Journey Through the Classics

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Amidst the understandable and deserved popularity of new contemporary music collections, I am happy to find that there is still a demand for more traditional pedagogic piano music.

Players and teachers often ask me for recommendations of piano collections devoted to the core classical and pedagogic repertoire, and there are many strong choices.

Here in the UK, these include the various graded collections produced by ABRSM, Faber Music and others. Meanwhile, publishers based in countries less influenced by our exam system have produced alternatives which can be rather freer in their content, looser in their boundaries and framework, a point which will particularly appeal to the growing number of teachers keen to eschew a curriculum that is essentially dictated by exam boards.

Among the best repertoire resources I have come across, take a look at Journey Through the Classics, a superb series compiled, edited (and with recordings) by the eminent American educator Jennifer Linn, published worldwide by Hal Leonard.

As I dig into (and colloquially “dig”) the series, why not come and join me for the Journey… I promise it’s a good one!

A Map of the Journey…

The Journey Through the Classics series comprises four solo repertoire books suitable for Elementary to Intermediate players, an omnibus edition, and two large supplementary books which feature duets and Romantic repertoire.

Introducing the original four collections, publishers Hal Leonard tell us:

Journey Through the Classics is a piano repertoire collection of 98 pieces designed to lead students seamlessly from the easiest classics to the intermediate masterworks. The pieces are presented in a progressive order and feature a variety of classical favourites essential to any piano student’s educational foundation.”

So far, so ideal. And for good measure, these books (including the Complete omnibus edition) can be purchased with or without Linn’s audio recordings. These are available via Hal Leonard’s superb “My Library” online download page. The cost differential is so slight that I can easily recommend buying the “audio access included” versions.

Linn’s audio recordings have an appropriate pedagogic literalism and are a very welcome addition: one which will undoubtedly prove helpful to those learning to play this music. Sadly, there appear not to be recordings for the Romantic Collection or Piano Duets however.

Rather than bombarding you with more than 200 piece names, check out the lists given on the Musicroom site by clicking on the respective links for each title here:

I must note at this point that the Piano Duets book is not the work of Linn, but rather is compiled and edited by Brad Beckman and Carolyn True, who have been performing together extensively as the Beckman/True Duo since 2000.

I will take a closer look at each of these collections in turn below, but first a few general observations about the series, presentation and audio.

The four main books are staple bound, and include between 32-64 pages. The Complete omnibus edition of the four original books (186 pages) and additional Romantic Collection (162 pages) both have stiff binding that needs some persuasion to stay open on the music stand but seems sturdy and built to last. The Piano Duets collection (176 pages) is comb bound.

All the books are printed on high quality cream paper, and the typeface used is strikingly attractive. Notation in the first three solo books is generously large; this is retained in the Complete omnibus version, and matched in the Piano Duets and Romantic Collection.

All books in the series begin with a Reference Chart that lists the piece titles, composer, era/style, key, meter and the challenge elements to be aware of when practising and teaching the pieces. This is certainly a helpful addition.

Fingerings are included throughout the series; these are thoughtfully and pedagogically conceived, suitable for smaller hands, and in my view they are often better recommendations than those found elsewhere, a point which deftly highlights Linn’s expertise.

In the Baroque pieces, editorial dynamics have been added, much as they would be in exam materials here in the UK; in most cases they are understated and avoid expressive extremes that would be stylistically unsuitable. Unfortunately though, once ornaments begin to appear they are not explained.

Step by Step…

As promised, I will take a quick look at each volume in turn.

Book One offers 25 pieces suitable for elementary players. Early pieces in the book would be suitable for UK Initial Grade while later pieces in the collection have appeared in Grade 1 in the past. The pieces include many well known pedagogic miniatures by Türk, Gurlitt, Hook et al, joined by Jennifer Linn’s own Classic Minuet and the lovely Shepherd’s Flute by Tat’iana Salutinskaya.

Book Two continues to mix very familiar fare (the Petzold Minuet in G, Beethoven’s Russian Folk Song, Fuch’s Sad at Heart, etc) with less well known pieces. Bridging the gap from UK Grade 1-2, this is a truly appealing collection, made stronger by the care that Linn has taken to bring together contrasting and the most engaging repertoire.

Book Three moves from Grade 2 to around Grade 3, almost every piece here having formerly proved a student favourite in the ABRSM syllabus. The book opens with Burgmüller’s ubiquitous Arabesque while the same composer’s Limpid Stream appears near the end, mapping out the territory clearly for those who are familiar with his Op.100. From Schumann’s Wild Rider to Glinka’s Russian Polka, this is once again the collection that offers everything the classical student and teacher would expect and more.

Book Four completes the core series, and offers accelerated progress to around UK Grade 5 level. Beginning with J.S.Bach’s Little Prelude in C and Beethoven’s Sonatina in G, the book concludes with the far more challenging From Foreign Lands and People, To a Wild Rose, Solfeggietto and Für Elise. This is certainly a collection which could be used as a fast track to the more rewarding repertoire available to the late intermediate player.

It is probably already clear that the Journey Through the Classics books include their share of Romantic repertoire alongside the Baroque and Classical favourites. Nevertheless, and even though it rather annoyingly includes occasional duplications, the Romantic Collection is a welcome addition, offering a bumper anthology of 50 pieces from the age that, more than any, defined the piano.

The levelling of pieces seems admittedly more quirky here; although split into three sections labelled Early intermediate, Intermediate and Late Intermediate, Chopin’s E minor and B minor Preludes appear in the first of these, while the Late Intermediate section includes such recent Grade 8 favourites as Chopin’s C# Minor Nocturne, Liszt’s Consolation in D flat and Brahms’ Intermezzo Op.117 No.1.

In short, this collection offers a superb compendium of nineteenth century recital favourites, but I would be inclined to recommend it as a follow-on book for the advancing player who has progressed beyond the advertised levels!

The Piano Duets collection completes the lineup, and the Beckman/True Duo have stayed far closer to the levels of the original four collections. Indeed, as well as dividing the volume into four segments to be used directly alongside the original solo books, they have outlined specific “Ensemble Goals” for each of those levels at the start of the book.

If the material here seems less familiar, it is because Beckman and True have supplied their own arrangements to bulk up the menu and ensure there is sufficient musical interest and variety. Their contributions are consistently effective and welcome.

An interesting feature worth mentioning is that while the Elementary and Late Elementary sections present the pieces with primo and secondo parts on facing pages (and with generously sized engraving), the Early Intermediate and Intermediate sections switch to delivering the parts together as a full score.

The Journey Through the Classics: Piano Duets collection presents a useful resource to any teacher wanting to incorporate duet playing progressively as their students develop at the piano.

Onward Bound…

My Journey Through the Classics in the company of this series proved to be a joyful one, accompanied by favourable scenery, some familiar friends and occasional new discoveries.

As I explored the books they continued to impress, each magnificently fulfilling its ambitions and at times surpassing expectations. The piece selections, subtle editing and presentational clarity remain excellent throughout the whole series, while the high quality design and production aesthetic completes a beautiful package.

If you are looking for a collection of elementary to intermediate core classics, I think that you would struggle to find anything better or comparable to this series, although intermediate players should also consider Hal Leonard’s superb, recent Classical Piano Sheet Music anthologies.

Some will balk at the bulk (and the price) of the omnibus editions, but I think they provide a useful and thorough introduction for any player or teacher wanting to extend their knowledge of the core pedagogic repertoire. As a teacher whose students will be using the individual books, having the single edition will be particularly handy.

Meanwhile, the individual Books 1-4 offer a truly musical and pedagogically informed course of music. These are outstanding publications which can be very easily and highly recommended to learners everywhere.

And let’s be clear: for any teacher keen to deflect attention away from the UK’s present obsession with formal grade assessments, this series really is an epic win, delivering the bones of a progressive and repertoire-rich curriculum, ready to be enjoined and fleshed out with all those other brilliant contemporary tunes that teachers and players love so much.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.