Sunday, April 11, 2010

Learning the Style First, Then the Notes

A few days ago, I introduced one of my Grade 9 piano students to Debussy's La fille aux cheveux de lin. This time around, I tried something different: after playing the piece through for her, I asked her not to start learning the piece for the first week. Instead, I gave her a list of recordings on YouTube to listen to for the entire first week, after which she would then learn the piece. My goal in this case was to introduce my student to the sound of Debussy's piano style first as a prerequisite to note-learning.

Fortunately, the quality of piano-playing for La fille on the YouTube videos available is quite high, after a little culling. Below are the recordings of La fille I assigned for mandatory listening. (Incidentally, consider what a piano teacher would have had to do 25 years ago in order to create this type of experience for their student. First, they would need to purchase or borrow the CDs or LPs for all these recordings, then either a) lend them to their student or b) spend hours transferring one track from each CD/LP to a cassette tape.)

Myra Hess
Maura Lympany
Alfred Cortot
Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli
Lars Roos

Lang Lang:

This video of Jascha Heifetz on violin and Brooks Smith on piano is an arrangement, but nevertheless gives a wonderful account of the piece:

Finally, this unconventional and perhaps somewhat self-indulgent performance by Sandro Bisotti is notable as an interpretation completely original and different than the rest (NB: take a look at Bisotti's bio for a one-of-a-kind career path - music educator and technical market analyst):

As a follow-up to this initial assignment, what would you recommend that my student read, listen to, or watch for further inspiration as she learns the notes next week?

Update: Melodie Hewer of Oakville, Ontario sends along the following ideas:
- any student residing in Oakville can have free access to the Naxos music library through our Oakville Public Library, provided that they have a library card. It can be accessed online via
- when introducing impressionist music to my students for the first time, I would ask them to look up some impressionist artists and their work, and come prepared to tell me something about the style. Our more visual learners can often 'see' the subtles of the music in the paintings of, say, Monet.
The Naxos idea is a useful one - take a look at the resources at your local library, as many of them (especially in schools) have a Naxos account that cardholders can access.

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit I'm shocked you didn't list Walter Gieseking's performance of this piece.
    He is considered the best Debussy interpreter.