Sheet Music Reviews
A fascinating survey of 100 pieces from Susan Tomes, scales and arpeggios galore from Alfred Music, plus meditative piano music by Adrian Lord
THE PIANO: A HISTORY IN 100 PIECES
Susan Tomes Yale University Press ISBN: 978-0-30025-392-4
This is Susan Tomes’s personal tour through the rich history of the piano’s repertoire – and what an interesting, entertaining, and enthusiastic guide she is over the course of its 350-odd pages. The selection of 100 pieces she chooses to stop and talk about aren’t limited to solo works but also include chamber and concerto works, reflecting her own considerable experience as a soloist and chamber musician. The author draws upon her intimate knowledge of the music to detail her observations about the piece and its performance as well as relating its historical background. She does so with wonderfully eloquent and descriptive writing that reminds me of the wordsmithery of the most engaging musician-authors such as Stephen Hough. Favoured recordings and performers of her chosen repertoire are not discussed, which I suppose is fair enough given that this is a history of the piano as viewed through the lens of its repertoire. A book that should appear on every pianophile’s wishlist.
NOTES ON THE PIANO
Christopher Russell Michael Terence Publishing ISBN: 978-1-80094-041-3
Try to look beyond the front cover of this book, because the design that looks like it was created on a budget does its contents a disservice. Subtitled ‘A Series of Essays on the Playing and Teaching of the Piano’, this is a 150page book containing the distilled thoughts of a piano teacher amassed over the past 27 years. Covering a wide range of topics, from methods of practising to sight-reading, and from fingering to memorising, the author articulates plenty of sound advice in clear and concise language that is easy to read and digest. In contrast to similar books that print excerpts from the repertoire to illustrate points under discussion, no notation is included here, but this does help to maintain the overall flow of the book’s conversational tone. Its target audience is both the student pianist and teacher, but it is ultimately perhaps the sort of book that piano teachers would like their students to read, but are more likely to read themselves.
THE KEY TO SCALES & ARPEGGIOS
Jane Mann Alfred Music ISBN10: 1470612194 (Grades 1&2); -12208 (3&4); -12214 (5)
Examining boards such as ABRSM and Trinity have published scale books to accompany their graded exams, and these are often bought as a matter of course by students taking an exam. There are alternative options to consider, however, and anyone who finds it helpful to see scale fingerings written on top of a picture of a keyboard will benefit from these books by Alfred. Content has been revised to align with ABRSM’s new syllabus, and also contains the technical requirements of the Trinity syllabus (with the exception of a B minor scale and arpeggio at Grade 2, oddly enough). There is strong emphasis on fingering patterns, and rules such as ‘Thumbs on C and F’ or ‘3rd fingers play together’ are useful reminders when playing hands together. Natural and melodic minor scales are not covered, but if this is of no concern, I’d warmly recommend consideration of these books alongside the similarly presented Scale Shapes series published by Chester Music.
Adrian Lord Adrian Lord Publishing ISMN: 979-0-9002990-1-7
Piano Meditations is Adrian Lord’s third piano album; it is selfpublished but there are no quibbles about its presentation. A few years ago, he published a collection of 12 calming and atmospheric pieces in a book titled Sky Blue Piano, and the five pieces in this new album bear the same qualities. The music features unhurried tempi with a good deal of repetition and pianistic writing that helps the learner to assimilate the material rapidly. On first playing the pieces you may come across occasional puzzling harmonic changes, but listening to the music float by in the hands of the composer (his recordings are available on CD, Spotify, and Apple Music) erases any doubts about his craft. The shortest and easiest piece – Space – is just 31 bars long and is accessible to pianists around Grade 4, whilst the longest piece, Ascend, is four pages and can comfortably be tackled by Grade 6 pianists.
Andrew Kear Harrod Master Music Publications ISBN: 978-1-8389-162-1
Andrew Harrod is a British composer and educator currently in his 60s; this is his first published collection of piano solos, and it is available in both digital and printed form. Two of the eight pieces in this book were composed in 2010, but the others were written over the course of 12 months in 201819. Introductory notes to all the pieces identifying the source of inspiration for the work provide helpful pointers for the performer. Knowing that Rainbow Waters, for example, was inspired by the appearance of a rainbow over the Niagara Falls, guides the performer’s imagination to recreate the movement and colour of the water. Pitched at around Grade 5-6, the composer uses a contemporary, accessible harmonic language that is arguably best developed into a musical and pedagogically satisfying result in the one-page piece called Solace. The overall collection is easy to digest, but that isn’t really enough to make it stand out from the crowd.
Nancy Litten Alfred Music ISBN10: 1470613530
This is a collection of seven piano trios, all but one of which were originally written as piano solos by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (the other piece was a song). The arrangements are by Nancy Litten, whose compositions readers may have come across in books such as Piano Mix, Piano Star, and ABRSM exam syllabuses. The piano, violin, and cello parts are all written at the same level of difficulty (Grade 6-7), making these particularly suitable for GCSE/A-level ensembles, and Litten’s selection includes familiar works such as Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla turca’, and the first and second movements respectively from Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Pathétique’ sonatas. The music is distributed judiciously across the three instruments, and provides ensembles ample opportunities to refine their coordination and enjoy integrating their parts into a cohesive whole. An excellent addition to the chamber music repertoire at this level.