Autumn 2019: New Music & Materials
(S4-5) PIANO PIECES by Otilie Suková
Very little is known about the composer Otilie Suková (1878–1905), yet a great deal is known about her famous father, Antonín Dvorák. Nonetheless, Bärenreiter Urtext has presented pianists with a gem: a collection of four short piano pieces by this relatively unknown composer. The pieces—"Humoresque," "Lullaby," "Joey on the Horsie," and "To Dear Daddy"—are stylistically situated between romantic-era compositions and early twentieth-century ones, and are late intermediate/early advanced in difficulty. A performer could play a single piece or all four pieces as a set for a satisfying program.
Likely written in the later part of the nineteenth century or the very early years of the twentieth, Suková's melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic language to suggest as such. At times she juxtaposes seemingly rigid ostinatos with melodies that dance above it. The harmonic vocabulary is rooted in common-practice tonality, but she applies chromaticism in unpredictable and intrepid ways. And, she writes four-, five-, and six-bar phrases in equally organic, satisfying ways. While these characteristics only provide a brief description of Suková's general language, one of her strengths is the ability to capture the single idea, a unique character, with each piece. Listeners and performers may even find a striking similarity between Suková's music and Schumann's character pieces. Humoresque" is playful, extroverted, and quick, with shards of dissonance, whereas "Lullaby" glides, gentle and dreamlike. "Joey on the Horsie" is playful and quick like "Humoresque", but is far more introverted and contained. "To Dear Daddy" combines expressive musical gestures with improvisatory-like passages. The publication is only sixteen pages long, and includes a preface, sample facsimiles, notes about the edition, as well as the four piano pieces. It is also of the same high quality one expects from any Bärenreiter Urtext edition: the cover is simple and minimalist, the layout on the page is clear and easy to read, and measure numbers appear at the beginning of each staff. There are no fingerings for the performer. For the piano instructor, the works could serve as a stepping stone from pieces like the more advanced selections from Grieg's Lyric Pieces to those like Bartók's Hungarian Peasant Songs. For pianists, the pieces feel fresh and invigorating, even if the works were written over a century ago. And for all musicians—pianists, teachers, students, scholars, and listeners— this publication of Suková's work is another vital step towards recognizing quality musical output by women composers. (Bärenreiter Urtext, $10.25).– Jacob Fitzpatrick
(S, E1-2) PIANO SAFARI FOR THE OLDER STUDENT, Books 1 and 2 by Katherine Fisher and Julie Knerr
Like the original Piano Safari series, Piano Safari for the Older Student, by Katherine Fisher and Julie Knerr, takes students on a wonderful and well-thought-out musical journey. Both levels 1 and 2 include a Repertoire & Technique book, and a Sight Reading & Theory book. The positives in this series are many! Fisher and Knerr devised a comprehensive plan for all-around development, and the series is both highly organized and allows for flexibility. Concepts are approached aurally and musically (rote pieces), physically (rhythm patterns and technical exercises), and visually (reading and sight-reading pieces). Included in the package is access to a comprehensive website which provides a teacher guide and reminder videos. As well as solo pieces, the series includes ensemble pieces, teacher-student duets, and student-student duets; the series therefore works well in varied lesson formats (private, group, or combination). The authors state, "Students should work within a single unit in both books," but "the order in which pieces and exercises are assigned within a unit is flexible and left to the discretion of the teacher." The ability to design individual lesson plans within an overall comprehensive conceptual structure is a real strength of this series, especially considering the typical range of learning styles and physical abilities of older beginners.
The music in Piano Safari is beautiful and varied in character. It consists of pieces composed by the authors and challenge pieces drawn from standard piano repertoire. Some adult students may wish to study familiar tunes such as hymn or patriotic music; teachers will need to supplement the series to accomplish that goal. Patterned pieces are included which students can play technically, but may or may not be able to read. Teachers are given guidelines to teach these pieces either partially or completely by rote, depending upon student needs.
Visually and in tone, this series is absolutely written with the older beginner in mind. The notation and type size are clear, and study questions lead the students to think analytically about what they are learning. Titles are appropriate and engaging, and the music, especially with teacher duets, sounds sophisticated from the beginning. If you are looking for a flexible, musically interesting series for your teenage and adult students, check out Piano Safari for the Older Student! (Piano Safari, Level 1 Pack $27.50, Level 2 Pack $28.50).– Meg Gray
(E1-4) NEW ENSEMBLE MUSIC by Carol Matz
Finding new music for young pianists is always such a joy for me! I was pleased to be able to read through several new releases of piano solos and duets by Carol Matz. Featured solos are the Summer Time Sonatina and Honky-Tonk Piano. Summer Time Sonatina, intermediate level, features a light and bouncy first movement. A spritely melody flows over an Alberti bass—but the melody shifts hands! The left hand is allowed to share the melody, so move over, right hand! The lyrical melody of the second movement has a bit of a "pop" feel to it, which can be very appealing to a student who might be slightly bashful of lyrical and slow pieces. The third movement is fast and exciting! It features the left hand borrowing the melody for a bit like the first movement. Summertime Sonatina is a fun, exciting, and truly worthy piece for a student who might not have played a sonatina before, or even a student who is wallowing in the traditional sonatinas!
Honky-Tonk Piano, late intermediate level, has a ragtime feel, with swing rhythms and occasional triplet passages that punctuate the melodic work. Sprinkled throughout the melody are grace notes that spice up the overall texture and feel of the piece. The piece sounds more difficult than it is, thanks to Ms. Matz, who artfully crafts the left hand to have mostly single notes rather than chords, and it affords the right hand the opportunity to be the showoff. This a great piece for a student to learn ragtime style or just as a fun piece to play anywhere, for anyone.
Matz's elementary duets are a great treat for any young pianist! All are equal-part duets, which means that both the primo and secondo will share the melodic material. A Bicycle Built for Two, early elementary level, features words along with the melody. This endearing melody, written in 1892 and also known as "Daisy Bell," is artfully arranged for the young pianist. This is a duet worthy of playing by young students.
Hungarian Dance, elementary level, features Brahms's well-known Hungarian Dance No. 5, expertly arranged for the young pianist. Even though this is simplified, it doesn't fall short of delivering up a fun and exciting piece. Challenges for the student will be to match staccato note articulations.
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, late elementary level, written by Mozart and also known as the Serenade for Strings, is skillfully arranged for the young pianist. Staccato articulations abound, thus students will need to be careful to match their touch. Students will not only sound good, but will enjoy playing this duet.
The "Rondo Alla Turca," late elementary level, features another famous Mozart melody, from the Sonata in A Major, K. 331. This rondo has also been referred to as the "Turkish March" or "Turkish Rondo." The theme from the first section of the rondo is cast in eighth notes and truly sounds just like the original. Challenges for the students will be to match their staccato touch and to play the melodic line evenly. Students will LOVE playing this duet!
Matz's intermediate-level duets also feature equal parts for the students. She has taken three widely recognized and most-loved orchestral pieces and cleverly arranged these for duets. "The Swan," early intermediate level, is one of the most widely known movements of Saint-Saën's Carnival of the Animals. The accompaniment is written in eighth notes instead of the original sixteenth notes, and provides a tasteful illusion of a busy and full texture. In this duet, the melody is shared only briefly by the secondo. This duet is must-have: the arrangement provides a wonderful opportunity for students to play this well-known piece and it is so musically thought out for the student.
"Anitra's Dance," intermediate level, is a movement extracted from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. This duet features much more trading off of interludes between the duet parts. This not only makes it more interesting, but also is a teachable moment about shaping the line as it moves from one part to the next—the goal being that it is "seamless." Students will be challenged to match staccato touch and to shape the lines as they move from one part to the next. This piece is a must-have for the intermediate level—it sounds terrific!
"Waltz of the Flowers," intermediate level, is one of the most familiar movements from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. While the melody is exchanged between parts, the secondo features more accompaniment than the primo. The primo gets to prance across the keys with rhythmic combinations of eighth notes and triplet patterns. The texture comes across as lush and full, and students will sound awesome playing this duet.
Ms. Matz has outdone herself by arranging and writing such attractive and musically appealing pieces for young pianists. These are worthy of study and performance and should be included in every pianist's repertoire! (carolmatzpiano.com, duets with studio licenses and recordings $9.95–$11.95 each; solos available from $4.95)– Adrienne E. Wiley
Composer Chaos by Keys to Imagination
Composer Chaos is a fun new card game for music students who are first learning about music history. Sixteen composer cards have various representatives from the canon of Western music that range from Pachelbel to Copland. Each composer card includes a picture of the composer, the years he was alive and during what musical era, his nationality, some facts about his output, and some of his major works. By limiting the number of composers to sixteen, students gain a strong familiarity with prominent figures such as Bach, Mozart, and Stravinsky. Of course, such a limitation comes at the expense of omissions: there are currently no women composers (e.g., Clara Schumann, Amy Beach). Nor are there composers one typically associates with the very styles listed on cards for the twentieth century (which are included in the game): there are no cards for Debussy ("Impressionism"), Schoenberg ("Widespread break from traditional tonality"), nor Steve Reich ("Minimalism"). However, a representative of the company indicates that additional packs of cards with women composers and twentieth century/contemporary composers are in development.
In addition to the composer cards, the game includes four other types of cards. Nationality cards include a map that show the geographic location of where the composers wrote, composition cards list major compositions, style cards include a picture of various styles (e.g., vocal works, instrumental works), and era cards list the typical divisions of music from the seventeenth through twentieth century (e.g., Baroque era). Gameplay looks something like this: Students draw one of sixteen composer cards. Then, they take turns drawing, playing, and discarding cards. When students match all four features—nationality, compositions, style, and era—to their composer card, they win that collection. For example, if a student has the "Mozart" card and plays "Austrian" (nationality), "The Marriage of Figaro" (composition), "Vocal Works" (style), and "Classical" (era), the student wins the Mozart collection. The student draws a new composer card and the process begins again. The game ends when all the composer cards are exhausted, and the student with the most collections wins.
Gameplay itself is easy enough that students of all ages can enjoy the game, but some of the vocabulary on the cards is fairly advanced, so the game might be better suited for older beginners than for younger students. For example, one card reads, "The Symphony of Psalms is a three-movement choral symphony composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1930 during his neoclassical period."
There is no question regarding the value of learning music history, especially as students interact with more music. This game provides an exciting entry point for discovering and exploring this history. For teachers who value the pedagogical tool of games, Composer Chaos is a worthwhile addition to their game collection. (Keys to Imagination, $29.95).-Jacob Fitzpatrick
THIS ISSUE'S CONTRIBUTORS:
SUZANNE SCHONS is Music Editor at the Piano Magazine. She teaches music courses at the University of St. Thomas and piano lessons at K&S Conservatory of Music in Minnesota.
JACOB FITZPATRICK teaches piano and theory at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation on musical movement and Stravinsky.
MEG GRAY is on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Conservatory of Music and Dance, where she teaches piano pedagogy and musicianship, and coordinates the undergraduate keyboard skills program.
ADRIENNE E. WILEY is Professor of Piano, Pedagogy, and Class Piano at Central Michigan University. She loves teaching both college- and pre-college-aged students and discovering new gems of teaching literature.