Jane Magrath

Ensemble music is popular in many studios around the country and can be motivating for both teachers and students. Students and teachers play duets together frequently during the lesson as a reading activity and often as part of the regular repertoire. Piano competitions often include a duet or ensemble as well as a solo music category. 

A key to keeping students involved in piano study is to add social experiences to their lessons. Duet playing with a friend that includes extra rehearsals/practice are always enjoyable.  Thus the student rehearses outside the lesson with another who is interested in music and the bond that comes with music study and music-making is formed. Last week a teacher told me about a talented high school student who had lost interested in playing solo literature, but loved playing duets with her sister.  The teacher was capitalizing on this interest, keeping the ‘romance’ in the lessons through duet playing.

The new Masterwork Classics Duets series features duets that can be played by students at the same Levels 1-10 as the literature levels in the Masterwork Classics solo books.  The duet books are progressive, and pieces included are carefully sequenced for student enjoyment and success.

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) was an Austrian publisher and composer who wrote numerous piano duets.  He was the publisher of Schubert’s first printed works.  An experienced musician, piano teacher, and composer, he was able to respond to musical trends of the day.  Consequently, his publishing company was a huge financial success.

“Melodious Pieces, Op. 149” by Diabelli contains delightful duets that set both hands of the primo part in a five-finger position throughout the book. Secondo parts are appropriate for more advanced students or the teacher. The keys employed are limited to those three sharps and flats.  Thus a student can concentrate on developing a strong sense of pulse as well as coordination between the hands and phrasing, since there is minimal movement around the keyboard.  Two of these delightful pieces are included in Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3.

Click to see the full score with
notes for “Allegro in E Minor”.

In the lively “Allegro in E Minor” you and the audience will be laughing by the end due to the energy and light-hearted personality depicted in the music.  The secondo part is responsible for setting the energetic foundation.  The primo provides imitative interest and the rhythmic propulsion forward through the phrases to the dramatic climaxes.  Some teaching ideas follow:

  1. Some dictionaries define allegro as happy, and others as fast, lively, or bright.  This piece seems to reflect all of these definitions.
  2. Phrasing.  The primo should shape as a small arch the imitative motives moving between the hands in mm. 1, 3, 8, and 9.  This is often called ‘inflection,’ because the note groupings are so short.  This piece is a wonderful one to help develop a student’s ability to ‘inflect.’ Be careful that the hands imitate each other equally in tone quality and rhythmical evenness as they alternate playing the themes.
  3. Driving to the Climaxes! Much of the intense excitement of this piece comes from the strong crescendos, led by the primo.  Note the drive to end of the measure in mm. 2, 4, 5-6, and 13-14.  The music surges forward with a quick crescendo for powerful effects.  The secondo supports this in the same measures. Notice the longer drive to the climaxes in mm. 11-12, and ultimately to the final climax in m. 16
  4. Staccatos.  The secondo pianist should never play too heavily, because the player can cover the melodies in the primo.  Light staccatos with slight accents or stresses on beat 1 in the measures of the secondo can help establish a strong rhythmic basis.  The primo plays staccato also, almost throughout, and the sound should be light and “up through the key” to avoid heaviness.
  5. Dynamic range.  Diabelli sets the listener up for surprises and dramatic climaxes.  Notice the two loudest places in this piece: measures 7- 8 and the very last two measures mm. 15-16, both marked ff.  On the repeats of both sections, Diabelli surprises us with sudden, very soft playing, just the way the piece began!
  6. Secondo support of melody.  The performer of the secondo part can bring out the left-hand line throughout entire piece, played as a kind of duet with the primo motives.  From this contrast one can tell that Diabelli knew duet playing well, since he provided strong musical writing in all parts.  The secondo right-hand part is the least important and should not be projected, to allow the right-hand of the primo and the left-hand of the secondo to stand out.  It is excellent writing on his part!
  7. Harmonic rhythm.  Listen to the piece to hear the harmonic rhythm – the frequency of chord changes within the rhythm.   For example, I hear: mm. 1-2 one chord only; mm 3-4 one chord only; mm. 5 and 6 two different chords in each measure; and mm. 7-8 one chord only.  You may be able to help the student hear this without looking at the music.

Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3

The Diabelli “Allegretto in C Major, Op. 149 No. 5,” also in Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3, is a similar piece.  It has a long lyrical melody in the primo with a gentle swaying accompaniment in the secondo right hand.  The secondo bass serves to support and enhance the phrasing of the primo..  The two duets make a nice pair, playing perhaps the more lyrical No. 5 first.

Additional works in this level 3 book are by Anton André, Cornelius Gurlitt, Louis Köhler, Anton Bruckner, Oskar Fried, and Igor Stravinsky.  Enjoy teaching these pieces and having students perform them in festivals, on recitals, or in lessons with a friend or with you!

Best wishes for many smiles with duet playing,
Jane Magrath
Author, Arranger, Composer