Thursday, 7 April 2011

How to play Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca "Turkish March" - Piano Performance and Technique

Mozart is great for technique my previous teachers have told me. Why? Because getting good articulation in your playing requires a consistent touch and solid technique. Some of the scale runs are particularly challenging to keep the evenness whilst remaining minimal hand tension and to have a pearly lightness but yet voiced.  The last movement from the A Major K331 Piano Sonata is commonly known as Rondo alla Turca or "Turkish March". I've started relearning this piece. I played it for competitions when I was 13. I'm going to reflect on what I've learned in my lessons from this piece and share it with you! First let's look at it's influences. 
Ottoman Female musicians ( wikipedia)

Turkish Influence:  This movement is inspired by the Turkish Janissary Bands, which upon further research in Wikipedia reveal that these are Ottomon Empire Military Bands - hence the use of the term 'March'. Listen to some of the Janissary music below to get you into the flavour of the turkish inspiration.

 So we can definitely add the military character to the March section of the Rondo - the B section. This movement is so contrasting to the calm theme and variations of the first movement. In the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Turkish music was en vogue in Vienna, so much so that the fortepianos had an additional pedal which activated a drum and cymbal to give the rhythmic Turkish drumming effect. The Finchcock's keyboard museum in Kent, UK has such a piano - a Johann Fritz fortepiano dating from c1815.

Now let's hear a Swedish pianist perform this great Austrian Composer's piece with Turkish influence (how cosmopolitan!). This is one of my favourite Youtube recordings of Rondo Alla Turca performed by pianist Lars Roos, performed in Sweden. Lars also features the piece amongst his miniatures in his CD recording.

General tips for playing the Rondo Alla Turca
  • Rondo form - the piece is a rondo, which means 'round' so therefore has a structure, a normal Rondo is ABACA (each letter represents a section), but in this case it's ABCBAB and so, you come round once again to ' section A' twice. If you know the structure you won't leave out a repeating section when you don't need to! I'm reminded of some Scott Joplin pieces with their repeated sections, where we must creatively think of colour changes to not make the repeats boring or played exactly the same way! 
  • C Section Scale runs - to avoid rushing, use your left hand as a guide to set the tempo, let the left hand lead the right hand. 
  • Articulation - watch out for the left hand articulation in the beginning, depending on edition (I'm using the Associated Board Royal Schools of Music) the second bar is slurred and the 3-4 bars aren't! 
  • Focused sound - don't loose the bridge in your hand (collapsing). One of my previous teachers likened the action of a precision machine - such as a typewriter imprinting notes into the keyboard with precision, accuracy and equal spacing. 
  • Play in to the key - one of my first mistakes, I was trying to be light so much that I wasn't producing a full bodied tone,  you can have a strong articulated tone yet relaxed! So play into the keybed while maintaining as relaxed hands and arms as you can.
  • Harmonic progression - in the C section, there are some harmonic changes, or colour changes, F#m and C#m chords - bring out these colours. Be aware of them at least - do they have a more slightly darker contrast before the next A major scale run comes up?
  • Tempo - it is marked Allegretto, so check these on your metronome. A lot of people will play the piece Allegretto Vivace (which is faster) 
Whatever you do, don't play like a robot, like the TEOTRONICO 010 

Further Resources Here are some excellent further resources that go into more detail on the Rondo Alla Turca.


    1. Thank you for this, it is most illuminating. It always helps to get a fresh perspective and simply to see the facts black on white.

    2. thx I was playing like the robot before this

    3. Very helpful! I'm playing this piece in a competition and I'm sure these tips will be of great use!

    4. Sadly Finchcocks Piano Museum has now closed, but the new owners have transformed part of the manor into a piano school, offering piano lessons for adults :)