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Discover Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee: A window into the contemporary realm


The music of Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee provides a refreshing look into the field of contemporary piano teaching repertoire. Rahbee, born in 1938, is an Armenian-American composer whose works for solo piano have been favorably received by pianists and audiences worldwide. She has written more than 200 works, and her catalog includes music for ensembles, instrumentalists, vocalists, and solo piano.1 The majority of her works are for solo piano and consist of several pedagogical pieces, preludes, ballades, and sonatas. In 1999, Piano & Keyboard included one of her pedagogical works in a list of significant twentieth-century teaching pieces.2 FJH Music Company began publishing her works in 2004. There have been several large festivals of Rahbee's works in the U.S. and throughout Europe. Her website, www.dgoolkasianrahbee. com, includes a great deal of detailed information and many YouTube performances of her music, including both student and advanced repertoire.

Rahbee received her early musical training from Antoine Moeldner at the Boston Music School and pursued further studies at Juilliard and the Mozarteum Academy. Moeldner, a pupil of Helen Hopekirk and Paderewski, and teaching assistant to Ossip Gabrilowtz, was influential in developing Rahbee's passion for music.3 Rahbee's pedagogical pieces originated as a way to satisfy the needs of her own students. She also received positive reactions from pianists Constance Keene and David Saperton, and this encouraged Rahbee to continue composing. Rahbee has since amassed a considerable number of works at all levels for the piano.

Remarkably imaginative and individual, Rahbee's teaching pieces are concise and clear in their pedagogical intentions. Many works feature the composer's preference for open fourths and fifths, driving and percussive irregular rhythms, and symmetrical phrases. Her teaching pieces address a variety of concepts for the developing pianist such as combinations of articulations, chord clusters, transposition, voicing, ostinato patterns, intervals, and finger patterns.

The publishing history of Rahbee's teaching pieces is complex. Many of her pedagogical works were first published by the Boston Music Company and Carl Fischer, and others were included in various collections. Recently, some of her works were included in the Celebration series published by Frederick Harris. In 2004, FJH released Modern Miniatures for Piano Solo, a two-volume collection of the composer's teaching pieces organized by order of difficulty and totaling sixty-six works (thirty-one in Volume 1 and thirty-five in Volume 2). Rahbee suggests selecting at random from the collections with the intent of introducing specific musical elements to the student.4 More musically advanced are her Preludes, also published in a two-volume collection. The following description selects works from both of these collections.

"Counting," from Modern Miniatures, Volume One, is an ideal piece in which to focus on meter, cluster chords, and tone production with students (see Excerpt 1). In "Counting," Rahbee simultaneously introduces changing meters and cluster chords. Each consecutive measure is in a different meter. Clapping or tapping each individual part, while counting, is a great way to help students grasp changing meters. The number of beats in the final segment, as shown in measures ten and eleven, corresponds to the number of notes in each cluster chord.

Excerpt 1: "Counting," from Modern Minatures, Volume One, by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, mm. 7-11

The additive cluster chords create two more dimensions that effect tone production: hand position and voicing. The five-note cluster, according to Rahbee, aids in strengthening the arch of the hand. In order to play the five-note cluster, the arch of the hand moves upward, allowing all five notes to sound. The left hand remains mostly stationary and functions as a pedal point. Crescendo markings correspond with the gradual building of larger cluster chords.

In addition to strengthening the hand, the cluster chords in "Counting" provide an avenue for teaching voicing, a priority for the composer. In a recent lecture in San Antonio, Rahbee stated, "All of my music, I have to say, is very specific for voicing. One of the things that I feel strongest about in playing is having a very beautiful singing tone."5 Students should first practice sustaining all notes in each chord. Changes in distribution of weight can be made by having the student hang on to the top voice after depressing the remaining notes of each chord.

Many of Rahbee's pedagogical pieces expose students to perfect fourths and fifths. "Waltz," written for pianist Benedek Horváth, is an excellent example of this technique (see Excerpt 2). The serene melody uses perfect fourths and fifths, and these intervals are also found in harmonic form in the accompaniment. The phrasing in this work is symmetrical, breaking into four- and two-bar segments.

The fourths in the waltz pattern allow the student to experience many topographical combinations of the interval. In the example, the student plays one black and one white key. Other phrases express the fourth in all white keys or all black keys: G to C and A-flat to D-flat. Waltz is also very effective in teaching varied waltz patterns and the concept of rubato. According to the composer, the performer, on the repeat of the piece, may change the waltz pattern and tempo. For example, students may replace the half notes in the left hand with two quarter notes, rendering a normal waltz accompaniment (oom-pah-pah). Changes made to the waltz pattern and tempo enrich the student's experience with this work. Rahbee also uses "Waltz" to explore varied pedaling. Instead of pedaling through the measure, students learn to pedal through different beats, such as beats one and two or beats three to beat one. This allows students to experience varied pedaling, which will prepare them for larger works.

varied pedaling, which will prepare them for larger works. "Dancing Puppet," from the second volume of Modern Miniatures, is one of my favorite teaching pieces by the composer. It is the perfect piece for introducing students to ostinato patterns and quintuple meter (see Excerpt 3). "Dancing Puppet" evokes the imagery of a stringed puppet through the use of quick grace-note gestures in the melody on long tones accompanied by a left-hand ostinato. Students will find that the ostinato pattern fits comfortably within the hand. It is also helpful to point out the grouping of ascending melodic fifths anchored by a central tone.

Excerpt 3: "Dancing Puppet," from Modern Minatures, Volume Two, by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, mm. 1-2

Excerpt 4: Prelude, Op 69 ("Twilight"), by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, mm. 1-4

 The second volume opens with Prelude, Op. 69, subtitled "Twilight," one of the composer's most beloved preludes (see Excerpt 4). The piece, according to Rahbee, requires a sensitive awareness of tone and a delicate touch. In the opening measure, the left hand begins with an accompaniment figure similar to an Alberti bass. The pedal point on E, nested inside the middle of the texture, requires a sensitive touch into the keys. Students should explore a variety of touches for this pedal point. Subsequent pedal points occur on C-sharp and F-sharp.

Rahbee provides further description of the "Twilight" Prelude on her website, stating that the work "expresses the physical and emotional fragility of aging."6 The pedal points, according to the composer, symbolize the bars of a jail cell or bird cage. The piece communicates two possible perspectives for the performer: being inside the cell looking from behind the bars to the outside world or looking freely from outside the world to whatever is in the cell. The perspective chosen is left up to the performer.

Prelude, Op. 5, No. 3, from Volume One, is dedicated to Alberto Ginastera, and shows Rahbee's more percussive side. Hofstetter describes the piece as "rhythmic and slightly menacing."7 Driving, dancelike rhythms in quintuple meter characterize the main theme and prevail for the first thirteen measures. The opening measures utilize the low register of the piano with the left hand in octaves supporting off-beat melodic gestures in two-note slurs in the right hand. The harmony, of an Eastern flavor, features two chords a whole step apart: one major and one minor.

Excerpt 5: Prelude, Op. 5, No. 3, by Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, mm. 5-8

Rahbee is arguably more well-known among concert pianists for her pieces of more advanced stature: the Phantasie Variations, Op. 12, and her sonatas for piano, especially Sonata No. 1, Op. 25. Phantasie Variations is one of the first major works of the composer to receive critical acclaim. The work is constructed upon two twelve-tone rows. An ametrical introduction channels the unstable, dream-like qualities of the fantasy and contrasts sharply with more stable, strict variations of the row. Frequent changes of meter along with canonic cascading octave passages make this work both challenging and rewarding. Students wishing to study this piece will find it pianistic with quick gestures and flourishes well within reach of the hand.

Bradford Gowen described Rahbee's First Sonata as the "most successful,"8 and Simon Jenner described that same work as "outstanding."9 Written for Angel Ramón Rivera, the work is appealing in its variety of color and sorrowful mood. Cast in four movements, the work as a whole is short in length and makes economical use of every note. Touches of serialism and Romantic lyricism abound in the opening movement and contrast beautifully with more jarring, percussive arm clusters in the fiery Toccata finale. The Scherzo second movement features a sprightly and humorous twelve-tone row shared between the hands and manipulated through multiple changes of meter. The slow movement follows with bell-tolling dissonant chords contrasted with a serene B section.

Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee's pedagogical pieces deserve a special place among today's piano students. Her works are imaginative, well-crafted, and intricate. The teaching pieces offer a pathway to understanding her larger works for solo piano. On one level, each pedagogical work addresses a specific skill for the beginning pianist. At a deeper level, one finds an appreciation for Rahbee's unique musical language. Her works are novel and provide an inviting and collaborative atmosphere for students wishing to discover Contemporary techniques.

Rahbee, Dianne Goolkasian. (2011). "Complete Listing of Works by Opus Number with Selected First Performances," Compositions. Retrieved from

Machover, Wilma. (1999). "Significant 20th Century Teaching Pieces." Piano & Keyboard (201), p. 41. Machover lists Rahbee's Pictures, Op. 3 as the most significant teaching piece from 1980. Some of the works from Op. 3 are now published in newer collections by FJH.

Rahbee, Dianne Goolkasian. (16 September 2011). Interview with author

4 Cash, Matthew. (2013). The Solo Piano Works of Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee. University of Houston: DMA diss., p. 13.

Rahbee, Dianne Goolkasian. (14 September 2012). "Featured Composer" lecture presented at the general meeting of the San Antonio Music Teachers Association, San Antonio, TX. 

Rahbee, Dianne Goolkasian. (2011). "Descriptions of Various Compositions," Compositions. Retrieved from http://

Hofstetter, Monica Buckland. (2000). "Piano and Violin Music of Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee." International Alliance for Women in Music (6), p. 56. 

8 Gowen, Bradford. (1996). "A Rahbee Sampler." Piano & Keyboard (181). p. 64. 

9 Jenner, Simon. (1996). "Seda 333: Music of Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee." European Piano Teachers Association Journal (16), 41.

All music examples in this article © by THE FJH MUSIC COMPANY INC. 2525 Davie Road, Suite 360, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317-7424. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Printed in U.S.A. Used by permission.

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