplet:

Image

It’s best to practise this with a metronome, under speed at first, then gradually up to speed once you are confident you have all the notes under your fingers and you can successfully slur up to the top D every time. The notes in the eleven-tuplet don’t necessarily have to be all of even length, but these eleven notes together do have to last exactly half a bar. This is important: it throws the phrase – and probably the pianist – completely if you are late to the next bar (which is in 3/4).

Mixed metaphors ahead: it’s worth having these Three Pieces under your belt so they can be pulled out of the hat at a moment’s notice, because they are very useful concert-material: not too difficult, very effective if you’ve put a bit of work into them, and will always go down well with the crowd. Can’t argue with that!

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