Summer 2020: New Music & Materials
Emilie Lin has arranged five traditional melodies in her publication Hearts of Asia: Chinese Folk Songs, published by FJH. The first four pieces have lovely, cantabile melodies which are divided between the hands. They also have simple, beautifully written duet parts which could be played by a teacher, parent, or student at the early-intermediate level. Along with selecting singing melodies with varied tonalities, Lin cleverly writes accompaniments for each of these pieces which provide contrasting characters; the first and second are lyrical, the third and fourth are lively.
The last piece in the collection is a solo, which is slightly harder than the previous four pieces. It is cheerful, uses contrasting articulations, and is written with a melodic right hand and a simple accompanying left hand. According to Lin, its melody is drawn from a Russian folk song which was commonly heard in Xinjiang province!
Below the title of each piece are program notes, explaining the history of the folk tune. The words of the folk tunes are written in Chinese, and below the piece are an English translation, and the original language text written in Chinese characters.
These pieces could be performed as a set by several students; however, each piece is substantial enough to be played by itself. Not only will students and teachers enjoy playing these wonderful folk song arrangements, they will also get a taste of a fascinating and beautiful culture. (FJH, $4.95)—Meg Gray
Mozart's piano sonatas are not new to musicians: pianists, scholars, music advocates, teachers, and students have enjoyed these rich pieces for centuries. But now available to these musicians is a new publication, edited by Stewart Gordon and published by Alfred. This publication, released in two volumes, not only presents Mozart's piano sonatas with a fresh look, but Gordon's foreword is rich with information. As a preface to the works, Gordon introduces the nine piano sonatas of Volume I (K. 279–284 and K. 309–311) by presenting historical information regarding Mozart and the eighteenth-century piano, a summary of some essential Mozart scholarship, and a list of notable recordings. He highlights many musically sensitive considerations that musicians must make when they confront these keyboard works, such as tempo choice (because Mozart does not indicate tempo numbers, only tempo terms), how to execute ornaments, how to interpret dynamics, and the role of the pedal in performance. (1)
After the foreword, the piano sonatas appear. But before each sonata, Gordon provides a short "about" that particular sonata, including information about its source material, and other notable facts about the work or its compositional process. He also provides a brief analysis of each piece (meaning, he identifies where significant sections occur and something prominent about that section). For example, in Sonata in D Major, K. 284 and referring to measures 13–17, Gordon writes, "A transition opens with a RH orchestral tremolo in 16th notes."1 However, in Elements of Sonata Theory, James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy place the transition not at measure 12, but earlier and in measure 9. (2) This discrepancy does not necessarily undermine one viewpoint or the other, but rather shows Gordon will occasionally differ when compared to others in music theory scholarship.
In the end, Gordon's contributions are laudable: he limits the material so it is presented in a manageable way, but what he does present is thorough and offers plenty to ponder. And Alfred publishing, once again, is consistent with its commitment to quality publications by providing easy-to-read printing on the staff and its recognizable white cover and coil binding. In the end, this work is another step towards providing access to great music. (Alfred, $24.99)—Jacob Fitzpatrick
1 Stewart Gordon, Mozart Piano Sonatas, Volume 1: K.279–284; K.309–311 (Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing, 2019), 22.
2 James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 105.
Alfred's latest additions to the popular Recital Suite Series feature the four seasons. Each suite includes three or four intermediate to late-intermediate contrasting pieces, giving the student appealing musical variety and appropriate technical challenges, while capturing the spirit of each season. As this is the Summer issue of the Piano Magazine, this review will focus on that season!
Melody Bober's three-piece suite, Summer Scenes, perfectly conveys the hot summer months. "Sunny" starts in G-flat major, but it fits the hands so well that students will soon lose any inhibitions about playing in a difficult key. With quick flowing eighth notes, generous amounts of pedal, arpeggiated ninth chords, and a key change up a half step to G major, "Sunny" definitely shimmers.
"Sultry" is a winsome, carefree waltz sprinkled with jazz harmonies. In ABA form, the A section has a lilting song-like melody and waltz-style accompaniment. The B section includes right-hand triplet arpeggios, octaves, and a scale passage in sixths.
"Stormy" is a rhythmic toccata with a wide dynamic range. It begins mezzo forte with left-hand octaves interspersed with right-hand chords, building up to thunderous chords in both hands, followed by a quiet rainstorm in the highest register of the piano. The opening section returns, leading to a dramatic descending chromatic scale which spans almost the entire keyboard, with octaves in both hands.
Also in this series are Autumn Sketches by Martha Mier, Winter Illuminations by Wynn-Anne Rossi, and Spring Promises by Dennis Alexander. (Alfred, $5.50)—Carmen Doubrava
When most people think of etudes, they think of technical challenges. To be sure, the nine pieces contained in Jeremy Siskind's Perpetual Motion Etudes are technically difficult, but they are as much studies in concentration as they are of movement and sound. Siskind originally described the project as "A book and recording of nine piano pieces designed to help musicians dismiss negative self-talk," and the pieces invite performers to become wholly immersed in a musical world, committing themselves to a constant stream of sound that silences the extramusical voices of self-doubt that tend to creep in when the mind wanders.
The pieces are constructed so that both hands constantly navigate a kaleidoscope of sounds in a modern jazz idiom. Styles range from pointillistic ("Sometimes I Wander") to lyric ("Brooklyn Sunset"), joyous ("Piccadilly Circus") to melancholy ("Homesick"). The collection will instantly feel at home to classically trained pianists, but each etude also offers opportunities for an optional improvisation. Siskind provides ample assistance for accomplishing this by including chord charts, sample accompaniment patterns and melodic gestures, and advice on how to transition in and out of the improvisations.
Siskind's own recording of the etudes accompanies the book, and his considerable skill is evident. He negotiates the etudes as one might expect. His command of the instrument is never in doubt, the musical ideas are clear, and his fascinating improvisations extend the length of the set to an hour. (Without the improvisations, the etudes last approximately twenty minutes.) For those interested in watching Siskind in action, videos of the etudes can be viewed on his YouTube channel.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the Perpetual Motion Etudes represent a new kind of community effort. It was crowdfunded as a "Project We Love" on Kickstarter.com. Top-tier donors receive special thanks in the score, and full credit is given to the production team–editor Spencer Myer, engraver Kimberly Brand, and graphic designer Jennifer Boyd. To them and to Mr. Siskind we owe a debt of gratitude for this unique, important, and valuable contribution to the pianist's art. (Jeremy Siskind, $15.99 PDF; $24.99 signed physical copy, jeremysiskind.com/shop/)—Jason Sifford
Evgeny Kissin's Four Piano Pieces, Op. 1, is a brilliant first compositional effort. The opening cantabile "Meditation"is imbued with challenging chromatic chords and frequent triplets against duplets. "Dodecaphonic Tango" is a pulsating, vibrant gem with abrasive ninth and cluster chords. "Intermezzo" is a short, simple, and reflective breath of fresh air. The concluding "Toccata" is an exuberant tour-de-force featuring rapid sixteenths and octaves; its fiendishly difficult ending fuses the opening with fragments of a blues melody and a chromatic countermelody. Due to the many technical difficulties and unconventional ninth and tenth chords, this collection is only suitable for advanced pianists. The music in this Henle edition is beautifully laid out on non-glare paper; unfortunately, there is no preface to provide background information or performance suggestions. (Henle, $18.95) —Ernest Kramer
José Serebrier's Tango in Blue is a short, approachable, and tuneful work. Serebrier is a composer and conductor who has made over 300 recordings and has received thirty-nine Grammy nominations. This tango is an arrangement of a popular orchestral work that he composed for the National Orchestra of Uruguay. The first page introduces the main three-note chromatic motive along with some chromatic counterpoint; the remaining three pages feature a mournful melody based on that motive, in a tonal setting accompanied by simple left-hand triads. There are some rhythmic and technical challenges, so this piece is accessible to advanced pianists. A brief preface describes the origins of the composition and its title. (Peermusic, $9.95) —Ernest Kramer
John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine for four hands at one piano is a brilliant transcription of his landmark 1986 orchestral work. This arrangement arose after a meeting Adams had with pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton. This piece is post-minimalistic, so repetitive figuration, pandiatonicism, and gating (abruptly changing selected pitches in a harmony) are present. It is a remarkable mixture of utter melodic simplicity and devilish rhythmic complexity. There are frequent meter changes, syncopations, cluster chords, octaves, and hemiolas. Several long chordal passages require the span of a ninth; in some cases, the only solution is to redistribute or eliminate notes. In addition, there are extensive sections in which the right hand of the secondo player must be placed over or between the two hands of the primo. Performing at the indicated deliriando tempo requires precise counting, exact evenness, and rhythmic precision. This piece is appropriate for advanced performers. Readers are highly encouraged to enjoy the Naughtons' stunning rendition at youtube.com/watch?v=jN4cCYPEOGg. (Boosey & Hawkes, $19.99) —Ernest Kramer
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.
CARMEN DOUBRAVA is on the fine arts faculty at The Hockaday School in Dallas, where she teaches piano and accompanies several choirs, orchestras, and various school concerts. She is also the choir accompanist at Horizon Unitarian Universalist Church in Carrollton.
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 Wichita State University where she teaches piano pedagogy and coordinates the undergraduate class piano program. She also maintains a pre-college studio, and is an active adjudicator and presenter.
JASON SIFFORD is a freelance teacher and pianist based in Iowa City. He is also a frequent presenter and adjudicator and serves as composer/clinician for the Willis Music Company.
ERNEST KRAMER is professor of music theory and keyboard studies at Northwest Missouri State University, and holds degrees from Peabody- Vanderbilt University, Drake University, and the University of North Texas.
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