I was talking to a jazz pianist the other day about technique, in particular dynamic and tonal control. He asked for some exercises and I thought about it for a bit, then suggested he work on the Beethoven E minor Sonata (opus 90).
This rather underrated piece* does require healthy hands, but it’s not going to break your fingers like some of them. Yet it makes very deep demands on your technique. Don’t worry if you don’t feel up to tackling the whole thing – concentrated work on a few passages will pay dividends.
The first movement features typically Beethovenian drama and requires great precision and care in terms of phrasing and dynamics. The second (unusually, there are only two movements) asks that you finely shade lengthy statements within a narrow dynamic range, taking care to maintain your baseline p.
Oh, and when Beethoven writes ff, he doesn’t mean punish the instrument. What’s the poor thing done to you?
Great pieces like this teach you a great deal more than just how to play them. I’m rusty on it nowadays, but have played this piece for years and it still challenges, rewards and enthralls me. It’s also well worth studying as a composition. And it’s very beautiful.
* Underrated perhaps because Ludwig’s publisher didn’t stick a name on it – as he was fond of doing whenever he got the chance. Nevertheless, the piece was written as a wedding present, and if you were minded to, you could perhaps regard the first bit as Courtship and the second bit as Marital Bliss. Maybe that’s why there isn’t a third bit…