Kassern • Candy Music Box

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing educational piano music by Polish composers. Captivated by my new musical discoveries, I have continued to independently explore and review the music of Chopin’s land…

PWM Edition continue to revive outstanding pedagogic piano music from their rich archives, most recently bringing us a colourful new edition of Kassern’s wonderful Słodki Kramik, or Candy Music Box.

Appearing in PWM’s superb CAT series and in landscape format, the book delivers 12 character pieces with a confectionary theme, suitable for early intermediate players, around UK Grades 3-4…

A Brief Life…

Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern (1904-1957) lived a short and difficult life. A Polish composer of Jewish descent, Kassern was born in Lviv, Ukraine at a time when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He subsequently lived in Poland, including throughout the time of the Nazi occupation (using false papers to protect himself from the Gestapo), before moving (initially as a cultural attaché) to New York and renouncing his Polish citizenship.

Kassern applied for asylum and citizenship in the US but was denied, and subsequently attempted suicide. However, he remained in the US, where he taught music until his death from cancer, aged 53.

Kassern left a body of work that includes three operas, symphonic, concertante, instrumental and vocal works; his brilliant Concerto for String Orchestra has notably achieved popularity, and I highly recommend listening to one of the commercial recordings now available.

Kassern’s output also included several piano works, of which the educational collection Słodki Kramik (Candy Music Box) remains popular in Poland. The new edition is the sixth since PWM’s 1959 publication.

Don’t eat them all at once?

The twelve truffles found in the Candy Music Box will immediately tempt anyone with a sweet tooth:

  • Honey Drops
  • Jelly Apples
  • Popcorn
  • Halvah
  • Butterscotch
  • Peppermint Sticks
  • Chocolate Bar
  • Marshmallows
  • Coconut Patties
  • Pistachio Nougat
  • Jumbo Mambo Peanuts
  • Lollipops

Playing through these pieces, I am struck by their considerable variety of style, all broadly within an accessible tonal style, but not without dissonance in places.

Admittedly, the rather longwinded opener Honey Drops did not particularly draw me in, but I am glad I persevered. Next up, Jelly Apples appealed with its simple but harmonically interesting theme and three variations, and subsequent pieces proved even more enjoyable.

Ziarnka (Popcorn) is clearly a firm favourite in Poland; YouTube offers several delightful videos of enthusiastic children playing this exuberant piece. The catchy folk-like melody in the left hand is punctuated by a popping staccato accompaniment in the right, often sharing the same notes, so demanding and developing a crisp detached touch.

The modal melody of Halvah, initially played hands together in unison two octaves apart, certainly whet my appetite to discover the namesake Middle Eastern delicacy, while Butterscotch begins as a conventional waltz before quickly subverting itself both rhythmically and harmonically.

The mildly dissonant block chords of Peppermint Sticks enjoyably refresh the palette, leading to the darker Chocolate Bar, whose inviting melody and Mazurka rhythm are peppered with unexpected dissonance; I suspect this modernist piece may prove less popular than those which follow, however.

These include the more overtly appealing Marshmallows (a tango), Coconut Patties (a samba), Jumbo Mambo Peanuts and Lollipops (a riotous can-can, which closes the Candy Music Box on a high), all of which point towards the popular dance styles and easy melodic charm which has become the more frequent norm in today’s educational music.

As a collection, these are all consummately crafted and artistically interesting pieces which will appeal to more adventurous musical explorers at this level. The book would nicely bridge the gap between Rybicki’s Young Modernist collection (which I reviewed here) and Bacewicz’s Children’s Suite (reviewed here).

The CAT Publication

PWM Edition’s CAT series rarely disappoints, with its combination of traditional values, modern engraving, and the delightful designs of Joanna Rusinek.

This book is no exception, and is a genuine pleasure to hold. The soft matt card cover opens to a book superbly presented on cream paper. The well engraved notation includes ample fingering throughout (much of which combines practical use with pedagogic insight, for example introducing alternating fingers on repeated notes).

Nestling between the scores, the 28-page book includes three full page colour illustrations featuring animal confectioners, sweets and cakes; these will particularly appeal to children, but should perhaps be avoided by those on a diet!

Closing Thoughts

This fabulous publication will no doubt remain popular in its homeland, but surely deserves wider currency. This is music of genuine quality and pedagogic value.

Though unlikely to become a studio mainstay here in the U.K. due to its niche appeal and stiff market competition, there are several pieces to be found inside the Candy Music Box which would make very welcome additions to concert programmes, music festival and exam syllabi. We must hope!

In short, the CAT series continues to roar!

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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.