While the best composers often write brilliant music in response to a commission or request, the creative impetus for composing will often arise from a specific moment of inspiration, musical or conceptual.
So it is with the latest scores from Nikolas Sideris, known to many not just for his own music, which includes Fairyland in Treble and Dusk of Day, Dawn of Night, but also for his Editions Musica Ferrum independent publishing house.
Due to a change in personal circumstance, Nikolas finds himself semi-moving from London to Amsterdam, and among other things this will mean that he will no longer be teaching his 18 students in one particular school. Having grown attached to them, Nikolas decided it a fitting gift to compose a piece dedicated to each of the students.
These personal gifts were no doubt enthusiastically welcomed by their dedicatees, but I think that they deserve a far wider appeal and use. Which brings us to “Personalities”, the two new solo piano collections containing these 18 pieces, now available from Musica Ferrum.
The two books appear in the usual Musica Ferrum house style; those familiar with it will know this is characterised by striking design, thick card covers housing high quality cream paper, with a simple but elegant presentation within.
The artwork is the same for each of the two books, but with a different coloured tint to distinguish the volumes.
Editions Musica Ferrum scores always balance simplicity, clarity, and a high-quality ethos; Sideris commendably treats each score as an artwork in its own right, and while these books perhaps lack the shiny marketing gloss of a larger publisher they do not suffer in the least. As with every Editions Musica Ferrum score, these are books to treasure.
As is usual for books from this publisher, the notation itself has been carefully engraved, with a nicely sized music font and generous spacing.
Fingering (sufficient but not exhaustive) is included throughout, which will again foster independent learning and good technical habits.
Each of the two books begins with a two-page section of Teaching/Performance Notes. These helpful snippets from the composer are brief (just 2-3 sentences) but sufficient to offer useful pointers and background to each of the compositions.
Personalities I includes the first 11 of the 18 pieces, the most difficult being early intermediate (UK Grade 3).
Personalities II meanwhile contains the remaining 7 pieces, written for the more advanced students up to around Grade 8.
As such I would say that these are books that players can dip in and out of, learning specific pieces at appropriate points in their own musical development and journey.
It’s also worth considering that the later intermediate or early advanced player could well use Personalities I as a quick study book for independent learning, a piece a week.
Personalities I includes the following pieces, whose titles give some indication of the mood and variety of the collection:
- Floating Unicorn Dreams
- The Knaphill Blues
- A Piano in Space!
- The Adventure Begins
- The Clumsy Panda
- Take Flight
- Rather Sad by Design
- Walking in Woking
- A Story of Five
You can get even more of a flavour by listening to this promo recording of four of the pieces:
Other highlights include the deliciously evocative Nostalgia, while Loneliness is an expressive miniature with some lovely chord clusters that are better suited to players with larger hands. Take Flight is useful for considering chord shapes and learning to spot harmonic patterns in a score.
Personalities II includes a wider mix of difficulty; here the pieces are mostly three pages long, although opener Mechanicous is just a single page, and the final two pieces take up four pages each. The titles are:
- Dragon Reborn
- The End of an Unknown Gamer
- Carrion Re-animating “Chase Rag”
- Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet
Like the first collection, there is stylistic diversity here, as this promo video shows:
Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet particularly impresses here, with its filmic character, while the closing (!) Prelude reveals Sideris at his most melodically catchy.
The quicker and quirkier pieces remind me an earlier Sideris publication, Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet, based on his Original Computer Game Soundtrack of that name. Those who enjoy Personalities II would do well to give that collection a look too.
Sideris has a growing reputation as a composer of highly imaginative (and often very “visual”) contemporary music, and these two new collections are likely to further enhance his deserved acclaim.
One might carp that these pieces have been published as two separate purchases (with 24 and 28 pages respectively) when they would easily fit into one fair sized collection, but I think the difference in level easily justifies their separation into two books.
For teachers, meanwhile, there’s a digital studio license option.
Personalities I especially appeals, with its variety of easy music that is well-written and full of character. It is easy to recommend this book to elementary players (and their teachers) for its pedagogic value as well as for its diverse and appealing music.
There are pieces here which would also enrich any exam syllabus or Festival programme, so those looking for something fresh to include on their up coming lists would do well to dig into the book.
Personalities II will undoubtedly attract those who have already enjoyed the first collection, but in truth the jump in difficulty here is a significant one.
Meanwhile those who hear one of these pieces in a student concert or adult piano evening will perhaps be quick to buy the collection for that one piece, before falling equally in love with the others.
Perhaps the key to what makes these collections so enjoyable lies in their genesis as character pieces composed with specific players in mind. This seems to me to ensure that each piece is a unique gem, written with focused intent.
Certainly it seems to me that in rising to the peculiar and commendable challenge Sideris set himself, he has composed music here which rises above much of that commissioned simply to fill the pages of a pedagogic book. That in itself ensures that both books of Personalities are hugely enjoyable and musically worthwhile from cover to cover!
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