Vendetta

Vendetta: backstory and teaching notes

Vendetta

 

Vendetta is a tango.

I don’t know that I thought about the tango angle in any conscious way, but tango was exactly the right emotional energy I needed the night Vendetta was composed. This was back in the mid-90s when I was juggling piano teaching, various universities studies, writing and producing music theatre, working as an accompanist for a glamorous gospel singer, doing some quite random recording gigs and goodness knows what else – I can’t really remember.

But I do remember – most distinctly – writing Vendetta.

My boyfriend at the time had recently decided he needed a break. A relationship-break kind of break. Kind of. I’m not sure what he wanted exactly, other than the chance to date other young women while still maintaining some kind of relationship with me. Think some kind of Sex and the City storyline from which we are all supposed to draw a moral about What Not To Do In Relationships. Well, we [should] all know what not to do in this case, but I wasn’t quite sure how not to do it, so the night I wrote Vendetta my sort-of boyfriend was on a date with one of my sort-of friends.

That should pretty much be all the teaching note you need.

BUT, in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out: I wrote Vendetta quite intentionally to have something better to remember the night for than simply remembering it as the night my boyfriend went out on a date with someone else. I wrote Vendetta to make the night considerably more worthwhile for me than it was going to be for him.

And it seems that I succeeded in that ambition (Vendetta has been included in many piano examination syllabuses, including AMEB Grade 4, ongoing, and Trinity College London Grade 5, 2012-14) which just goes to show young women everywhere that these stories do sometimes have happy endings. [Ah, yes, there’s the moral.]

Oh. No. I didn’t end up with that boyfriend. Goodness me, no. Not that kind of very sad happy ending. No. You don’t want to end up with those boyfriends, girls, trust me. The story of who I ended up with comes many chapters later in the book.

But back to the music: Vendetta is a tango.

These days, with various tv dancing shows aimed squarely at family audiences, many of our students have a bit of an idea as to what tango sounds like and looks like, and there’s really no excuse to not use the internet to get a really good feel for authentic tango, both in the sense of the dance and of the music.

As to the notes: Vendetta is in A minor. Worth keeping in mind when you play the first left hand broken chord: there’s no F sharp! I only mention this because some clips of performances YouTube seems premised on the belief that this piece begins with a B minor chord (with an F sharp) rather than a B diminished one (with an F natural). One of these days I’ll get some recordings of myself playing these pieces up on YouTube or iTunes or SoundCloud, but til that day reading the music accurately will tell you all you need to know.

Pedalling: A warning is in order. Don’t even attempt to learn this piece unless you know how to pedal properly! You’ll have enough else to be preoccupied with without learning to pedal being on your to-do list. And a confession: I’ve shilly-shallyed in my decision-making regarding the pedalling in this piece, and you can find two published editions (the original Pepperbox Jazz 1 – yellow cover – and the Faber Music-published Pepperbox Jazz 2 – deep orange cover) with conflicting pedalling instructions in the opening sections. What it really comes down to is a. your piano and b. your performance venue. If the room has a very dry acoustic, you should pedal more; if the room is very resonant, pedal less. Once you get to bar 19 you should probably start pedalling no matter what the room sounds like, but do use your own judgment! It’s about making a successful performance, not about slavishly following instructions.

Rubato: feel free to stretch the time here and there (it may well help create a kind of wicked charm in your performance!), but always, always maintain the tango character of the piece.

Touch and tone: don’t be too gentle with this piece (see back-story above) – the melody should announce more than coax, and when you pull the dynamic back the mood should still be intense. It is not a love song! Enjoy the part writing (when the right hand has two parts), and work to create separate sounds for each of the parts, even if played in the same hand. This is very challenging for a Grade 5, let alone a Grade 4 student, but working towards this goal will produce a more brilliant performance.

As always with music at this standard of difficulty, change the fingering to suit your own needs – the fingerings indicated might well reflect what worked for my students at the time of publication!

And for those teachers and students who like to know about modulations, rest assured – this piece does not modulate at all, and don’t let an examiner tell you otherwise. It’s A minor from beginning to end.

Any other questions? Please do feel free to ask me anything you like in the comments below…

6 thoughts on “Vendetta: backstory and teaching notes

  1. I loved playing this piece last year for my Gr.5 Trinity exam…. 🙂 I feel really stupid for asking you this question but I cannot find a satisfactory reply from any of my friends….or the internet for that matter….. If you have a piece of music in front of you with 4 beats in a bar, how do you whether it is in 2/2 time or 4/4 time…..I never really had to think about this one until I looked at a question in the ABRSM theory Gr.2 booK! Glad your story ends happily! Kind regards, Marianne ( South Africa )

    • If it says 4/4 then there are 4 crotchet beats in the bar, but if it says 2/2 then there are 2 minim beats in the bar. Both kinds of bars have 2 minims per bar. Both kinds of bars have 4 crotchets per bar. Which value is the one you use as ‘the beat’ depends on the time signature.

      As a composer I choose the time signature based on a whole suite of elements: ease of notation, sense of flow, experience of the reader, and so forth.

      Hope this helps?!

    • Hi Kim – I really didn’t ‘use’ a structure – I just wrote what I was feeling (truly!) and that’s the structure my feelings took.

      Which isn’t to say that the piece is unstructured! Just that there was no formula or pattern intentionally mobilised or planned.

      Four bar phrases, working in four phrase units, as a rule… Nothing too complicated? Maybe I’m overestimating the simplicity??!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s