For those who play the piano purely for their own enrichment (rather than for certificates or prizes) the latest series of publications from Schott Music will be of special interest. The Relax With series is aimed at intermediate to advanced pianists who play “mostly at home for their own enjoyment”.
According to British concert pianist Samantha Ward, who put these selections together :
So let’s take a closer look…
The five books in the series are certainly beautifully packaged. Each volume has a lush photograph of a relaxing nature scene on its cover, such as one might find on the front of a meditation or lifestyle publication. The styling and presentation here is bang up to the minute, and very inviting.
The whole look and feel of these books is impressive from the start, with sturdy covers, luxury cream paper, good print quality and excellent finish. I would say they should easily cope with many years regular use.
Within each book, the pieces progress roughly in order of difficulty. According to the publishers they are suitable from grades 2-8, though I would suggest that they are most suitable from around Grade 4, at which point the easiest pieces could be used as quick study material, while the core of the books would provide lots of pieces to challenge and engage the player.
In the case of Relax with French Impressionist Piano, I would suggest that the easiest pieces (the Gympnopédies) are around Grade 5, so that this volume might be a later addition to the player’s library.
In terms of the actual repertoire selection, I think that all five collections are absolutely superb – and each of the books really represents outstanding value for money.
It should be noted here that the books all include a mixture of authentically reproduced original piano compositions by great composers, alongside piano arrangements of other well known music from the period. The purist or more serious player might find it disconcerting to see a simplified two-page arrangement of the slow movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 alongside the full score of the Impromptu in G flat major by Schubert – but given the context and aim of the books I personally think it is fine.
And on that subject, one of my teenage students is currently very much enjoying the Mozart arrangement, which includes his first exposure to “three against four” cross-rhythms between hands, so it has great educational as well as musical value!
One more thing to note here is that the books are essentially compilations, with editions selected from the extensive Schott catalogue. The pieces do not seem to have been freshly edited or engraved. This isn’t a particular problem, because Schott are renowned for their classy house style and editorial values, so these books are drawing from high quality sources.
But eagle-eyed players will soon spot the minor inconsistencies in terms of staff size and graphic elements such as pedalling signs. Some pieces are closer to “urtext” than others. And in the Relax with Romantic Piano book in particular I noticed that a few of the pieces engraved from older scores appear somewhat cramped, with less generous spacing than those derived from more recent Schott publications.
These are really very minor niggles, and I want to stress that I am tremendously impressed with all five books in this series. They are a fabulous addition to the pianist’s and teacher’s library, and I expect to be using them with a large proportion of my adult and teenage students.
Before summarising my conclusions about the series, I’m going to take a quick look at each volume in turn, giving a few general thoughts as well as listing the complete contents, which is something readers have requested I do in my reviews here.
If some of the titles in the lists below seem rather vague, it is because the books don’t include the source information or background to the pieces (other than which Schott publication they have previously appeared in). This is a pity, as players whose main aim is enjoyment are often very keen to know the back-story of the pieces they play. I think it would have been the icing on the cake if Samantha could have provided short historical and performing notes on each piece.
Relax with Baroque Piano
As you will see from the list below, this includes a diverse selection of pieces with more “arrangements” than most of the other books in the series. Generally these are very good, and the original keyboard pieces include many of the most popular Baroque favourites, making this a great value anthology.
- J.S. Bach: Menuet G Major
- J.S. Bach: Menuet G minor
- H. Purcell: Trumpet Tune
- J.S. Bach: Sarabande (BWV 821)
- J.C.F. Bach: Solfeggio D Major
- J.S. Bach: Praeludium (BWV 846)
- J.S. Bach: Menuet G Major
- J.S. Bach: Praeludium C minor (BWV 999)
- H. Purcell: Gavotte
- M.-A. Charpentier: Prélude
- G.F. Händel: Ombra mai fù
- D. Scarlatti: Sonata E minor (K291)
- A. Vivaldi: Autumn, op. 8/3
- H. Purcell: Air
- J. Kuhnau: Praeludium
- G.F. Händel: Lascia ch’io pianga
- A. Vivaldi: Winter, op. 8/4
- J.C.F. Bach: Larghetto
- D. Scarlatti: Sonata F Major (K274)
- J. Pachelbel: Canon D Major
- G.F. Händel: Air (HWV 348)
- G.F. Händel: Trio
- J.S. Bach: Sinfonia
- D. Scarlatti: Sonata D minor (K9)
- A. Vivaldi: Spring, op. 8/1
- G.F. Händel: Sarabande (HWV 437)
- D. Scarlatti: Sonata E Major (K380)
- J.S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
- J.S. Bach: Aria (BWV 988)
- J.S. Bach: Sleepers Wake
- J.S. Bach: Ait (BWV 1068)
- G.F. Händel: Chaconne (HWV 447)
- J.P. Rameau: Rigaudon
- G.F. Händel: The Harmonious Blacksmith (HWV 430)
- C. Daquin: Le Coucou
Relax with Classical Piano
Like the Baroque anthology, this includes several great arrangements of evergreen favourites, but also a growing proportion of “proper” keyboard works reproduced from good editions. It is particularly clear in this collection that the emphasis is on the slow movements, in keeping with the “Relax” theme:
- W.A. Mozart: Andante Grazioso
- J.N. Hummel: Air Russe
- A.E. Müller: Siciliano G minor
- W.A. Mozart: Adagio (KV 356)
- F. Schubert: Symphony No. 7 “Unfinished”
- M. Clementi: Andante
- L.v. Beethoven: Menuet G Major
- L.v. Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 A Major, op. 92, 2nd movement
- W.A. Mozart: Lacrimosa (KV 626)
- J. Haydn: Gott erhalte (Hob.III:77)
- F. Schubert: Ständchen
- F. Schubert: Waltz G minor, op. 18/6
- J. Haydn: Adagio (Hob.XVII:9)
- W.A. Mozart: Easy Sonata C Major
- W.A. Mozart: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (KV 622)
- W.A. Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 21 (KV 467)
- L. Boccherini: Menuet, op. 13/5
- W.A. Mozart: Andante (KV 545)
- L.v. Beethoven: Bagatelle No. 5, op. 126
- L.v. Beethoven: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5, op. 73, 2nd movement
- L.v. Beethoven: Bagatelle, op. 119/1
- L.v. Beethoven: Für Elise (WoO 59)
- L.v. Beethoven: Bagatelle No. 3, op. 126
- L.v. Beethoven: Adagio (WoO 51)
- L.v. Beethoven: Moonlight Sonata, op. 27/2
- F. Schubert: Impromptu in A Major (D 935/2)
- J. Haydn: Adagio (Hob.XV:22/2)
- L.v. Beethoven: Pathétique, op. 13
- F. Schubert: Adagio (D178)
- W.A. Mozart: Andante Cantabile
- F. Schubert: Moment Musical, op. 94/6
- W.A. Mozart: Adagio (KV 540)
- F. Schubert: Impromptu, op. 90/3
Relax with Romantic Piano
In this collection, the majority of the pieces are piano originals (and perhaps this is to be expected given the popularity of domestic piano playing in the nineteenth century). The collection provides a superb overview of the major composers of the Romantic era, with one or two pleasant surprises along the way:
- R. Fuchs: Sad at Heart
- E. Granados: Dedication
- A. Dvorak: Album Leaf
- R. Schumann: A Little Study, op. 68/14
- F. Chopin: Prelude E minor, op. 28/4
- F. Burgmüller: Lullaby, op. 109
- J. Brahms: Waltz, op. 39/15
- P.I. Tchaikovsky: Sweet Dreams, op. 39/21
- J. Brahms: Lullaby, op. 49/4
- F. Chopin: Prelude, op. 28/6
- E. Grieg: Arietta, op. 12/1
- R. Schumann: From Foreign Lands and People, op. 15/1
- F. Chopin: Mazurka G minor, op. 67/2
- I. Albéniz: Tango
- E. MacDowell: To a Wild Rose, op. 51/1
- H. Hofmann: In the Evening, op. 88/2
- M. Mussorgsky: Il vecchio castello
- P.I. Tchaikovsky: Dance Arabe
- F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Songs Without Words, op. 30/3
- J. Senfter: Ernste Gedanken
- M. Reger: Evening Song, op. 17/11
- A. Scriabin: Prelude, op. 11/5
- M. Mussorgsky: A Teardrop, op. posth. No. 18
- B. Smetana: Chanson, op. 2/2
- X. Scharwenka: Barcarolle, op. 62/4
- F. Chopin: Waltz, op. 69/1
- F. Chopin: Raindrop Prélude, op. 28/15
- F. Chopin: Waltz, op. 34/2
- F. Liszt: Kleine Klavierstücke (S192/2)
- J. Brahms: Intermezzo, op. 117/1
- F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Songs Without Words, op. 19/1
- F. Liszt: Consolations No. 3
- E. Grieg: Morning Mood, op.ö 46/1
- J. Brahms: Intermezzo, op. 118/2
- P.I. Tchaikovsky: Autumn Song, op. 37/2
Relax with French Impressionist Piano
This is probably my favourite book in the collection, because it includes so many of the most popular pieces by Debussy, alongside the complete 3 Gymnopédies and 6 Gnossiennes of Eric Satie.
Even for students who aren’t buying into the whole “relax” concept, the book represents fantastic value as a way for students and players to obtain the scores for these fabulous pieces:
- E. Satie: 1ère Gympnopédie
- E. Satie: 2ème Gympnopédie
- E. Satie: 3ème Gympnopédie
- G. Fauré: Pavane, op. 50
- C. Debussy: Jimbo’s Lullaby
- E. Satie: Prelude d’Eginhard
- E. Satie: Petite Ouverture à danser
- E. Satie: Caresse
- E. Satie: Valse-Ballet
- E. Satie: Fantaisie-Valse
- E. Satie: Première Pensée Rose+Croix
- C. Debussy: Des pas sur la neige
- C. Debussy: The Little Shepherd
- C. Debussy: Pour invoquer Pan, dieu du vent d’été
- E. Satie: 1ère Gnossienne
- E. Satie: 2ème Gnossienne
- E. Satie: 3ème Gnossienne
- E. Satie: 4ème Gnossienne
- E. Satie: 5ème Gnossienne
- E. Satie: 6ème Gnossienne
- C. Debussy: Rêverie
- C. Debussy: Bruyères
- C. Debussy: Danseuses de delphes
- C. Debussy: Première Arabesque
- C. Debussy: La Cathédrale engloutie
- C. Debussy: La fille aux cheveux de lin
- C. Debussy: Sarabande
- C. Debussy: Clair de lune
Relax with Folk Piano
Rounding off the collection, instead of the Relax with Contemporary Piano album that I anticipated, is this interesting assortment of folk tunes – enterprising material, drawing on Schott’s excellent track record of producing piano arrangements of music from around the world.
An interesting highlight of the collection are the eastern melodies that the early C20th mystic G.I. Gurdjieff collected and, together with his disciple Thomas de Hartmann arranged (in the titles below, several of these only have numbers rather than names) :
- The Wild Rover
- My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
- Kangding Love Song
- Molly Malone
- Sweet Polly Oliver
- Greek Melody
- Hindu Melody
- The Ash Grove
- Early One Morning
- Barbara Allen
- No. 20 Moderato
- The Dance of the Rabbi from Trisk
- Flow Gently, Sweet Afton
- David og the White rock
- The Lullaby Song
- Loch Lomond
- The Star
- My Love is Like a Red Red rose
- Endearing Young Charms
- Blow the Wind Southerly
- Skye Boat Song
- No. 39
- No. 40
- Baloo Baleerie
- Sally Gardens
- An Irish Blessing
- All Trough the Night
- Hymns from a great temple No. 3, 4, 5, 10
- Land of My Fathers
- Annie Laurie
- Love Song on the Neadow
- The Gentle Maiden
- Fragments from the struggles of the magicians
- Londonderry Air
- Remote Xianggelila
- Auld Lang Syne
Since I took delivery of these books I have spent many happy hours exploring their contents – in many cases revisiting favourite old pieces that I might otherwise not have thought to play. Also included here are several pieces I hadn’t previously encountered or tried, and I am enjoying exploring this new repertoire.
For those who have reached the higher grades (and beyond) in the past, and who now want to sit down and play the piano of an evening – purely for relaxation and personal satisfaction – these books brilliantly hit their target. They provide a huge range or wonderful music, and the selection of pieces included is near perfect.
What excites me equally, though, is that these books so brilliantly meet the demand expressed by so many of my teenage and adult students for beautiful music that can be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.
With growing numbers of youngsters in the UK experiencing significant stress during their teenage years, and with so many adults turning to the piano as a hobby and respite from otherwise busy and demanding lives, these books provide exactly what is needed to refresh enthusiasm and build musical interest and the desire to play.
And to seal the deal, these books are superbly presented, the arrangements are always great, and the editing of established classics is never less than “very good”.
Lastly, in the case of the French Impressionists collection, this is now an easy choice for any student wanting a decent edition of the more approachable works of Satie and Debussy.
There have been many enticing piano anthologies over the years, more than a few of which ultimately disappointed due to poor editing and presentation. I am very pleased to report that the Relax With series from Schott Music is not among these!
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