25 Easy and Progressive Etudes (Op. 100)

19. Ave Maria in A Major

Ave Maria, literally translated as “Hail Mary”, is a hymn-like piece with delicate harmonic touches. The andantino marking tells us that, while on the slow side, the tempo needs to move forwards. In the warm key of A major, the form is A B A* plus coda (from bar 24). The opening of the piece is chordal, the returning A section developed with quaver (eighth note) movement that suggests a little more intensity and flow.

The main technical challenges are chord voicing, and control of legato. We listen carefully to the tonal balance of each chord, ensuring we have a singing top line well supported by the lower voices (imagine a choir singing). While legato pedal is indispensable to this étude, it is a hallmark of quality piano playing even at this level that the legato connections are achieved by hand as well as by foot – a technique known as chord legato. As we move from one chord to the next in this legato context, we discover as many points of connection as possible within the hand. For example, in the left hand of bar 2, we need to release the thumb E in order to repeat it, but we can (and should) connect the 5th finger A to the 3rd finger C#. It is never too early to develop this skill; it needs to become second nature as soon as possible and will give us lovely smooth joins and help achieve excellent tonal control. The exception to this occurs at phrase ends, where a breath is called for. Here it is appropriate to release the keys gently, while at the same time staying close to the keyboard. It is a very good plan to practise without the pedal, adding it only after the playing is as smooth and shapely as possible with the hands alone. Practise on occasion without the pedal thereafter.

Play repeated chords (bar 1, etc) staying as close to the keys as possible. On a grand piano we can repeat the chord without letting the keys come all the way back up to the top. The last two bars, marked pp, may be played with the left pedal if you like the muted colour it brings to the sound (put the pedal down during the rest in bar 28 so you have it there just before the final chords).

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