Janina Garścia: Ikebana


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MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND
In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing piano music by Polish composers. Captivated by new musical discoveries, I have continued to independently explore and review this repertoire…


In this series I have previously highlighted several publications by leading 20th century music educator and composer Janina Garścia.

You can read my review here of the titles included in the original Music from Chopin’s Land promotion, and watch PWM’s educational videos, filmed to support piano teachers as part of a project in which I was myself also a presenter.

I’m happy to let you know that PWM Edition have more recently reissued another Garścia classic. Ikebana Op.70 is a series of eleven intermediate piano solos which the composer dedicated ‘to the children and youngsters of the distant land of Japan’, the music itself inspired by Japanese culture…


A Collection of Flowers

Ikebana, literally “making flowers alive”, is the Japanese art of flower arranging; in addition to being a piece-title here, it makes a beautiful name for this highly intriguing collection of piano pieces.

Ikebana is not the only piece here with floral associations; the full list of titles reveals a richer variety of inspiration:

  • China Palace
  • Almond Tree
  • Homecoming
  • To the South of the Great Sea
  • Wanderer’s Nostalgia
  • Beautiful Kazuko
  • Sakura (Cherry Blossom)
  • Preparing the kimono for the New Year’s Holiday
  • Matsuri (festival)
  • Ikebana
  • Mount Fuji

As the book progresses, so does the difficulty level and length of the pieces. The first half are suitable for early intermediate players (UK Grade 3, and some will remember that the gorgeous Almond Tree was picked for Trinity Grade 3 a few years ago), while from Sakura onwards the pieces are longer and more complex (around Grade 5).

As ever from this outstanding educational composer, plenty of pedagogic content is built into the material. With subtle shifts in pitch and phrasing as musical ideas are repeated, the imaginative variation and attention to detail fosters both effective technique and musical response, while requiring careful reading at all times, so encouraging the development of literacy and understanding.

As a whole these pieces are enchanting in their evocation of Japanese culture, respect for its conventions and classical beauty. That said, the mood of the pieces is not confined to pastel brushstrokes; these pieces contain plenty of variety and delightful contrast.

The music references Japanese traditional music with frequent use of pentatonic scales (and the whole-tone scale in Ikebana itself), and short melodic motifs repeated as echoes. But there are also Western influences: hints of Ravel in the later pieces, and perhaps most notably Bartók (for example in To the South of the Great Sea, which could have come straight from the pages of the latter’s Mikrokosmos).

The overall blend of 20th-century modernism and Japanese colouration is invigorating, resulting in unique and highly characteristic music.

The CAT series

PWM Edition’s CAT series brings together attractive publications predominantly for children. For me, this series has been a significant recent discovery, and I recommend all teachers take a closer look when possible. There’s quite a few important, but rather neglected, landmarks of the pedagogic repertoire here.

In addition to the music of Garścia, Grażyna Bacewicz (reviewed here), Feliks Rybicki (reviewed here), Juliusz Łuciuk (reviewed here), Zbigniew Bargielski (reviewed here) and Krystyna Gowik (reviewed here), the series includes some gorgeously presented books by Samuel Majkapar, Mirosław Gąsieniec, Stanisław Prószyński and many more.

The books are beautifully presented too. Ikebana appears in landscape format and includes lush colour illustrations by PWM regular Joanna Rusinek, who I find myself repeatedly praising in these reviews. The soft covers open up to reveal the 36-page book printed with superb clarity on cream paper, with striking fonts, and delicious overall appeal.


The notation is well-spaced and superbly engraved, with clear fingering and pedalling indications throughout. It is perhaps uncommon to see music at this level presented in landscape format, but based on the superb clarity and spacing here I would certainly like to see more music presented in this way.

And if the overall look and feel of the CAT series books is a little retro, I think they are all the better for it, standing out in a crowded market as publications that have delightful charm and offer something rather special.

An Enduring Bouquet

As a teacher I often find that single-composer repertoire collections of this sort can include variable consistency of quality, but here every piece is a charm.

I anticipate that young players whose imagination is piqued by the subject matter will lap up the earlier, easier pieces in the collection, while the later ones will provide a first opportunity to work at longer pieces, so developing powers of interpretation and structural cohesion.

Here, then, is yet another wonderful collection from PWM: a superb book to own and to cherish, filled with music of the highest quality.


Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is the author of HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC, published worldwide by Hal Leonard. He is a widely respected piano educator and published composer based on Milton Keynes UK.