The Best Christmas Piano Music 2020

Sheet Music Review

The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.

Once again this year, Pianodao has a round up of favourite choices…

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Winter Repertoire Challenge

The Winter Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great opportunity for developing your Active Repertoire at the piano.

Are you up for it?

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Karol Kurpiński: Polonaises

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857) was a leading figure in the musical life of Warsaw in the early nineteenth century, and a significant inspiration to his younger compatriot Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849).

So much so that Chopin’s enduring respect for Kurpiński is evidenced in his use of quotations from his senior colleague’s works in his Fantasy on Polish Airs Op.13 and Fantasy in F minor Op.49. But perhaps the most direct influence of all is in his adoption, following Kurpińsky’s example, or the Mazurka and Polonaise as regular forms in his piano music.

Now PWM Edition bring us Three Polonaises for piano, all suitable for the early advanced player (around UK Grade 6-7) so that we can discover for ourselves this music which had such a decisive impact on Chopin’s musical development, and hence on the piano repertoire…

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Juliusz Łuciuk: Children’s Improvisations for piano

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Of the many excellent educational books in the PWM Edition “cat” range for young learners, Julius Łuciuk’s Children’s Improvisations for Piano is one of the most striking in every sense, from the stunning cover to the extraordinary music within.

In this article I will introduce the book, as well as including the PWM tutorial video featuring my French colleague and friend Ernestine Bluteau (with English subtitles).

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Eleonor Bindman: Bach Transcriptions

Recording of the Month

So here’s something very different, and yet which seems so very comfortingly familiar…

The question of whether or not J.S. Bach’s harpsichord works translate well to the modern piano has led to recurring discussion and debate throughout my lifetime in piano education, so I was intrigued to hear about New York-based pianist Eleonor Bindman’s latest project: the transcription, performance and recording of Bach’s Six Cello Suites for solo piano.

Bindman’s recordings have recently become available as a 2CD set from the Grand Piano label:


As Bindman points out in her fascinating CD booklet essay, Bach himself regularly transcribed his works originally intended for one instrument so that they could be performed on another, as well as making arrangements of the music of other composers.

And indeed, this was a standard practice in the Baroque era. And not only then: Bach’s music in particular has of course been the subject of many excellent transcriptions over the last three centuries.

Listening to Bindman’s recording, I was immediately struck by the mellifluous beauty and sensitivity of her renditions of these iconic cello works; that she has transcribed them so well and plays them with such assurance, grace and finesse makes this 2CD set an easy choice for my Recording of the Month

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Bob Chilcott: A Little Jazz Piano

Sheet Music Review

Bob Chilcott will be known to many readers for his lifelong association with choral music, first as a chorister and choral scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and for 12 years as a member of the King’s Singers.

Chilcott became a full-time composer in 1997, and has produced a large catalogue of music for all types of choirs which is published by Oxford University Press. His most often performed pieces include A Little Jazz MassRequiem, and Can you hear me?

In common with John Rutter, whose Piano Collection and Christmas Piano Album I have recently reviewed, Chilcott has lately turned his hand to creating a collection of piano pieces. Nattily titled A Little Jazz Piano in reference to his popular Mass, this newly published collection from OUP contains three short pieces suitable for intermediate players.

Let’s take a little look…

Continue reading Bob Chilcott: A Little Jazz Piano

Discovering Chopin

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Frederic Chopin is of course one of the most beloved of all piano composers, and many players are eager to play his music as soon as they possibly can; in the case of adult learners, often when they have only been learning for a few months.

PWM Edition offer several collections and anthologies that provide the perfect introduction to the music of Poland’s most celebrated composer, as well as two revered complete editions.

In this post I will give a quick overview of this range, together with tutorial videos from PWM’s Music from Chopin’s Land series…

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Krystyna Gowik: My Little World

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Krystyna Gowic is a well-known composer and educator in Poland, and it’s clear from her music that she has a deep understanding and commitment to education, alongside a real artistic flair.

In this article I will be considering her two collections published by PWM Edition: My Little World and My Favourites, as well as sharing the tutorial videos that I and my Japanese colleague Marie Kiyone have made to support teachers using this music…

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‘The Maiden’s Prayer’ and beyond

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

While The Maiden’s Prayer is one of the most beloved piano pieces of all time, its composer Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska remains one of the many great female composers of the early 19th century whose music was largely ignored in the 20th.

In this article I will try to find out who she was, what else she wrote, introduce a wonderful collection of her pieces from PWM edition, Memories of my Cottage, and share the tutorial video that I filmed for PWM offering tips on playing and teaching The Maiden’s Prayer itself…

Continue reading ‘The Maiden’s Prayer’ and beyond

The Most Beautiful Paderewski

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Most piano lovers will of course have heard of Ignacy Paderewski: a seminal figure from the “golden age” of the piano whose brilliant career as a touring virtuoso was interrupted when he became Poland’s Prime Minister from 1919-21.

Aside from the popular Minuet in G (which I will be discussing in the tutorial film below) however, his fabulous and highly accessible piano music is far too little-known…

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Feliks Rybicki: I Begin to Play

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

The piano educational music of Feliks Rybicki is one of the great treasures of the pedagogic repertoire, and deserves to be known by teachers and students everywhere…

Let me tell you more…

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Gareth Malone: Music for Healing

Sheet Music Review

Gareth Malone became a household name with his TV series The Choir, and subsequent ratings juggernaut The Choir: Military Wives, which led to a Christmas Number 1 chart topper.

Malone’s many colourful and inspiring efforts to get the nation singing are surely one of the heartening success stories of British cultural life in recent years, and in 2012 he was awarded an OBE for his services to music.

Now Malone has turned back to the piano for a brand new recording entitled Music for Healing, with a supporting sheet music publication from Hal Leonard which is the subject of this review.

Let’s ascend the stairwell and take a look…

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Filming “Music from Chopin’s Land”

Back in May, I received an email from my friend Tracey Connell suggesting I might be interested in a collaborative project with the legendary Polish publishing house PWM Edition: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne. And so began an unexpected journey…

PWM Edition (for short) were commissioning well-known piano teachers from France, Italy, Germany, Japan and the UK to film a short series of promotional tutorial videos supporting their range of educational piano music.

Would I like to fly out to Poland and feature in the English films?

Though this seemed a slightly surreal suggestion in the middle of a global pandemic, I sensed that taking part would give me something to shift my focus in a positive direction. And my excitement grew further when, a few days later, an enticing box of music arrived from Kraków.

Quite apart from selecting the five pieces/collections that I would like to discuss in my films, I was immediately taken with many of the other titles. How come this music isn’t better known here in the UK?

Continue reading Filming “Music from Chopin’s Land”

The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album

Sheet Music Review

In my review here of the John Rutter Piano Album a few months ago, I noted in my conclusion:

“Having produced such sumptuous and elevating transcriptions of eight non-seasonal songs, is it too much to hope that Rutter will return soon with a collection of his most beloved seasonal favourites?”

Well, I’m thrilled to let you know that Rutter is indeed back with a volume of eight choice Christmas classics neatly transcribed for solo piano!

So let’s jump straight in…

Continue reading The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album

Piano Calm Christmas

Sheet Music Review

Philip Keveren is one of my favourite arrangers and composers whose music has a contemporary popular vibe. He is also clearly industrious: this year alone has seen the release of his clever Circles: Character Etudes in 24 keys (reviewed here) and the hugely appealing Piano Calm (reviewed here), both of which are quickly establishing themselves as firm favourites with my students.

Now Keveren brings us the sequel to the latter collection, Piano Calm Christmas. And if it lives up to its recent predecessors, we can look forward to something very special indeed.

So let’s find out…

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Play Piano for Well-being

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music have established a reputation for producing interesting and beautifully presented piano collections in recent years, ranging from their standard-setting Faber Music Anthologies series to less imposing but equally attractive compilations.

Their latest is called Play Piano for Well-being, which offers a typically diverse assortment of popular and easily accessible pieces.

In common with last year’s Peaceful Piano Playlist, this new addition similarly compiles a wide range of music in the manner of a Spotify playlist, the hope being that the “31 uplifting piano solos” contained within will bring delight to players and listeners alike.

Let’s hit the play button…

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Brad Mehldau: Suite, April 2020

Recording of the Month

Brad Mehldau is not simply one of the true greats of jazz piano, but one of the most interesting composers, collaborators and creators in the contemporary music scene.

Every release of his is special, and this year we are fortunate to have two in close succession, the brilliant quartet album RoundAgain with Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and Brian Blade and, the subject of this review, Suite: April 2020, an intimate solo set comprising twelve pieces improvised in response to the lockdown of March/April 2020, plus three concluding bonus cover versions.

Suite: April 2020 appeared digitally almost immediately back in the late spring, and the physical CD album arrived this Autumn:


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Blood, Sweat and Tours: Notes from the Diary of a Concert Pianist

Building a Library

Rami Bar-Niv is known and beloved worldwide as one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought-after pianists.

Performing worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, Bar-Niv has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. He has made several well received recordings for CBS, many of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.

Bar-Niv will be known to some readers as author of the outstanding book, The Art of Piano Fingering (which I have reviewed here), and from his illuminating interview with Pianodao last year.

And we can all get to know him in depth and far more intimately, thanks to his recently published autobiography Blood, Sweat and Tours: Notes from the Diary of a Concert Pianist.


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A Piece a Week: “Initial Grade”

Sheet Music Review

Regular readers will know that I am quite a fan of Paul Harris’s Piece a Week series from Faber Music, having found that using these books within my own teaching practice has helped many of my students significantly improve in their music literacy and ability to learn independently using notation.

Harris has just added a new book to the series, A Piece A Week: Initial Grade, which merits a separate review to the rest of the series for a variety of reasons which I will come to presently.

My first reaction to hearing about this book was admittedly mixed, on the one hand delighted that this wonderful resource has been extended to accommodate the needs of early elementary players, but the other hand stifling a weary sigh that in a year which has seen exam boards straining to dominate the music education agenda, yet more grade material has appeared for review.

But, extraordinary fellow that he is, Harris has an unnerving and seemingly inexhaustible knack for pleasantly surprising me, indeed, hugely exceeding my expectations.

And I’m happy to report that he’s done it again…

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Bacewicz: Children’s Suite

Sheet Music Review

Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) is at last gaining the recognition she deserves as one of the great composers of the mid-twentieth century, her towering Second Sonata rightly applauded as one of the significant piano masterpieces of the last century.

Among the composer’s many smaller-scale piano works the Suita dziecięca or Children’s Suite is a delightful highlight, its eight charming miniatures for the late-intermediate pianist a fascinating progression from the educational piano music of Bartók, Kabalevsky and Prokofiev (whose popular Musiques d’enfants appeared just one year after Bacewicz’s Suite).

Poland’s major publishing house Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, PWM Edition, have recently delivered a delightful new edition of the work, edited by Monika Dziurawiec and with a gorgeous cover design by Joanna Rusinek.


Over the coming months I am going to be publishing a major series looking at an impressive swathe of lovely publications from PWM Edition: Music from Chopin’s Land.

In the meantime it’s a pleasure to look at this new publication and delve into the imaginative pianism of Bacewicz, not least because this important work surely deserves a place within the core pedagogic repertoire that every piano teacher should try to be aware of…

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Rachel Portman: Ask the River

Sheet Music Review

English composer Rachel Portman is best known for her many gorgeous film scores, including the music for such blockbusters as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess and The Lake House.

Portman’s latest musical project is Ask the River, a self-contained CD of piano-led instrumental reflections on the natural world, with an accompanying book from Chester Music delivering solo piano versions of all 13 tracks, the subject of this review.

According to the composer,

“I wrote this collection of pieces throughout 2019. They are the fruit of many years spent being immersed in nature. What can be more inspiring than the green shoots of new beech leaves appearing in the woods with the dappling light reflected in the spring breeze?
These pieces are a personal reflection on the beauty of the earth around us – the trees, flora, rivers, birds, animals and all her gifts to us. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I loved being inspired by the natural world.”

Explore them we shall…

Continue reading Rachel Portman: Ask the River