[anti-rclick]August 29, 2011
I found this page of questions on ABRSM forum in which past candidates of dipABRSM listed the questions they were asked in their exams’ “viva voce” sections. I am re-posting it here as I think it might be useful for those who are preparing for their exams to read as a reference.
This page contains viva-voce questions that have been asked in diploma examinations. Any answers given are those written by the candidate and are not intended to represent good (or bad) answers to the questions: they are simply the answers the candidate gave. All viva-voces end with the question “Is there anything you would like to add?”, it is not necessary to answer this question (with anything other than no) but if you do want to say something then this is the time to do so.
The questions as appearing here have been (lightly) edited for consistency throughout the page and to better reperesent the way that examiners are likely to word questions.
Scriabin Préludes Op. 11 Numbers 9 and 16
Beethoven Sontata in C Minor, Op. 13 ‘Pathetique’
Szymanowski Etude in Bb Minor, Op. 4 No. 3
Bach Prelude and Fuge No. 16 in G Minor, WTC Book 1
Debussy General Lavine Eccentric No. 6 from Préludes Book II (own-choice work)
How did you choose your programme?
What were the technical challenges you faced when playing the Scriabin preludes?
Where do the opus 11 preludes fit into Scriabin’s compositional output?
You say the First Movement of the Pathetique is in Sonata form. What is the structure of Sonata form?
What influence did Beethoven’s contemporaries have on this piece? In particular, Dussek (Dussek’s influence mentioned in programme notes)
You mention that it was written in Beethoven’s early period; what characterises his early period?
How many piano sonatas did Beethoven write?
You said that in his early period, Szymanowski was influenced by Chopin. In what way can Chopin’s influence be seen in this piece?
What did Bach mean by ‘Well Tempered’ when he wrote the Well -Tempered Clavier?
How should one approach playing Bach on a piano?
What are stretti?
What sort of answer does the Fugue have?
I noticed that you played from memory today; what effect does that have on the performance?
What does one have to bear in mind when playing the dynamics in, for example, the Debussy, compared to the Beethoven?
Edwin Roxburgh – Moonscape
Bach – Prelude and Fugue in F, from WTC II
Schubert – Sonata in A, Op. 120
Rachmaninoff – Etude-Tableaux in C minor op. 33 no. 3 (off syllabus work)
Ginastera – Tribute to Aaron Copland (off syllabus work)
How did you go about putting your programme together?
What else did Ginastera write?
What other works did Rachmaninoff write?
What works is Schubert most famous for? Did he write any other chamber works?
Who else was writing sonatas/piano music at the same time as Schubert? Name a sonata they wrote at that time.
Talk about the development of the piano from Bach’s time to modern day.
What other works/composers feature in Spectrum?
In what ways is Ginastera’s prelude similar to Aaron Copland’s music?
Do you feel that the cross-rhythmns and bi-tonality in Ginastera work against each other?
Bach – Toccata in D major, BWV 912
Mendelssohn – Prelude and Fugue, Op. 35 No. 5
Ravel – Sonatine
Prokofiev – Visions Fugitives, Op. 22 Nos. 8, 14, 19, 20
Ogdon – Prelude No. 9 in E from ’25 Preludes’ (off syllabus work)
What determined your choice of programme? Does it have a theme?
How does a fortepiano differ from a modern piano?
Who else other than Bach and Mendelssohn wrote Preludes and Fugues?
What performing difficulties are there in the Mendelssohn prelude?
Is Mendelssohn’s fugue like a Bach fugue? Show me in the music the subject, and the countersubject.
What other piano music did Mendelssohn write? Did he write a concerto?
What traditional harmonies and forms can you point out in Ravel’s Sonatine?
What other piano music did Ravel write?
What other piano music did Prokofiev write?
Why did you choose the John Ogdon piece to finish with?
Is there anything further you would like to tell us?
Bach – Prelude and Fugue No.5 in D major from Book II of WTC
Beethoven – Sonata in C# Minor, Op. 27 No. 2, “Moonlight”
Brahms – Romance in F, No. 5 from Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118
Gerswhin – Preludes 2 and 3 from Preludes for Piano
How did you choose your program?
What is stretto? Point it out in the music.
How can a pianist play Bach on the piano?
Explain the melody of the Moonlight sonata’s first movement.
Where is the chromatically descending bass line of the third movement?
What is sonata form?
Which movement uses sonata form?
In the Brahms, the melody is doubled in the alto and tenor. How does this affect the way you play it?
How do you play the melody of the Gershwin prelude 2?
Where is the walking bassline in the third prelude?
What were Gershwin’s other 4 preludes?
How did Ravel influence Gershwin?
Why do people like Gershwin’s more popular music more than his piano music?
Chopin – Nocturne No.18 in E Major, Op.62 No.2
Beethoven – Sonata in F Minor, Op.2 No.1
Debussy – Sarabande from the suite ‘Pour le Piano’
Schumann – Novelette No.1 in F Major, Op.21
What is the nocturne? (Candidate mentions ABA form)
What do you mean by ABA form?
Is it more a day or a night piece?
What is rubato?
Would you as a performer use rubato in left, right, or both hands?
How different was the piano of Chopin from that of Mozart, and how could that have affected Chopin’s composing?
Did Chopin compose anything else that was for piano and orchestra?
What were Beethoven’s style periods? How many were there?
How big of an influence was Haydn on Beethoven?
Did Beethoven compose anything for piano and other instruments?
Have you played any other sonatas by Beethoven?
What was the Sarabande?
What was Impressionism in music?
Was there Impressionism in art?
Name any other Impressionist artists?
I see you played from music. Why did you choose to do this?
But could there be any advantages in playing from memory?
What was Schumann’s disability in his hand that you talk about?
Did Schumann compose anything for piano and orchestra?
Summary of Candidate’s Answers
Free, improvisatory piece coming from the Romantic period.. ABA form.. written before only by John Field
Describe basically the difference of parts, how they contrast, possibly modulate to other key, then come back
A night piece
speeding up and slowing down according to emotions
right hand, left hand keeps constant rhythm
larger range – Chopin experiments with all notes.. and better sound quality, allowing for “fleeting” scales , etc.
Yes, two piano concerti, but all of his compositions had something to do with the piano
Three style periods – Viennese Classical, Heroic, more serene and introverted, talk about which pieces characterised each period
Significant, was his tutor from 1792
Yes, 5 piano concertos, and 9 piano trios
Not full ones, just separate movements
Stylised old dance, 3-beat meter, Baroque, Debussy’s tribute to French baroque composers
capturing a certain feeling/atmosphere in a piece
Yes, Claude Monet
Maurice Ravel, Charles Ives
Too much effort to memorize, not very good at it, prefer to have music just in case
Yes, you don’t have to spend time glancing at the notes
Made an instrument to strengthen his hand, ended up damaging his nerves
Yes, 1 piano concerto
Bach – Prelude and Fugue in F# Minor,Well-Tempered Clavier Book I
Beethoven – Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op 10 No. 1
Faure – Barcarolle No. 6 in Eb, Op. 70
Why did you choose the pieces in your programme?
What did you find difficult in playing the Faure?
What do you think about pedalling in the Faure?
Who were Faure’s contemporaries?
You wrote in your programme notes about chromatic twists, point to where these occur.
A question on keeping the pulse in the slow movement of the Beethoven (which the candidate knew was not secure)
The slow movements are notoriously hard to play – what problems did you have? (Mentioned technique, orchestral sounds, and thinking of song/opera – followup question asked whether the composer wrote any songs.)
Who was Beethoven’s first teacher? (Beethoven’s first teacher mentioned in programme notes)
Did Beethoven write any other sonatas in C minor?
Compare the piano Beethoven had to the one in todays exam.
Are there any technical things in the fugue e.g. stretto / inversion? Point them out in the score.
Did you make any adjustments to the way you played the Bach because you were playing on the piano?
Scarlatti – Sonatas K208 and K209
Beethoven – Sonata in F Minor, Op.2 No.1
Gershwin – Preludes 2 & 3
Questions about the programme:
How did you choose your programme?
How did you try to achieve contrast?
You did not include a Romantic piece? Why? (Candidate expresses enthusiasm about Spanish Romantic composers)
Name a Spanish Romantic composer.
Scarlatti’s Sonatas were composed for harpsichord. What difference did it make to your approach?
Did you go for stylistic authenticity or on the contrary use the breadth of the modern piano’s expression?
How had the piano evolved at that time and what difference does it make to your approach to the sonata?
How do Beethoven’s sonatas change over his 28 years of composition?
How was Beethoven’s use of sonata form in his early sonatas different to say Mozart or Haydn? How did they influence Beethoven?
What characterizes the first period of Beethoven’s compositions?
What is unusual about the key of F Minor used in this sonata?
How does this sonata compare, structure-wise with his later works? (e.g. use of scherzo to replace minuet, decreasing slow movements etc…)
How does the minor tonality bring out the piece?
What are the technical challenges in this piece, especially in the Prestissimo?
You say the inspiration for the (Gershwin) Preludes came from Chopin, can you clarify that?
How did you approach the 3rd prelude, especially the last section with large intervals, because at that point you seemed to be playing from memory?
What are the advantages for a pianist to play from memory?
Questions about the Quick Study:
About the quick study, are there any elements you particularly enjoyed? How did you approach it?
What key did the QS start in?
What did it modulate to in the second half?
Was the start major or minor?
N.B. Questions about the quick study seem to be very rare: if you are desperate to avoid these questions simply request to do the viva before the quick study (the syllabus states one can do them in any order).
Bach – Toccata No.2 in E Minor BWV, 914
Beethoven – Sonata No.14 in C# Minor, Op. 14 No. 2, “Moonlight”
Chopin – Nocturne in E, Op.62 No.2
Brahms – Rhapsody in G minor, Op.79 No. 2
Bartok – No. 1 from “Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm”, Microkosmos No. 149
You mentioned in your programme notes about the clavichord and the harpsichord being the prevalent instrument in Bach’s time and not the piano. How do these instruments differ from the piano?
You mentioned in your programme notes about “Countess Giudicelli- possibly Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved” whom Beethoven dedicated the “Moonlight”. What is the relevance of stating the possibility of her being his Immortal Beloved in your notes?
And what was the keyboard instrument prevalent in Beethoven’s time and how did it affect the music that was composed in his period?
What other non-piano works did Beethoven compose?
Did he also write chamber music?
And what is the trio? What instruments does it consist of?
You mentioned in your programme notes about Bellini’s operas having a similiar style to the Chopin’s nocturne in E. Can you describe more about Bellini’s opera and in what way is it simliar to the nocturnes?
You mentioned about “coloratura” in your programme notes…what does it mean?
What other works did Brahms compose, other than the rhapsody?
You mentioned that Brahms is more of an “orchestral” composer, can you explain this?
Who were Brahms’s contemporaries?
And what kind of music does Liszt write?
What is his music like? Are they easy or difficult to play?
Have you played any of Liszt’s music?
Why did Bartok write the Mikrokosmos?
Name one contemporary of Barok?
Summary of Candidate’s Answers
Talked about the make of the instruments and how it affects the sound. For eg, for the harpsichord, the strings are plucked and as such, no tonal nuances are capable on the piano. In the clavichord, small metal tangents hit the string when the key is struck and so the sound is smaller than the pianoforte. etc etc
Obviously, the dedicatee of any work is important and the relationship between the composer and the dedicatee of the work can help shape how we interpret the piece. Beethoven was said to have rejected the Countess, when she came back to him for lessons after marrying another man and going away for several years. There was some bitterness on his part, and this we can hear in the third movement, which has been said to be composed by Beethoven in a fit of jealous rage for a lost love. In this context, we would not think of the first movement as a funeral march as some would like to think it is. Instead, the first movement represents a certain pining and languishing.
The fortepiano, with a wooden frame and leather hammers, was used etc etc
He wrote nine symphonies, a violin concerto…
Yes…the most famous of his chamber music has to be the Archduke Trio.
If I’m not wrong, it consists of the violin, cello and the piano….
Sopranos… *examiners laugh* The term generally applies to sopranos..and I do have a recording of Bellini’s La Somnambula with Joan Sutherland singing the lead role…and I cannot help but notice the similarities in the style of the phrases, the florid passages etc etc
Mainly piano music…
It tends to be a little showy sometimes…but generally difficult technically speaking… Liszt was like the Paganini of the piano…so…
Yes…the piano sonata.. *exams are shocked* I emphasized that I played only the easier chordal passages and they laughed
He wrote them as exercises for his son to whom he taught the piano…then they gradually increased in numbers and became a complete set of exercises over time
Bach – Toccata No.5 in E minor, BWV 914
Mozart – Sonata in D, K.311
Gershwin – Preludes 2 and 3
What is a Toccata?
Did any other composers write toccatas, if so how do they differ?
What are the differences between the harpsichord and the piano you’ve played today?
How did this affect the way you played this piece?
Guide me through the adagio section, and explain why you played it the way you did.
What do you think of using pedal to play Mozart’s pieces?
Would you use any rubato in Mozart’s pieces?
What contribution did Gershwin make to the music industry in his time?
Do you know of any other American Composers?
What’s the difference between the conventional american music and his?
Bach – Toccata No.5 in E minor, BWV 914
Mozart – Sonata in D, K.311
Franz – Impromptu in G flat, Op.90 No.3, D899/3
Gershwin – Prelude I in B flat, Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
Which piece do you like most in your performance?
What is the style of Gershwin’s music?
What other composition did Gershwin write?
Where did Bach come from?
Where did Bach spend his height of his career?
Name some other composers who lived in Bach’s time.
What is the difference between the instrument Bach used and the piano? How does it affect your approach?
As there is no dynamics indication in this movement (the second movement), how do you decide the dynamics?
What is a fugue?
What is the key of this fugue and does it remain in the same key in the whole movement?
What is the difference between Baroque music and classical music?
Tell me about the structure of the sonata.
What other compositions did Mozart write?
Can you think of another of Mozart’s compositions that is similar to the theme of the second movement in this sonata?
Where did Schubert come from?
What was Schubert well-known for?
As a pianist, what did you find the most difficult in preparing the Impormptu?
Mozart’s K 445 (adapted from Gluck’s opera)
A Scarlatti Sonata
You might not listen to operas much, so why did you choose this Mozart piece?
Give one example of a Mozart comic opera and a Mozart tragic opera.
What technical and musical difficulties did you encounter in playing these (Mozart) variations?
Why do Scarlatti’s sonatas have a K. and Longo?
Why did he write these exercises?
Besides what you’ve said, do you have any idea to whom did he write them for? (Queen Maria Babara) Which country was she from?
How do you think the recital went?
What did you consider when planning your programme?
Your programme was very stylistic. What other styles have you not included? And why?
You state in your programme notes that Debussy was the most influential composer since Chopin. Why do you believe this?
What does the word Hausmusik mean? (Programme notes contain a quote including this word).
You wrote that Schubert composed over 200 songs; is this a good estimate of the volume of his output? (Schubert wrote in the region of 600 songs).
Map out the structure of the first movement of the Schubert.
What key has the music modulated to at the start of the development section?
To read more, go to http://www.forumconcert.co.uk/diplomas/
[anti-rclick]May 15, 2011
For students preparing for diploma exams or even music students studying at a university/conservatory, occasionally there are chances to write “program notes”, which simply said is to introduce about the pieces performing in one’s concert/recital (exam).
So how do we write some decent programme notes?
Just like writing a good essay or story, there should always be a clear and well-planned structure, with the following three parts/paragraphs: introduction, main body, and conclusion.
In the introduction, you can write something about the composer – for the more obscured/less well-known ones – or about the genre/background of the piece – do not write “J.S. Bach is the most famous composer from the Baroque period. He was born in….” etc. this sort of obvious information. Make the introduction short and brief, with a couple clear points to give background to the piece.
In the main body, you can first explain the title of the piece. It usually tells about either the genre/structure/form of the piece, or the meaning about the piece. E.g. if it is a sonata, then the first movement would most likely be in sonata form; but do not write “in a sonata form, there are exposition, development and recapitulation”, unless there is in fact any deviation from the normal structure. Write something special about the piece.
Do not be too technical about the structure. Merely write about the key change and thematic materials is boring! Remember, the programme notes is for general audience’s reading. However, do not be too sentimental or even make something up about the piece. You have to provide some solid information while at the same time give our own personal judgment or feeling about the music. After all, it is all about balance.
The main body is the biggest part of the whole programme notes, like the main course, the entrée to a great full meal. Select a few ideas and drop them down on a scrap paper before you actually write the paragraph. How many ideas you have to select depends on how long the program notes you are going to write. Play or listen to the music to get more grasp of what elements you want to bring out in the notes.
The conclusion, or the ending of the program notes is not always necessary, however useful at times. Close with a clean ending sentence with a clear solid idea to round up the whole notes. Make sure you present all your ideas in the main paragraph and do not leave anything hanging unfinished.
Now, let me give you a sample of my programme notes I wrote some years back here:
Ballade Op.23 in G minor (1835) Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Inspiration from poetic and literary fields was important in music from the Romantic period. The term “ballade” was used as a title for a collection of four pieces by Chopin, whose choice of title might have been inspired by a reading of his Polish compatriot Mickiewicz’s literary ballads. This particular piece is said to be influenced by the ballad “Konrad Wallenrod”, in terms of its poetic style and structural design.
This ballade, written in 1835, subtly reveals the composer’s love and yearning for his native country Poland which he left for Paris to further his career. Starting with a rather slow and suspending motion with tremendous heaviness, it flows into a moderate waltz-like tempo, with longing emotion in the first theme; it then becomes more restless and expands into sparkling movement. The second theme is colorfully sentimental and serene. However, the tranquility is put to a stop by the return of the first theme and the music gradually becomes more strikingly powerful. A brilliant passage on the high register is followed by a light-hearted section which dance rhythm allows only a brief respite before the musical rage comes back again in a wave-like motion. The last presentation of the varied first themes brings the music to the coda in which Chopin’s complicated emotion seems to outburst in a thunderous storm. This outbreak of sentimental sadness and burning rage is brought to an end by glistening scales and shrill octave progressions.
The ABRSM has published a brief guide to writing programme notes a few years ago. It is a useful reference for you all. Click here for the link.
I shall give you more samples of my programme notes later.
Until next post,