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Born in Cologne in 1957, Martin Doepke has made a big name for himself in Germany as a collaborative keyboard player, recording musician and, since the late 1980’s, composing for theatre and TV productions. He has also taught popular music at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne since 1990.
Piano Tales is Doepke’s first published collection of solo piano music from Universal Edition. The book includes three pieces adapted from his hit German musical version of Beauty and the Beast (not to be confused with the Disney one!) as well as ten other original pieces about which the composer writes,
“The pieces in the present volume were written at different times over the years and in various places. They reflect my love of classical music and my passion for film music and musicals. Apart from the three taken from my musical Beauty and the Beast the pieces are not connected.
Each tells a short story. Some are playfully romantic, others are rather mystically melancholic or have a pulsing rhythm. Their styles span today’s music genres and call for a love of musical variety and diversity.”
This is certainly a good summary, but let’s take a closer look and listen…
A Magical Book
Contemporary piano collections from Universal Edition, such as those by Mike Cornick and the recent Insectopedia from Aleksey Igudesman, are always beautifully produced, with sturdy gloss card, eye-catching covers, large format, and ivory off-white paper within.
Martin Doepke’s Piano Tales is no exception, the cover in this instance inviting us to enter a magical fairytale land:
After the Contents and credits pages, there is a Vorwort/Preface/Préface, and then the scores of the thirteen pieces are spread spaciously across 41 pages, with pieces ranging in length from two to four pages.
The notation has supreme clarity, but it is worth noting that there are no fingering suggestions, which would have been welcome in music at this level.
Speaking of which, the pieces would suit players at late intermediate to early advanced level (Grades 5-7), and from a progressive point of view offer a superb grounding in pop piano figurations.
Here’s one of the (four) pieces that Doepke has recorded:
Making up Stories
While the composer tells us that each piece tells a short story, we are given no further clues of narrative beyond the music itself, and even the three pieces from Beauty and the Beast will have little context to those not familiar with his musical production. It is, then, for the player to employ their own imagination.
Titles are in English, except for the Beauty and the Beast excerpts, which have German titles without translation. The translations I have included in brackets below are courtesy of Google, offered in order to support English readers:
- Ständchen (Serenade)
- Das alte Schloss (The Old Castle)
- 1st of July
- Early Morning
- Pas de deux
- Fúr Julia
- Irgendwann (Sometime)
- Perpetuum mobile
- Don’t Know How to Say
Musically, the pieces are firmly in the contemporary pop and musical theatre vein that one would expect, and rely on strophic form and repetition with little thematic development. This is fine for those who are already fans of Doepke’s music, but equally offers teachers an opportunity to help players develop their own variation within the repeats.
Playing through the music, I certainly found myself embellishing and departing from the score with ease, and it helps that the pieces are wonderfully written to lie comfortably under the pianist’s hands.
But it’s interesting to note that Doepke himself also departs from the notation, particularly in his playing of Das late Schloss here:
Listening to this without the score, I suspect seasoned players will easily judge for themselves where Doepke is embellishing his music, but score in hand it is equally interesting to note that in places he simplifies the music too, perhaps to fit with the flow of his in-the-moment performance.
To summarise, it seems to me that there are two potential markets for this collection.
Firstly, those who are fans of Doepke’s music (and it is better known in his homeland) will be grateful for this gorgeously presented collection of his work, and will undoubtedly waste no time in exploring the pieces within.
Secondly, those keen to discover and explore imaginative new music, brilliantly and instinctively composed in a popular contemporary style, will find much to enjoy in these pieces. And they provide a useful framework within which to develop stylistically astute playing, improvise, and learn how to develop a personal response and interpretation.
Musically rich and pedagogically rewarding: Piano Tales is a winner.
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