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08 June 2023

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Teaching Notes for Arabesque No. 2 - Grade 8 ABRSM Piano 2023-2024 C2

Arabesque No. 2: from Deux Arabesque

Claude Debussy


Teaching Notes

This piece requires a very light touch, as Debussy himself instructs us at the very beginning “Tres Leger”.


Pedal should be used very sparingly since there is much articulation detail that would be lost if over pedalled, for example the staccato markings after each triplet group for much of the first page.


In bar 4, it would be useful to use a 2nd finger in the LH D and then this becomes a pivot around which the spread chord in bar 5 can rotate. Notice in these bars 5 and 6, the length of the spread chord (it should be released on the 4th quaver of the bar).


Bar 8, is one of those rare moments where a  dab of pedal can be used on the first half of both 2nd and 3rd beats being careful that the sound of the chords is released on the second half of each of these beats. Also at the end of this bar a slight rubato/easing of tempo would work before the main theme restarts in bar 9. Another slight “rit” would also work at the end of bar 14.


In bars 16 and 18, notice the tenuto markings in the beginning and middle of the bar, distinguishing these notes from those staccato ones around them.


For the page turn in the ABRSM edition, before bar 24, it might be an idea to turn in the middle of bar 23, as these two bars are identical and thus even after a turn, the notes of the previous page are repeated and effectively visible.


In bar 26, the instruction molto dim is important to emphasise so that the “pp” and “sf” markings in bars 27 and 28 are more dramatic.


From bar 37, much attention needs to be paid to tied notes and other instances where one part sustains over another that is moving. For example the long dotted minim LH “F” bar 38; the staccato top line of 38, 39 over the longer chords beneath; the change from the staccato pattern to one of slurred pairs in the next two bars (40, 41) and the break in the RH after the 1st beat of bar 41 compared to the slur in the LH.


In bars 42, 43 we have the problem of a long dotted minim in the upper left hand and separated quavers in the lower left hand. Here the luxury of a middle pedal to hold the former while not ignoring the detached style of the latter would be the best solution.


Similar detailed articulation needs careful observation in  bars 46 - 49. Where the RH has a staccato top line, this does NOT apply to the lower crotchets in 46, 47 and then again we revert to the slurred pairs.


Compare also the articulation of bars 52, 53 with that of  56, 57, the former consisting of slurred pairs, the latter of one long slur. Also in bar 52, third beat notice in the recording above the use of the right hand to play one of the left hand notes which would be awkward to reach whilst still maintaining a good legato.


The next page turn in the ABRSM edition, before bar 60, would be assisted again by the use of a middle pedal if you have one so that the left hand notes can be sustained while turning the page with said left hand and at the same time keeping the staccato nature of the right hand. You may also wish to use a bit of middle pedal for the end of bar 61, to give your left hand more time to prepare for the spread chord of bar 62.


Bars 62 - 71 are mainly repeated material so the notes above will apply to corresponding sections here


Note the difference in articulation between bars 73 and 75, which have identical pitches but the former being legato, the latter staccato. Also in these bars, taking the top A of the written left hand part with the right hand will enable more legato chords progressions in the lower voice.


Although the direction in bar 76 is “gradually getting quieter”, a slight easing of tempo into the “meno mosso”  would be stylistic. And so we arrive at another challenge of articulation where a middle pedal is the best solution. For example bar 82 has a long semibreve in the bass, but semi-staccato notes in the upper left hand. Therefore the only way to truly play this correctly is with a middle pedal. Be careful however to release it in the next bar (83) where the semibreve stops.


The last page of the ABRSM edition is as always full of articulation detail that needs careful observation, notice the staccato markings of the top melodic line cease in bar 96, and then become slurred pairs in bar 98.


You can be tempted to think that the ending from bar 100 is just a repeat of earlier material, but watch out for a subtle rhythmic change on the second beat of bar 106, which differs from its corresponding occurrence in bar 34. The earlier quaver (34) is now a crotchet (106).

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