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The recently published Grade 8 Piano Anthology from Edition Peters is a stroke of publishing genius, predicated on the following ABRSM Syllabus statement:
“Candidates may use any edition of the music, except where a particular arrangement or transcription is specified. Editions quoted in the syllabus are given for guidance only and are not obligatory”.
With one of the most extensive back-catalogues, Edition Peters is brilliantly placed to jump in with a varied anthology of 24 of the best pieces from ABRSM’s 2021-2 syllabus, offering a clear improvement over the selection of just 9 in the board’s own Grade 8 Pieces book (reduced from the more generous 12 of previous years).
Not only does this anthology have the potential to be more musically nutritious and better value than ABRSM’s own, but it also offers a couple of other useful bonuses which I will be looking at later in this review.
This is undeniably a publication which overtly invites comparison with the official ABRSM alternative. So let’s see how they measure up…
Approaching the Syllabus
For a detailed analytical review of the ABRSM Grade 8 Piano Syllabus 2021-22 itself, both its strengths and shortcomings, please refer to my in-depth review here.
The syllabus itself offers candidates 30 pieces in total, from which Edition Peters have brought together the following 24, with all 10 from List A and 7 from each of Lists B and C :
- J. S. Bach: Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906
- Haydn: Allegro moderato (1st movement from Sonata in A-flat, Hob. XVI:46)
- C. Schumann: Prelude and Fugue in B-flat (No. 2 from Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 16)
- J. S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 884 (from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Part 2)
- Beethoven: Allegro (1st movement from Sonata in E, Op. 14 No. 1)
- Handel: Prelude and Allegro (Fuga) (1st and 2nd movts from Suite No. 8 in F minor, HWV 433)
- Martínez: Allegro/Moderato (1st movement from Sonata in A)
- Mozart: Andante grazioso and Vars. 1–6 (1st movement from Sonata in A, K. 331)
- Rameau: Les cyclopes (from Pièces de clavecin)
- D. Scarlatti: Sonata in D, K443
- Brahms: Intermezzo in E (No. 6 from Fantasies, Op. 116)
- Arensky: Nocturne in D-flat (No. 3 from 24 Characteristic Pieces, Op. 36)
- Chopin: Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4
- Janácek: Andante (No. 1 from In the Mists)
- Rachmaninoff: Moment Musical in D-flat, Op. 16 No. 5
- Schubert: Impromptu in A-flat (No. 2 from Four Impromptus, Op. 142, D. 935)
- Schumann: Romanze in F-sharp (No. 2 from Drei Romanzen, Op. 28)
- Bartók: Rondo (No. 1 from Three Rondos on Folk Tunes)
- Sculthorpe: Snow, Moon and Flowers (from Night Pieces)
- Chaminade: Pierette (Air de Ballet), Op. 41
- Debussy: Rêverie
- Khachaturian: Toccata
- Cecilia McDowall: Vespers in Venice (from Four Piano Solos)
- Villa-Lobos: O polichinelo (from A prole do bebê no. 1)
Based on the nine pieces in ABRSM’s book, I had felt the 2021-2 syllabus was rather lacklustre; the Edition Peters list above reveals it to be significantly more impressive and musically appealing. This in itself makes the Edition Peters Anthology a big draw.
For those still left wanting further choice, however, the six syllabus-selected pieces missing from the Anthology (presumably for copyright reasons) are:
- Helen Hopekirk: Air: No.3 from Suite
- Poulenc: Novelette in E minor, sur un thème de Manuel de Falla
- Christopher Norton: Jingo: No.3 from Rock Preludes
- Ireland: Columbine
- Chen Peixun: Thunder in Drought Season
- Uwe Korn: Caballos Españoles
The first three of these are included in the ABRSM Grade 8 piano book for those interested, while the last three require special purchase.
Presentation and Extras
The Grade 8 Piano Anthology appears as a 132-page sturdy book with a high-quality matt card cover:
The book has quite a stiff spine, but is produced to a high quality; the review copy was able to withstand being fully bent backwards, enabling it to stand open nicely on the music stand.
The majority of the publication is taken up by the 24 pieces themselves, high quality Urtext editions as one would expect from this publisher.
Preceding this, the book starts with a succinct retelling of the history of Edition Peters, which proves to be both moving and inspiring (more about which in a moment).
To the rear of the book, we find two important and useful bonus sections, which offer advice on the performance of the pieces, and useful preparation towards the aural component of the ABRSM exam.
The Performance Notes are written by Norman Beedie, a lecturer in classical improvisation, piano and conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Beedie begins with general advice on choosing the programme, preparation of the pieces away from and at the keyboard, building and delivering the performance.
This advice is followed by his notes on each piece from the Anthology. These might be compared with the Teaching Notes that ABRSM produce, although here there is less background information, and more direct advice on interpretation.
Completing the publication, the Aural Notes section is written by Caroline Evans, author of the amusingly but aptly titled Aural Test Survival Books for Edition Peters (which are available here).
Evans explains here,
“In the aural component of the Grade 8 practical examination, the student is expected to describe the characteristic features of a piece of music played by the examiner.”
With this in mind, Evans considers each of the 24 included syllabus pieces and discusses their musical features, considering dynamics, articulation, tonality, structure and form, tempo and time, texture, character, style and period.
With question prompts and information that might contribute towards an answer, she delivers a wealth of insight that will be as useful for performance preparation as it is for the aural tests themselves.
The Performance Notes and Aural Notes thus combine to offer a useful and holistic resource supporting the player.
Let’s be honest about the price…
In their introduction, Edition Peters highlight the point that the company was founded upon an ethos of making high quality scores available at mass-market prices, telling us,
“In 1867 the Edition Peters green series burst onto the market with 100 titles in beautifully engraved and reliably edited scores, selling at a fifth of the price of any other sheet music.”
Explaining how rapidly that catalogue grew, we are told that by 1874,
“This universal library of music transformed the availability of sheet music to musicians around the world: it was now affordable.”
The sheet music market has of course changed significantly since the nineteenth century. When I started teaching full time some three decades ago, ABRSM exam publications were among the most keenly priced, their superb value one reason for the board’s popularity. In the intervening decades that situation would appear to have reversed: teachers, students and parents now regularly balk at their inflated cost.
With the arrival of the 2021 piano syllabus the situation took an even more negative turn. ABRSM maintained the same prices for their new publications as for the previous ones, but bloated profit margins by substantially reducing the included content. Specific to this review, their Grade 8 piano book has been almost halved from 72 pages (2019-20) to just 40 (2021-2).
ABRSM are thus still charging £13.50 for their collection of just nine pieces, inflating this by a further £15.00 to an eye-watering £28.50 for those opting to include their in-house CD recording.
Edition Peters ask a far more reasonable £16.95 for their 132-page Anthology of 24 pieces, offering considerably better value.
There’s no escaping the fact that price is an issue, and as one who believes that music education should be accessible to all, I commend Edition Peters for upholding their historic commitment to pricing which is affordable for the many, not just the few.
The strengths of this publication cannot be overstated, but must be balanced with a few small niggles before wrapping up.
Firstly, most pieces include no fingering suggestions. Given the educational context of this volume it would certainly have been helpful to have included consistent support here, as the ABRSM book does. And the same applies to suggested ornament realisations; those used to the ABRSM books may be disappointed by their absence here.
I should also mention that a few pieces have rather awkward page turns, and that while the presentation is generally excellent, Edition Peters have included a few older engravings of pieces alongside fresh ones: the Bach, Chopin and Khachaturian looking somewhat out of place.
Minor quibbles aside, Edition Peters’ Grade 8 Piano Anthology is now the clear first choice publication for those who wish to delve into the Grade 8 syllabus choices with the intelligent curiosity and enthusiasm that I would hope for in players at this level.
The few pieces not included in the Anthology are certainly worth exploring too, but there is more than enough here to keep the developing advanced player busy for many months, rewarding them with some of the most wonderful of repertoire in the whole of the pianist’s library.
A superb resource!
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