The Moldau theme is one of the most beautiful -- and famous -- melodies in Romantic orchestral literature. Even if you don't listen to much classical music, you are likely to have heard this piece if you have ever taken a music literature class.
In spite of the pretty melody line, I sometimes couldn't get kids real excited about polishing the first level of this piece until I added words to it. Yes, the words of the two verses may seem a trifle obvious ("It's a river! Flowing through ancient Bohemia!") but the mention of castles, mermaids, and old legends are just enough to engage the imagination of children and hook them into the intricacies of the melodic twists.
In the following video, the most famous part of the Moldau theme enters at exactly 1:00:
Here is my very easiest version of this melody, using notes that beginners should be very familiar with:
The trickiest issue in this seemingly easy song
The TIMING. Unlike Common Time (4/4 or C), 3/4 time seems to feel UNNATURAL to many kids, and takes extra attention to count.
I have found over and over again that what looks like a very easy song turns out to be rather difficult, solely because of the 3 beats a measure. Or 6/8 time -- even harder!
Prepare them for the counting
Therefore, I prepare kids psychologically when I give them a piece in 3/4 timing: "This may look easy, but it's going to be harder than you think, because of the 3 beats a measure. It may take a little extra time to get the rhythm down, but I think you are ready for it!" And we count -- first, usually, in the lap or on the piano lid, each hand tapping its part, as we count aloud.
Make the assignment seem achievable
I might even give them just half the song at first, making a little check mark to show them how far I'd like them to go. Perhaps I'll say, "Just go to the check-mark this week. You can explore farther if you really want to, but you don't have to." This removes a great deal of pressure for some kids, who don't feel safe moving ahead too quickly.
Now add the beauty of the harmony...
After getting quite comfortable with the melody and the rhythm, the next step is to add harmony. The left hand here is easy at first, and immediately beautiful, with the fullness of the Am chord. But then the LH has what may be unfamiliar notes, and sharps! Therefore, I suggest treating this piece as a duet at first; the student plays the RH, the teacher plays the LH. Then switch when they have gotten used to the sounds of the harmony.
So what is "The Moldau"?
"The Moldau" (pronounce it "MOHL-dow," like "old cow") is actually the German name for the river memorialized by Smetana, a composer from Czechoslovakia (the Czech Republic, now). Apparently the river Vltava flows through both Germany and what was once Bohemia (C.R.), and naturally, the world of music being what it is, it was the German name that stuck. (Think of Edvard Grieg's Norwegian songs, still sung mostly in German.)
Introducing young students to the classics
I like to introduce pianists to classical literature early on, because even if they've learned only an easy version of a piece, they are more likely to want to listen to "difficult" or "serious" music later on if they have that moment of "Aha! -- I KNOW this music!"
Harder arrangements of this beautiful piece
For more complicated versions of this music for beginning piano, see
and my favorite,
Do you have a funny story about this music, or does it remind you of something you'd like to share with other readers? Do you have a question? I'd love to hear it!
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