Lots of piano players enjoy the contemporary stylings of popular composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Yirumi and David Lanz, but it’s not so easy to find really good arrangements of their music that are accessible to intermediate players, and which manage to be both concise and accurate distillations of the post-minimal piano style.
The search for an educationally sound and musically engaging alternative just got easier with the publication by Schott Music of No Words Necessary, an excellent collection of 12 new pieces composed by Melanie Spanswick.
These interesting and enjoyable pieces will certainly satisfy those looking for approachable contemporary piano solos, and they further confirm Melanie as an imaginative and engaging composer.
So let’s check it out …
Concept and Recordings
Ever since it was established in 1770, Schott Music has been open to current trends and new development in music, seeking to represent a broad and colourful spectrum of new music. At present, they seem to be going through something of a golden age, with a succession of brilliant new publications in 2018, and much more scheduled for the coming months.
No Words Necessary joins their releases for this Autumn and brings well-known teacher, writer and adjudicator Melanie Spanswick to Schott’s roster of contemporary educational composers. Spanswick may be known to readers as the author/compiler of the outstanding Play it Again: Piano series, which I reviewed here last year.
According to Spanswick, No Words Necessary is:
“… a collection of 12 piano pieces intended for those who are approximately intermediate level, Grades 3-6. Consisting of melodious tunes and poignant harmonies, they are reminiscent of the Minimalist style…
Easy to learn and comfortable to play, they are equally well suited to the younger or more mature learner, and perfect for either concert performances or playing for pleasure. The collection will hopefully unleash the imagination and make piano playing an immensely rewarding experience.”
While reading on, you can start to discover the pieces for yourself using the composer’s own video recordings of them:
If the music isn’t your cup of tea, we’re done for today (you can discover more intermediate music here though!)
Otherwise read on for my thoughts…
The pieces appear loosely in order of difficulty, with the beautifully serene Lost in Thought providing a wonderfully contemplative opener. Inflections particularly reminds me of Philip Glass, while in Dancing Through the Daffodils there are echoes of Bach and Clementi, their motifs refreshed for the present day.
Spanswick’s melodic sensibility is more to the fore in the swaying Pendulum, the lyrical Walking in the Woods (my personal favourite here) and delightful China Doll. Other highlights for me include the restrained Voices in my Head, exotic Phantom Whisperer, and Beneath, which conjures a superb sense of hushed wonder. All these pieces are in my view well worth a look.
In terms of level, I would say most are accessible at the lower end of the advertised range; the book is ideal for the Grade 4 player wanting to explore fresh new music.
A feature of the contemporary post-minimal piano style is the emphasis given to organic flow rather than single gestures; often such music includes little in terms of suggested articulation, phrasing, and only a block outline of dynamics. Teachers will be pleased that Spanswick gives more detail here, including indications of balance between hands using a different dynamic for each.
For the book itself, Schott have used their generic plain cover, which is a little disappointing given the target audience and imagination of the music within.
Inside though, Schott’s house style is as welcome as ever: with quality cream paper, crystal clear notation engraving and well spaced layout, the presentation is a cut above that sometimes found elsewhere. The amount and suitability of suggesting fingering throughout the collection is also, I think, spot on.
The premium quality Schott bring certainly adds to the ease and enjoyment of exploring the music itself.
It’s been a busy year for new piano music, but this latest publication certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
These are pieces which I believe could easily find their place in the intermediate player’s heart, combining easy-to-master patterns, melodic charm, and simple structural cohesion. They give players a vehicle through which to develop expressive, engaged playing.
And with plenty of variety on offer, too, the collection offers good value. If you’re looking for a fresh collection of accessible contemporary pieces, do give this a try!