France has a rich heritage of keyboard music and a proud tradition of piano pedagogy, and yet for many players in the English-speaking world a first encounter with this superb legacy only occurs at early advanced level, with the introduction of favourite classics by Satie and Debussy.
Two rather wonderful new publications from Durand Edition present us with a fine opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the rewarding seam of music that elementary and intermediate players in France are no doubt already familiar with.
The books are introduced by their publisher as,
“A journey through the most iconic pieces found in the prestigious catalogues of Max Eschig, Durand and Salabert. The pieces are organised in order of playing difficulty. An indispensable edition for a voyage through the world of the piano through its didactic repertoire from the last century.”
The music within is predominantly but not exclusively composed by French composers, and includes a mixture of names that will be familiar to teachers in the English-speaking community alongside some who will be less recognised, but certainly no less deserving of discovery.
In this review I will be delving into each of these two fascinating volumes…
Before exploring the content though, a few words about the books themselves. Each arrives with a high-quality laminated card cover (see above), has staples for binding, and white paper within (with 52 and 68 pages respectively).
Aside from the contents pages, the books are fairly simple affairs. They do not include introductions, playing tips or information about the pieces. There are no illustrations, and the titles are in French only.
The notation is mostly well presented, although I suspect that Durand have reused existing settings, as there are minor inconsistencies in presentation. Similarly, while most of the pieces include sensible and ample fingering suggestions, a few (even in the ‘Easy’ book) include none.
Ultimately though, these are but minor niggles: overall, these publications are certainly appealing, and tastefully presented. I will happily recommend them to students for whom they would be suitable, and they will make an eye-catching and attractive addition to any music library.
35 Petits Morceaux • Easy
The pieces occupying the early pages of this first book would suit players who have progressed little further than beginner level, such that the book could be used to complement a standard method book.
Composers include Jean-Michel Arnaud, Henry Barraud, Mel Bonis, Joseph Bonnal, Jacques Casterède, Alexandre Gretchmaninov, Olivier Hauray, Francis Poulenc, Erik Satie, Paul Schlosser, Florent Schmitt and Alexandre Tansman. The full list of included pieces is give on the Musicroom website here.
Many of these pieces are based on folk melodies, and several have (French) lyrics. As the book progresses, the pieces take on more evocative titles (again given in French only); their musical content is imaginative, and always pianistically astute.
Some of the pieces are modal, and some flirt with dissonance, at times leaving the intriguing impression that one has encountered a Gallic response to the pioneering innovations of Bartók.
The pieces soon introduce rhythmic complexity, alternate articulations in each hand, extended hand positions and even introduce the player to the use of finger substitutions within the legato phrase. As the book advances, so too do the musical and technical expectations, arriving at around UK Grade 2 by the time the 35 pieces have unfolded.
The rate of progressing difficulty is fairly steep. I was quite taken aback, however, by the inclusion of the Petite Ronde from Poulenc’s Villageoises as the concluding piece here; regardless of tradition, this seems to me particularly adventurous choice for an elementary player!
40 Petits Morceaux • Intermediate
The second volume revisits the music of Arnaud, Barraud, Bonnal, Gretchmaninov, Hauray, Poulenc, Schmitt and Tansman. Here they are joined by Roger Boutry, César Franck, Emmanuel Oriol, Maurice Ravel, Pierre Sancan, Henri Sauguet and Heitor Villa-Lobos.
You can read the full contents here.
Billed as suitable for intermediate players, the pieces neatly fit expectations, and many would make excellent recital and grade choices for players from UK Grade 2 to 6 level.
In most of these pieces, pedagogic intent and evocative musical colour are brilliantly matched, and it was a joy to discover so many well-crafted intermediate pieces, previously unknown to me, nestling together in this singular volume.
It is never far from view that this music dates from an epoch in which radical exploration and melodic finesse went hand in hand, often with unexpected and captivating results. There is much here to treasure.
For French-speaking teachers and learners these books are probably a no-brainer; they can be instantly and highly recommended.
For the rest, they offer a veritable cornucopia of predominantly fresh musical delights, rooted in the folk music and pedagogic tradition of French culture, as educationally intriguing as it is musically enriching.
While I suspect that these collections may not jump straight to the top of every teacher or learner’s shopping list, those looking to expand their knowledge of piano repertoire, and indeed of didactic traditions, will have pleasure in discovering that both books offer a feast of genuinely rewarding material.
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