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3 minutes reading time (550 words)

May/June 2018: Pupil Saver

Ibert-

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I have an advancing student who is really interested in playing French music. Although I decided to steer away from Debussy for the moment, I remembered that French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) wrote Histoires (Alfred). I have taught the collection's "The Little White Donkey" and "The Giddy Girl" numerous times, but I hadn't looked that deeply into the collection's other eight pieces. 

According to Jane Magrath in The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature, Ibert's Histoires (Stories) is one of very few significant collections of teaching literature written by a French composer. Ibert wrote these character pieces for both adults and children, and, after many sessions of reading through and practicing the pieces, I chose "La Cage de Cristal" (The Crystal Cage) for my student. 

Ibert wrote "La Cage de Cristal" after dreaming about a nasty fairy who imprisoned a beautiful young princess in a glass cage. She is so sad; every day her prince passes, but she cannot speak to him or kiss him. The piece, set in G Major, is only thirty-two measures long, but those measures contain a lot of music. Ibert indicates the piece should be played un peu vite (a bit quickly), and, in the opening four measures, the lefthand melody is marked soutenu (supported). Students will need to voice this left-hand melody while keeping track of the off-beat right-hand chords. 

measures 1-4


Measures 5-8 feature light grace-note/chord combinations in the right hand. Some performers take this section a little more quickly, but the primary goal is for the right hand to be light while the left hand executes two-note slurs and staccato notes as indicated. Ibert ends this short interlude with a cadence in E minor.

measures 5-8

Measures 11-14 are more lyrical, and feature a variety of seventh chords in the left hand. Pedaling is a must, and Ibert suggests the section be played en badinant (banteringly). Voicing the the top notes of the seventh chords lends a definitive sparkling quality.

measures 11-14

Throughout this section, the left hand maintains a sort of ground bass while the seventh chords repeatedly ascend and descend. The mood here is clearly contemplative—could this be the princess in a sad and reflective moment? This section ends abruptly with a return to the grace-note/chord combinations similar to those in the preceding section.

I am excited to teach this piece to my student. It provides opportunities to work for expression, different articulations, and overall shaping of lines and defining phrases. "The Crystal Cage" is a wonderful piece that is not often played, and it deserves room on the piano teacher's shelf. 

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April 22
May/June 2018: Recordings
 

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