Marcel Moyse: 50 Variations on the Bach Allemande
Moyse asked one morning at the class “Why nobody plays the 50 Variations? (Silence) You will play them tonight”, he said, pointing at me. I spent most of the afternoon learning No.50. Playing the entire book took the whole evening class. Moyse promised $100 prize if  No.50 was played correctly.  After I had played number 50 at the class: he said, ‘Two mistakes’.  But I was pleased.
 At first sight, the contents are not easy to understand and one can be forgiven for thinking the book is a way of practicing the Allemande. But he is simply using the tune to demonstrate practicing articulation, syncopation and ornaments of various sorts, together with rhythmic style. It was written to help establish a strong foundation about these matters, setting out rules which must not be broken during the study of the variations, but later, depending on the style of music, might be broken.  The letters: ASMD: means, A Slur Means Diminuendo!
During the class, I made brief  notes in the book between playing. Since that time, I have used the book with my Studio students, each player remaining on a Variation until it is played correctly, even if this takes weeks.  
 Start with Variation No.2.: Remember: a slur is a diminuendo. It is always a diminuendo…except sometimes! Before we relax and try a ‘sometimes’, the rule must be adhered to without exception. Then we can break the rules once they are learnt. Do not shorten a syncopated note.

 Start with  No.2. Practice very slowly: From A to E . There will be a diminuendo but the E should not be flat. (This interval starts off ‘Aus Liebe’, the great flute obligato in Bach’s St Matthew Passion) Exaggerate the diminuendo so that, as the speed increases, a little of  that diminuendo remains. That is very important as it is the foundation stone of most of the rest of the studies. Practice only four bars to begin with. (Some students stay on that study for 8 weeks or more until it is correct.) Mozart’s Concerti are full of slurred pairs of notes: ‘a slur is a diminuendo.
Don’t go on to other Variations until you have got that one right.
No.3. Short first note with accent. A louder E so as to diminuendo to G#. Don’t shorten the G#.
No.4. Diminish from E to E (don’t shorten 3rd note): accent last note.
No.5. Second note softer but exaggerate the rhythm. Do not play triplets. Not easy to get right.
No.6. A common form of articulation. Diminish in the slur, but don’t shorten the last note. Practice it slowly: it sounds     odd when you play it like that, but it sounds good when played up to speed.  Practice it both forte and piano.
No.7. Show the beat by a little accent on the first: don’t shorten the last note of the slur. ASMD
No.8. Don’t shorten the last note of the slur. ASMD
No.9. Practice this double dotted and then when you play fast, it will be right. 2nd half:: accent every first and third beat      to keep the rhythm.
No.10. Exaggerate the rhythm; accent the first note; play the next two slurs softer and then accent the return to the A.         This will give a nice lilt to the piece.
No.11. The first is short, but not too short! Mezzo forte first note: piano second note.  9th line: A slur is a     diminuendo. Shorten the second.   
No.12. Not easy: the first note MUST be louder than the second. Keep at it. It might take time to do this  correctly.
No.13. The first must be louder than the second note. ASMD
No.14. Now we get on to rhythmic style: ASMD of course, but occasionally try making the third note slightly late to create a ‘bounce’ (somewhat like the Viennese waltz)
No.15. Loud first note, the next three softer. Create that ‘bounce’ again by delaying the second beat within the triplet.
No.16. The grace note to be played short. Very short. As short as possible, so that, at speed, it does not spoil the   rhythm.
No.17. The only easy way to explain this is by note numbers. First note is accented: then notes 2/3, 4/5 are softer; 6 is accented in order to diminuendo in the slur to A: the 8th is short and soft. Later: neat triplets, triple tongued.
No.18. Piano. Very staccato and phrase in the usual two-bar form.
No.19 As marked. A not so important study.
No.20. Very good for rhythmic and stylistic discipline. Long first note: accent where indicated, then diminuendo.
No.21. Long first note: then diminish to the next beat.
No.22. There are better triple tonguing studies than this!
No.23. Useful to practice playing the correct rhythm.
No.24. Not an important study.
No.25. Could be used for a triple tonguing exercise…but it is a good preparation for No.26 which is worth doing,                 though hard. No.27, likewise.
No.28. First note short….and the rest of them. Take care with the rhythm…
No.29. First note very long: the second is almost a grace note to the third which is short too.
No.30. Be sure to connect the first five notes to the E! Accent the first. The rest short and softer.
No.31. Use normal fingering. Accent the fourth note.
No.32  First play it without the turn: then tuck in the turn rapidly so as not to distort the rhythm.
No.33. It’s a worthwhile study to try to play ONLY 5 notes in the trill.
No.34 As before: ASMD
No.35: The same.
No 36. There are better double tonguing studies.
No.37. Good study. First note is accented, then notes 2, and 3 softer.
No.38. The same.
No.39. In a way, it is a clue as to how to approach the Allemande itself: A trill makes you hold the note F. Play at least       a 5 note trill: mordents are only three notes, so the hold is shorter. These, combined with  the accents, help to                   interpret the piece.
No.40. Again, ASMD, but you will have to break that rule when returning to the first beat of the bar.
No.41. Over-dot and observe staccato and accents!
No.42. Not really worth the trouble. The same for nos. 43, 44, 45, and 46.   
No.47. Practice accents while playing rapidly.
No.48. Even groups of 5
No.49. Don’t bother…until the last 6 lines. Then it is hard to play each note with the same number of trilled notes.            There are some solos like this, so it is worth the effort.
No. 50.  Practice with a metronome. Observe the ASMD and take care to play accurate rhythms and accents.Take          especial care with syncopated notes of which there are many: each must be accented followed by a diminuendo. The last 4 lines plus 2 bars are a problem. Work it out.
                                                                                                                     Trevor Wye.    16 June 2020                   For further reading, see his book:  Marcel Moyse. An Extraordinary Man. A Musical Biography. (Winzer Press)    $22.95

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