Adrian Connell is well-known and beloved as the smiling face of Universal Edition here in the UK. Over the last three decades, he has tirelessly promoted the music of other composers while quietly and steadily pursuing his own musical interests: conducting, arranging, playing bass guitar, and developing his own portfolio of compositions.
These include 6 Symphonies, 2 Concerti, numerous other orchestral works including overtures, variations and symphonic poems, works for string orchestra and for concert band, and a growing body of choral music. Most of these works were composed in response to commissions.
It’s with great pleasure that I highlight and commend three of his publications for pianists in this short review, all brought to us by German publisher Edition Dohr:
- Evolving Blues for Piano four hands (1990)
- Six Easy Pieces for piano solo (1990-2015)
- Suite on a Jazz Theme for piano four hands (1989/2015)
First up, Evolving Blues is an easy piano duet whose origins the composer describes thus:
“In the early 90’s when several of my friends decided to hold a series of piano parties where everyone had to play a piece at the piano, I found I was a bit out of my depth. My first reaction was to write a couple of very short pieces that I could play. The other way was to hide behind a piece that everyone could have a go at, where every performance would be different…
“I therefore decided to combine my love of minimalism and jazz by writing a work for piano 4 hands. As a basis I took the famous twelve bar blues and for each chord built up the texture for the four hands. The chords gradually combine until you get a complete theme emerge.”
One thing I particularly love about Evolving Blues is that Connell encourages the players to choose their own route through the piece, varying the music at will and repeating sections at their own discretion, so long as the basic shape is followed.
Combine this with music which is essentially easy to sight-read, or suitable for a Grade 1 player to learn, and it’s clear that Evolving Blues is a hugely useful addition to the piano teacher’s pedagogic library, as well as a fun piece for adults to try out at piano gatherings.
Another particular use for this piece would be for GCSE ensemble performances and school concerts; it’s pitch perfect, and such fun to play.
At £6.95 for three pages, it is perhaps somewhat overpriced, but music teachers would be likely to get plenty of use from a copy.
Connell’s description of the music as a meeting between minimalism and blues is spot on, and I can’t overstate my enthusiasm for this little piece!
Six Easy Pieces
The opening pieces in this set are the two which Connell mentions composing for the piano parties he attended in the 1990’s, a Romance (1990) and Serenade (1992). Both are easy, lyrical, melodic pieces, including a few unexpected harmonic twists.
At the suggestion of the publisher, he subsequently added the other four pieces, adapting music he had previously written for orchestra. These are in an enjoyable mix of styles: Bossa Nova, Waltz, Siciliana and Little Blues.
All six pieces are idiomatic and nicely approachable. Suitable for players at around Grade 2-3 level, they would provide a useful launchpad for discussing different rhythmic conventions and musical styles.
I have also been using them with DipABRSM candidates needing quick study sample material, and have found them ideal for building confidence (they are not quite as difficult as the diploma test itself, but are certainly useful practice material).
Fingering has been provided here by Nils Franke, and in common with all three publications, the presentation is generous and notation well engraved.
Suite on a Jazz Theme
Lastly, this Suite appears here in a version for piano four hands, and like Evolving Blues, I think it usefully meets a particular need for well-written, approachable, original ensemble music for piano students.
The score is again lovingly presented, and fingering has been added by Mike Cornick, no less.
The Suite was originally composed the work for harp and string orchestra, at the suggestion of well-known British composer David Matthews. Connell explains,
“I decided for this work to revisit my earlier compositions for swing band and took a theme from my big band chart “Green Love”. I reworked the theme down to just its harmonic structure and a small bridge passage between the main theme and solos. Based on this material I composed another six movements, turning what would have originally been improvised solos into a set of variations.”
The resulting Suite comprises:
- Scherzo & Trio
From the piece titles it is perhaps clear that the music is essentially in a light classical style rather than being more overtly jazzy.
The most difficult technically of the three works discussed here, Suite on a Jazz Theme would suit two players both around Grade 4-5 standard. I’ve enjoyed playing it with a student, and it would make an interesting and approachable student concert work.
The self-effacing composer would not, I suspect, claim that these pieces are “game changes” in the repertoire. What they are, however, is delightful and well crafted pieces that teachers may well find usefully fill a gap in their collections.
Evolving Blues is, for me, the particular highlight: a piece which so consummately fulfils its brief that it cannot fail to engage and entertain the players as well as the audience.