From time to time I review a music book here which subsequently establishes itself as a favourite with my students; such a book was the brilliant Birds: Études-Tableaux composed by Andrew Higgins, which I reviewed here.
I was therefore naturally pleased to receive Higgins’ latest collection, Seasons, which is again published by the forward-looking publisher EVC Music, whose many recent useful and eye-catching publications have made such a positive mark on the pedagogic repertoire in recent years.
Rather than lazily giving us more of the same, Seasons is quite a different proposition from Higgins’ last book, so let’s take a closer look…
The Turning Seasons…
According to EVC Music,
“This delightful set of miniatures was conceived as performance repertoire for the ambitious student. Each piece is short and succinct, often focussed on a single aspect of technique, style and character. The mood of each musical idea reflects the changing seasons so the student is always responding to a narrative to help inform performance.”
The theme of the seasons has of course proved a fecund one for musicians over the centuries, and not only the most well-known works of Vivaldi, Glazunov and Tchaikovsky. Like the latter, Higgins chooses to focus around the months of the year for a cycle of twelve piano pieces; unlike Tchaikovsky however he expands the collection to include three additional pieces, so delivering the following titles:
- New Year’s Day: gently falls the winter snow
- January: new beginnings
- February: short and sweet
- March: hurry, hurry, wind and flurry…
- April: spring awakens
- May: take your partner
- June: Barcarolle
- Summer Solstice: under a sweltering sky…
- July: A Promenade
- August: Chorale
- September: murmurations
- Autumnal Equinox: turning back the clock…
- October: the nights draw in…
- November: in the afternoon the light and the window panes are grey…
- December: ring out the bells…
The publisher further explains the concept:
“The design encompasses a complete year’s study so the student can focus on extending their repertoire over the course of twelve months or four seasons. By learning one or two pieces a month and beginning with the first piece for that season, the student can divide the set into four performances roughly five minutes each… at the end of the year a successful student can deliver a single rewarding concert performance of over twenty minutes, or teachers can share pieces between several performers at different levels and perform the cycle as a set.”
The Year in music…
Given the abiding theme of this website, and the importance of seasonal change in Daoist thought and practice, it will come as no surprise to regular Pianodao readers that I absolutely love the concept here.
But what of the music?
Happily there are no disappointments on this front, each piece again confirming Higgins as an imaginative and original composer of evocative and pianistically satisfying pieces.
From the dramatic dissonances of January to the jangling of December’s bells, and from the melodic simplicity of both May and June (the Barcarolle a definite nod to Tchaikovsky here!) to the evolving harmonies of October, there are plenty of highlights.
Most pieces are just a single page, while a few take up two, each piece’s character and narrative delightfully crafted within the space of just a few bars. It takes considerable skill to create such effect from so few notes; Higgins proves himself more than adept.
I must however note that Higgins writes for large hands, the span of a tenth appearing regularly throughout these pieces. He credits Piano Yoga exercises for dramatically improving his own natural flexibility. Those with smaller hands might want to explore this, while keeping in mind that some of the pieces here might prove physically taxing in the meantime.
Aside from the question of hand size, the pieces would nicely suit an early advanced player, around UK Grade 5-6 level. They would also make great quick study or sight-reading pieces for the more advanced player, not least because of their interesting use of harmony, dissonance, and more advanced playing techniques.
Like all EVC Music publications, Seasons is tastefully presented, an has a striking cover:
Within, the book is printed on white paper with just a contents page and the scores of the pieces themselves. Notation is well spaced and it’s clear that good attention was paid to the details during its engraving. Fingering is limited, but makes an occasional and welcome appearance.
There are 20 pages within and, as with other recent EVC Music publications, useful background information about the music appears on the rear cover.
Andrew Higgins continues to impress as a highly imaginative composer, and his Seasons are a brilliant addition to the EVC Music catalogue.
Higgins has a particular gift for writing pieces that succeed in being simultaneously accessible and educative, in this case enlarging the player’s musical language to accommodate a broader harmonic palette and stylistic range. For that reason in particular, I suspect that this small collection will have an especially worthwhile pedagogic impact on those who use it, making the book doubly rewarding.
To summarise, Seasons is a great addition to the early advanced piano miniature repertoire and comes very strongly recommended!
Available online from EVC Music here.