Pupil Saver: Adagio in F Minor by Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Can you imagine performing a piece by a Black composer who was born into slavery? What a piece of history you would have at your fingertips!
Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) was a virtuoso violinist, conductor, and composer. Born in Guadeloupe, his father was a wealthy plantation owner and his mother was enslaved on the plantation. His father took him to Paris, France when he was seven years old to further his education. He became a leading concertmaster in Paris, performing his own violin concerti, and concerti that were dedicated to him by other leading composers of the time. Some of these composers include Antonio Lolli and Carl Stamitz. Chevalier de Saint-Georges composed operas, solo vocal and instrumental works, chamber music, and symphonies. All of the music that this composer created is hardly ever performed, but that can change right now by incorporating Adagio in F Minor into your repertoire.
Adagio in F Minor is a solemn, expressive piece that would be a wonderful predecessor before a student tackles Clementi sonatinas. It can be challenging for teachers to find music that bridges the gap between method book repertoire and sonatinas, as well as the transition from sonatinas to sonatas. Adagio in F Minor fits perfectly into an early-intermediate pianist's studies. This piano piece in F minor features a melancholic melody with expressive harmonic support (see Excerpt 1). The musical maturity needed for this piece often makes this a favorite amongst intermediate adult students as well.
Adagio in F Minor presents a few challenges for the intermediate student:
The student is asked to perform scale passages in thirds in the right hand (see Excerpt 2). The thirds in Adagio in F Minor are beautifully intertwined with the melody and should be voiced to the top note. A similar example of right-hand thirds being used as the melody in the teaching repertoire is found in Czerny's 100 Progressive Studies, Op. 139, No. 38 in G major, which can be a great companion etude when a student is learning this piece (see Excerpt 3).
Another challenge with the double thirds in the right hand is allowing the student to demonstrate that they are capable of shaping repeated thirds in the melody, as in m. 9 (see Excerpt 2). Changing fingerings in this measure will help avoid a locked hand position and will allow for better execution in shaping the melodic line.
This piece is such a wonderful example of sonata form. I often use this piece to allow my students to demonstrate their knowledge of key relations, themes, transitions, and sections of the sonata form. Allowing the student to fully appreciate the gravitas of F minor compared to the brightness of the second theme in A-flat major (see Excerpt 4) will greatly impact the student's interpretation.
The Adagio in F Minor by Chevalier de Saint-Georges is a stunningly beautiful piece by an important yet under- represented composer, and one that students are sure to love. An easily accessible edition is available through Theodore Presser Company and edited by Dominique- René de Lerma.