25 Easy and Progressive Etudes (Op. 100)

22. Barcarolle in A-flat Major

A barcarolle is a Venetian gondolier’s song, and in Burgmüller’s Barcarolle we clearly feel the boat gliding over the water as the boatman sings his wistful song. The main focus of this étude is expressive playing and projecting a beautifully shaped right hand melody over the gently rocking rhythm created by the left hand. As with any melodic line, remember the golden rule: “if you cannot sing it, you cannot play it”. Singing the top line out loud gives us the best idea of how to shape and phrase it artistically.

Controlling the left hands chords from bar 12 is challenging at the soft dynamic. A light staccato touch is required here. Even though the touch is detached, it is important to organise a fingering that helps us move as seamlessly as possible from one chord to the next. Thus, in bar 17 we might move from fingers 1,3 and 5 (on the first tonic triad of the bar) to 1, 2 and 4 on the second tonic triad, and then 1, 3 and 5 on the first of the two dominant triads (and so on). We need economy of motion to manage these LH chords at the piano dynamic; play each chord from the surface of the keys and release back up to the surface.

Barcarolle requires the pedal, but it is not possible to be too prescriptive about it. Legato pedaling is obvious in bars 3-4, etc., and whole-bar pedals work well in bars 9 and 10. Are we to observe the rests literally from bar 13, or are light touches of pedal possible to add warmth to the sound to avoid dryness? This is a matter for personal interpretation; some players will do it one way, others another. My feeling is we practise without the pedal until we have found our best sound, then experiment with dabs of pedal - surely the expressive appoggiatura (the A natural) in bar 22 calls out for something? As always, let your ear and good taste be your guide. Really enjoy the harmonic colouring as you play this étude, it is full of beautiful touches!

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