25 Easy and Progressive Etudes (Op. 100)

8. La Gracieuse (Gracefully) in F Major

La Gracieuse (Gracefully) is in the subdued key of F major, and features written-out turns against a simple chordal background. The left hand has the chance to explore the ornament in the B section of this ternary form study, but we begin with the right hand.

The turn consists of four notes - the note above, the principal note, the note below, and the principal note again. If this study were written with the usual ornament sign for a turn, the page would look much cleaner. Instead of all the demisemiquavers (or 32nd note in the American nomenclature), we would see crotchets on the first two beats of the bar (bar 1, etc.) with the turn symbol placed between the beats. It makes good sense to practise first a version consisting of the main notes minus the ornamental ones, so we can hear the line unadorned. In bar 1 we play C (crotchet) – F (crotchet) – A (quaver), and so on. When we add the demisemiquavers, the best fingering is the standard one for this ornament: 4321 (right hand).

If you find the turns cumbersome or awkward, it will help to practise some backward chaining. Working on each turn individually, begin by playing just the last two notes, connecting these to the next main note (thus 2-1-3). Do this fast and lightly, focussing on flexibility in the wrist and freedom in the arm. When this feels easy and sounds good, add one more link to the chain (thus 3-2-1-3) and repeat the process before beginning from the start of the demisemiquaver group (4-3-2-1-3). Burgmüller’s leggiero indication reminds us that the faster the note value, the lighter the touch; sink into the quavers on beats 1 and 2 (bar 1, etc.) and gently caress the quick notes. Remember that a slur over each short phrase implies a strong start with a gradual diminuendo: emphasise the first beats and lighten towards the end of the bar (floating gently off the quaver). Notice that the lower auxiliary note is often a chromatic lower neighbour (a decorative accidental, and not to be confused with one that modulates).

The accompanying hand (left hand in the A section, right hand B section) contains a marking that appears confusing – a legato slur together with staccato dots. Make the smallest of separations between these quaver chords, keeping the hand inside the keys and the wrist firm (but not stiff) and unbending. Enjoy the change in the melodic design (the swell in bar 4) and the colour change in the brief visit to G minor (bars 5-6). Those with an interest in harmony will appreciate that, rather than a modulation proper the composer is emphasising chord ii in a very familiar, standard progression of harmony: ii - V7 - I. The B section is in the dominant key of C major.

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