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MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND
In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing educational piano music by Polish composers. Captivated by my new musical discoveries, I have continued to independently explore and review the music of Chopin’s land…
Janina Garścia (1920-2004) was one of Poland’s great piano educators. In addition to teaching in primary schools for close to 50 years, she composed around 700 pieces for younger players, mostly for piano.
Much of her best educational piano music remains in print from PWM Edition, and in this review I will focus on three collections which were selected to feature in the recent Music from Chopin’s Land promotion, together with tutorial and demonstration videos filmed as part of that project.
The three collections I’ll look at here are:
- Musical Pictures for the Youngest
- Teasers for piano
- Little Sonatinas for piano
Musical Pictures for the Youngest
This collection, Garścia’s Op.23 published in 1956, includes 15 delightfully titled pieces:
- Four Little Frogs
- The Naughty Doll
- At Nursery School
- Johnny’s Dream
- A Little Dog
- On a Summer’s Day
- St. Florian’s Gate
- The Squirrels
- The Goldfishes
- Lady Fog
- Father Christmas
- Christmas Tree
- Little Snow-bearing Clouds
The very first of these is just eight bars, with single notes and hands alternating from one bar to the next. Even here, however, Garścia’s pedagogic intentions are clear, with finger swapping on the same note and moving away from the typical beginner five-note range. And from the start dynamics are included, quickly followed by articulation.
The pieces rapidly progress to include easy LH accompaniments, quavers and dotted rhythms, comfortably taking the player up to Elementary level.
In this short tutorial video my colleague Maddalena Giacopuzzi introduces the collection for teachers (English subtitles can be activated onscreen):
And here are some additional performance films of The Naughty Doll, Johnny’s Dream, The Squirrels, Christmas Tree and Little Snow-breaing Clouds, which demonstrate the range of the collection:
As for the publication, it is beautifully presented in landscape format with a soft cover, cream pages within, and delightful black and white pencil drawings on each page. The notation is spaciously presented, and clearly engraved in a large easy-to-read music font: perfect for younger learners!
Teasers for Piano
Terasers for Piano Op.23 dates from 1976, and is more ambitious than the previous collection, both in its demands and in its pedagogic intention.
The ten pieces in this intermediate collection begin by exploring the relationships between duplet and triplet quavers, progressing to include triplet-against-semiquaver “threes against fours” rhythms by the end. Alternating fingering patterns are also introduced.
While dealing with musical and technical issues that even many advanced adult players sometimes struggle with, the presentation remains child-focussed, and the piece titles are:
- Young Drummer
- Before the Start
- Dance on the Ice
- Old Willow
- Cross-country race
Here are performance films of
Once again the publication itself appears in landscape format with soft covers (strikingly illustrated, as are all three publications, by Joanna Rusinek) and cream pages within. And again, these are also deliciously illustrated with black-and-white drawings.
Lastly, another collection for intermediate players. The Little Sonatinas Op.51 book includes seven Sonatinas, each of which takes up just two pages in spite of having in most cases three miniature and contrasting movements.
Here’s a performance of the first Sonatina, which exemplifies the concision of musical thought and taut sense of structure that can be found in these fabulous works:
The collection includes three other pieces (published as Op.52) which, like the Little Sonatinas, date from 1977: Rondino, Scherzino and Little Variations. Here’s the Scherzino:
In this short tutorial, Japanese piano teacher Marie Kiyone explores the Little Sonatinas:
Unlike the previous two collections, the Little Sonatinas appear in full-sized portrait format. The paper is off-white, and there are no illustrations this time, being aimed at a more mature intermediate musician:
Janina Garścia left the world enriched with an extraordinary range of pedagogic music which deserves “classic” status, but which beyond the interests of the connoisseurs remains one of Poland’s best-kept secrets. It’s surely time for that to change!
While her attention to including technical detail that enables a free and fluent piano technique to develop is second to none, it is equally (if not even more) notable that her melodic gift and musical imagination have left us with some of the most truly delightful and engaging pieces available for piano students.
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