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Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117?

Posted By: Living_tribunal

Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 10:49 PM

My instructor thinks I need to diversify my repertoire away from Chopin (and I sadly agree). I'm a major Mendelssohn fan and want to learn a few pieces of his.

I decided on Albumblatt 117 in E-minor which is a very catchy and passionate piece. As with most all Mendelssohn pieces, the left hand is incredibly active performing perpetual bass line arpeggios. I swear that Mendelssohn must have been left handed at times.

I'm struggling with maintaining smooth legato with the left hand, especially with how far you're expected to stretch between your 3rd and 4th fingers. I won't sit here and complain about my smaller hands but do want to see how others have approached this piece and if they took their own path in terms of fingering.

Any feedback is helpful!
Posted By: dogperson

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:03 PM

Can you list some of the measures numbers where you are having a problem?
Posted By: johnstaf

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:21 PM

Originally Posted by Living_tribunal
My instructor thinks I need to diversify my repertoire away from Chopin (and I sadly agree). I'm a major Mendelssohn fan and want to learn a few pieces of his.

I decided on Albumblatt 117 in E-minor which is a very catchy and passionate piece. As with most all Mendelssohn pieces, the left hand is incredibly active performing perpetual bass line arpeggios. I swear that Mendelssohn must have been left handed at times.

I'm struggling with maintaining smooth legato with the left hand, especially with how far you're expected to stretch between your 3rd and 4th fingers. I won't sit here and complain about my smaller hands but do want to see how others have approached this piece and if they took their own path in terms of fingering.

Any feedback is helpful!


Maybe I don't understand, but would most of the 3-4 in the LH be covered by pedal?

Stretching between the fingers at speed can lead to all sorts of problems. In this piece I would keep the LH in a fairly natural position and move the hand from left to right position each finger. With this technique, fast arpeggio playing becomes much easier, but you do have to practise it quite a bit before it becomes natural.

It's also a good idea, if the music allows, to keep the thumb gently touching the index finger initially. When you tell your hand to do this, it overrides the unconscious message to reach with the thumb before moving the hand. Sometimes it's necessary to reach, but not in the LH of this piece, unless there's the odd bit here and there.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:23 PM

Yes, I just started sight reading it yesterday and the first measure where things start to get stretched is 5. If you use the recommended fingering (only provided in the first measure of this score) you're going from E2 to C3 to F3# with your 5th, 3rd, and 2nd fingers respectively. I'm having issues really keeping legato smooth going from E2 to C3 and also that F3# with finger 2. I've tried to find videos with a top down view of pianists playing this piece and can't find one. From the side angles it looks like they are maintaining this fingering throughout the score.

This specific measure is also difficult going back down as it's both unnatural and hard to reset with the starting E.

I can place my thumb on that C and use 3 on the F# and 2/1 on the A but I don't think that will work for the tempo that's required.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:30 PM

That's what I've been doing for the easier measures (the first three for example). You don't have to worry about resetting the starting E as there is a natural gap every time you start so after you make the first hop it's smooth sailing with the wrists.

Most of the other measures are difficult even with good wrist movement. I think other pianists are able to land their finger on the further notes fast enough so the gap is unnoticeable with good pedalling.
Posted By: dogperson

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:32 PM

Measure 5: I would do 51 3 1 3 5 and then repeat. These are two separate phrases do I would not have a problem with the repeat ‘5’; just be careful that two 5’s in a row are not ‘bumped’ (from C back down to E)

Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/02/19 11:34 PM

Originally Posted by dogperson
Measure 5: I would do 51 3 1 3 5 and then repeat. These are two separate phrases do I would not have s problem with the repeat; just be careful that two 5’s in s row are not ‘bumped’ (from C back down to E)




I think that's the only way to do it tbh although I might opt for finger 2 on the peak A as it's faster. .

Regardless, this will be exceptional left handed arpeggio practice!
Posted By: johnstaf

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:05 AM

Originally Posted by Living_tribunal

I think that's the only way to do it tbh


I wonder why I bother sometimes.
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:20 AM

I have played a lot of Mendelssohn. I don’t think this sort of left hand is very common in his pieces. I have played a piece by his sister which has this pattern

https://youtu.be/ti1eZ2B63Ro

Although I have not played this my suggestion at high speed you need very simple fingerings. legato would done via the pedal. You can collect the hand as you go up and down. Collecting 5th as you go up and thumb as you go down.

Why not 5 4 2 1 2 4 5 for measure 5?
Posted By: dogperson

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:23 AM

Originally Posted by Living_tribunal
Originally Posted by dogperson
Measure 5: I would do 51 3 1 3 5 and then repeat. These are two separate phrases do I would not have s problem with the repeat; just be careful that two 5’s in s row are not ‘bumped’ (from C back down to E)




I think that's the only way to do it tbh although I might opt for finger 2 on the peak A as it's faster. .

Regardless, this will be exceptional left handed arpeggio practice!



The 2nd finger on the A creates an awkward stretch between the 2 and 3.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:26 AM

Originally Posted by johnstaf
Originally Posted by Living_tribunal

I think that's the only way to do it tbh


I wonder why I bother sometimes.



Your input was appreciated without a doubt and applicable in many measures of the piece. Watching professionals, they don't seem to crossover with the thumb handling this arpeggio however. This is on par with the recommended fingering at the start of the piece. Also, pedal can't fix choppy left hand, very smooth and fast legato is required for the bass in this piece. The gap from the E to C would be a bit cringey.

I think all things considered I'm going to have to use my thumb to cross over for now until I get a better understanding of the piece. I'll try to find some videos for how this specific measure is handled as switching from no thumb cross-over to using thumb in the more difficult measures could lead to consistency issues.
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:35 AM

I would suggest that you take this difficulty to your teacher. It is easy to go from a 5th for a bottom E to a 4th for a C but you need to move your hand rather than stretch. The pedal will legato so you let go of the 5th. If you can’t do this then wait until your teacher shows you. You won’t be able to play up to speed if you choose unnecessary complicated fingering. Good luck.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:40 AM

That's interesting, most of my favorite Mendelssohn pieces; most everything in Songs Without Words, Op 104bb no 3, 104b no1 from his etudes, variations serieuses, his Caprices, his scherzos, etc. all have very strong left hands.

The fingering you provided is definitely what the score recommends and what others are doing but I just worry that the gap between E2 and B3/C3 would be too noticeable, even with pedal. You have to move the fingers so fast to hide it and get it sounding smooth. I'm wondering if I should take the time to really get your fingering down smooth or cross over with the thumb. I think crossing over with the thumb will be too slow once things come together and I'm in the polishing phase of the piece.

Looking at the other measures, they seem pretty straight forward and completely doable with the recommended fingerings so I might just go for it. If I can't stick it well with the fifth then I'll cheat a little bit with the pedal and crossing the thumb over (keeping what Brahms said about how he doesn't care how people play his pieces as long as they can play them in the back of my head).
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:41 AM

Originally Posted by Moo :)
I would suggest that you take this difficulty to your teacher. It is easy to go from a 5th for a bottom E to a 4th for a C but you need to move your hand rather than stretch. The pedal will legato so you let go of the 5th. If you can’t do this then wait until your teacher shows you. You won’t be able to play up to speed if you choose unnecessary complicated fingering. Good luck.


Sound advice.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:43 AM

You may get some fingering ideas from this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdg9_NbYCcQ

These two have a much better close up of the LH:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXCErI_nDf8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh55Ic0vYlY
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:45 AM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
You may get some fingering ideas from this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdg9_NbYCcQ

This one has a much better close up of the LH:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXCErI_nDf8



EXACTLY what I was looking for. I really appreciate you sending these!
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:51 AM

I had this same pattern of up down arpeggios over an octave in nocturne in the link above. I don’t remember Mendelssohn having a similar pattern in songs without words. But it is about moving the hand, collecting the 5th going up and the thumb going down helps. My teacher had to teach me to collect the thumb as it was something I had to practice a lot to be able to do. In the end you go up and down in a wave 🌊 the notes are smooth and it flows. I would suggest you go to your teacher.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 12:54 AM

Originally Posted by Moo :)
I had this same pattern of up down arpeggios over an octave in nocturne in the link above. I don’t remember Mendelssohn having a similar pattern in songs without words. But it is about moving the hand, collecting the 5th going up and the thumb going down helps. My teacher had to teach me to collect the thumb as it was something I had to practice a lot to be able to do. In the end you go up and down in a wave 🌊 the notes are smooth and it flows. I would suggest you go to your teacher.




I'm unsure about him utilizing a similar pattern but he has a very strong left hand in general. His basslines are kind of insane in so many of his pieces.

This specific piece will be very good practice as I'm weak with my left hand. The arpeggios remind of the quick little ones in measure 11 of Mozart Sonata Facila k545 except a lot harder haha.

Learning this will be tricky and I really appreciate the advice.
Posted By: Fidel

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 03:33 AM

I've never played this piece nor am I at a piano atm...

This kind of open arpeggio pattern is common. I was taught to finger* it as 5 4 2 1 2 4, 5. This requires pedal, a shift and roll. And a shift requires a lift. With practice this is fast and legato but I'm not going to lie, you need someone to show you how to do it. It is an advanced technique that assumes a total lack of tension. If you stretch & tense it will sound like carp.

* I have small hands but my teacher said hand size is not issue here because you're shifting. She was right.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/03/19 11:52 PM

Originally Posted by Fidel
I've never played this piece nor am I at a piano atm...

This kind of open arpeggio pattern is common. I was taught to finger* it as 5 4 2 1 2 4, 5. This requires pedal, a shift and roll. And a shift requires a lift. With practice this is fast and legato but I'm not going to lie, you need someone to show you how to do it. It is an advanced technique that assumes a total lack of tension. If you stretch & tense it will sound like carp.

* I have small hands but my teacher said hand size is not issue here because you're shifting. She was right.



I agree with you here. I'm starting to play more pieces where hand size is kind of an issue but I don't think this will be one of those times.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 01:25 AM

I've been practicing this specific measure quite a bit with 5-4-2-1 and it's of course very very choppy even with pedal. In order to get a better legato sound, do you kind of slide the fourth finger when trying moving the wrist right to left? If I raise my hand that's when things get choppy but am getting better speed with more of a slide.
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 03:32 PM

I printed the piece today to see for myself. I did not have much difficulty in the left hand . I could do 5 - 4 - 2 -1 - 2- 4 - 5 for the opening bars. In bar 5 there is a slightly bigger jump and you have to jump quickly from the 5th to the 4th. I found it doable. The main difficulty I had was also bar 5 but it was the rhythm I needed to practice not the left hand. The rhythm may need some practice at full speed with the quaver right hand against the triplet left. If its choppy and uneven in the left it may be you are playing too fast too soon. I do pivot with the 4th on some, but on the bar 5 it was more of jump from the 5 to the 4 as the gap was too large. Perhaps you are a bit slow on the 5 to 4 jumping. The alternative fingering if this jump is too difficult I used was 5 -1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 4. I'm not sure if this would be the most efficient to use and I am unsure of the best finger to use in this piece. It would be different for different people and this is just a suggestion. As using the most efficient fingering in the left is pretty critical to this piece I would take this to my teacher to get fingering suggestions before investing too much time learning. Good luck.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HoVGL0wQBI
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 04:05 PM

I just read you had only 5 months lessons. Is it? Maybe I've misunderstood but if this is the case I think this be too much of a struggle for you. If you want to start Mendelssohn people normally start with something like this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p-lnBD4uhM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RJ9vHBZIFs

op 117 seems an odd piece to play for the first Mendlessohn. Why did your teacher suggest this so early? I've had almost 15 years of lessons so this I think would explain the difference in what we find difficult. In my experience the faster Mendelssohn pieces are very much harder than the slow. I have only more recently got the dexterity to play some of the faster ones.. Hope I havent put you off but just intrigued by the choice.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 04:13 PM

Originally Posted by Moo :)
I just read you had only 5 months lessons. Is it? Maybe I've misunderstood but if this is the case I think this be too much of a struggle for you. If you want to start Mendelssohn people normally start with something like this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p-lnBD4uhM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RJ9vHBZIFs

op 117 seems an odd piece to play for the first Mendlessohn. Why did your teacher suggest this so early? I've had almost 15 years of lessons so this I think would explain the difference in what we find difficult. In my experience the faster Mendelssohn pieces are very much harder than the slow. I have only more recently got the dexterity to play some of the faster ones.. Hope I havent put you off but just intrigued by the choice.


The rhythm is indeed another difficult component of this piece. I'm now able to play the first few measures very slow but approaching it less from the mindset of matching up the bass and treble notes and more so in sound patterns.

Regarding the difficulty of the piece for my stage, I can understand how it seems pretty early and agree to a certain extent. My instructor has been very aggressive with progression since the first time I met him. I had been playing one month when I had my first lesson and he gave me Mozarts Sonata Facile k545 (on top of two handed/two octave scales/arpeggios for eminor! for that weeks practice).

We have maintained this very aggressive practice regiment and while I don't have the cleanest most polished pieces once completed, my development has come along quite fast. I now have a few Chopin Waltzes and Mazurkas under my belt and am feeling more comfortable with difficult material.

I am now learning two pieces at a time, a one month piece and a more difficult three month piece. Albumblatt 117 is my three month piece so I'm going to take my time learning it.

I really like how he approaches development as learning pieces outside of your skill range force you to develop certain technique very fast. My left handed arpeggios and ability to make large jumps will be much better because of grinding this piece out.

I initially approached him with two mendelssohn pieces, songs without words no.2 in f minor or albumblatt 117. Songs without words no.2 was a bit too difficult so we decided on albumblatt.

I'm just going to spend the next two weeks or so about an hour a day on simply handling the left hand and slowly incorporate the easy right hand.


Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 05:15 PM

Did you mean no 2 f sharp minor ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_uPCzXldtA

Yikes! What possessed you to pick these two after 5 months ? And your teacher encourages this progression ? It sounds like a method of madness to me. It takes many years to play the pieces you are trying to play. I sort of regret giving you advice as I genuinely dont think you should be playing these. frown. If you want to build a house you need to spend learning basics and working on the foundations.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 05:26 PM

Originally Posted by Moo :)
Did you mean no 2 f sharp minor ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_uPCzXldtA

Yikes! What possessed you to pick these two after 5 months ? And your teacher encourages this progression ? It sounds like a method of madness to me. It takes many years to play the pieces you are trying to play. I sort of regret giving you advice as I genuinely dont think you should be playing these. frown. If you want to build a house you need to spend learning basics and working on the foundations.



I'm a big Mendelssohn fan and my instructor has been wanting me to diversify my repertoire away from Chopin. I've been on a Mazurka binge recently as it's been perfect practice for me. With Mazurkas, you can memorize the piece in a few days and then focus on the dynamics and musicality. I love Chopin so much, I probably listen to 4-5 hours of Chopin a day. So I brought him those two pieces to put him at ease and he said let's do Albumblatt.

I am going to continue learning Mazurkas as it's working out so well and many of the pieces are coming together at this point but I am looking for a little more of a challenge from another composer. I really want to keep the focus on romantic pieces instead of classical. This limits the available repertoire but I am going to try Albumblatt 117. My instructor thinks I'm ready for it and I'm starting to get the left hand movement down. If it looks outside of my skillset in about a month or so I might move on. We've been increasing the difficulty every piece and it's been working out well so far so we'll see. This is a slightly larger leap but I have 3 months to work on it.

The way I view it is tackling these pieces force you to develop the technique required to play them. If I have to sit there and play the first few measures with just my left hand for a few dozen hours, then I'm walking away learning a lot more. There are so many things to learn from every piece.
Posted By: Moo :)

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 06:14 PM

I think diversify your repertoire is a very good suggestion. I have played too many Mendelssohn so have diversified to other composers. I have been playing Rachmaninoff pieces but my approach to my teacher is to get a few books and say what will you recommend. I then pick from the suggestions. I think this works better than you picking. If you wanted two suggestion I think my two pieces would have been better options which I still think would be stretch pieces at your level. So my issue was only with the piece choice which I think is too hard for only 5 months. I think at best you can achieve is a very slow rendition of the piece with such limited experience and you'll probably spend most of this time learning the basic notes and simple patterns. If you learn this way perhaps it works but it is a very slow process. After 3 months I doubt it is the most enjoyable or best way to learn. I wish you luck however.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/05/19 09:07 PM

Originally Posted by Moo :)
I think diversify your repertoire is a very good suggestion. I have played too many Mendelssohn so have diversified to other composers. I have been playing Rachmaninoff pieces but my approach to my teacher is to get a few books and say what will you recommend. I then pick from the suggestions. I think this works better than you picking. If you wanted two suggestion I think my two pieces would have been better options which I still think would be stretch pieces at your level. So my issue was only with the piece choice which I think is too hard for only 5 months. I think at best you can achieve is a very slow rendition of the piece with such limited experience and you'll probably spend most of this time learning the basic notes and simple patterns. If you learn this way perhaps it works but it is a very slow process. After 3 months I doubt it is the most enjoyable or best way to learn. I wish you luck however.



I appreciate the feedback. However given the progression so far, I think I'm going to stick with what my instructor has been doing. Every piece we've decided on has been outside of my league and ultimately has lead to much faster development and enjoyment from myself. I'm already beginning to feel comfortable with the first few measures so we'll see how it goes. My time will continue to be split between mazurkas and this piece.
Posted By: Living_tribunal

Re: Tips & Approach for Mendelssohn Albumblatt Op. 117? - 06/06/19 07:17 PM

So the 5-4-2-1 fingering for that fifth measure is starting to work out. Now that I'm doing both hands together, I'm noticing that your fourth finger will just naturally glide over to the c when you're mentally trying to maintain the tempo. I think if I just keep at it, it will get smoother and that gap will become less noticeable. Starting to incorporate peddle and it kind of sounds decent.
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