Burgmüller’s three collections of piano etudes, Op.100, Op.105 and Op.109 have been cornerstones of the piano pedagogy literature for over a century and a half, and remain as popular today as ever.
In this short article I will look at each of the three, share my own recordings of Op.100, compare and recommend good editions for those wanting to study these brilliant pieces.
Born in 1806, Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller (who is usually just called Friedrich, because it’s easier) grew up in Düsseldorf, where his father held the impressive title Civic Director of Music.
Following his father’s death, Friedrich applied for the old man’s job but was turned down. He moved to Basel, and then on to Paris in 1834, where he found success as a composer with his ballet La Péri, which was performed some 50 times at the Paris Opera, as well as in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Brussels and New York.
From 1844, Burgmüller largely withdrew from the public eye and focused on piano teaching, his students reputedly including the children of King Louis Philippe. He continued to perform at the piano in the salons of Paris, where the immediate appeal and melodic charm of his music found continuing popularity.
Ever shy of publicity, Burgmüller retired permanently to his summer residence in Beaulieu near Fontainebleau in his later years. There he died in 1874, having never married. His legacy, however, has undeniably lived on…
25 Easy and Progressive Studies Op. 100
The enduring appeal of Burgmüller’s Op.100 is undoubtedly due to their consistency as a set of pieces which combine musical character and enjoyment with superb pedagogic value. Each piece bears a title which immediately engages the imagination, and most are as memorably melodic as they are playfully evocative.
The pieces systematically introduce the techniques that the intermediate player will need in order to tackle more difficult Romantic repertoire. And as each new technique is introduced, so Burgmüller painstakingly develops it thought repetition and consolidation in subsequent pieces, ensuring nothing important is overlooked.
Typically when suggesting to students that they buy a book called “25 Easy and Progressive Studies” they look unimpressed; once playing Burgmüller’s music however, they are soon charmed. Given that the pieces range in level from around UK Grade 2 to Grade 5, the student who enjoys the collection will often make surprisingly rapid, but secure progress. This is the genius of the collection!
I have recorded all 25 of these popular pieces to help students, and am making the recordings available here so that you can have a listen too. Individual tracks can also be freely downloaded from my SoundCloud page here.
I hope you find these recordings useful and perhaps feel inspired to play these very enjoyable classics for yourself if you haven’t already!
The whereabouts of the original manuscript for Op.100 remains unknown; modern editions are all based on the first edition, which was published by Schott in 1854. There are no textual issues for editors to address, and the various versions currently available have no reason to differ.
That said, some omit important expressive details, while others impress with added editorial fingering and performance tips. I’ve picked out three of the best editions for comment here…
For the recording above, I used the ABRSM edition, which is published in their Easier Piano Pieces series. This is a simple affair, the pieces delivered succinctly across 36 white pages, with little introduction or further comment. I like the translations of the French titles here, which I have retained in my recording, and this is a perfectly useable budget edition for students.
It would be difficult for adult learners and teachers not to warm to the superb Wiener Urtext Edition. The 68-page book is presented on cream paper in the publisher’s usual house style, edited by Naoyuki Taneda, who includes excellent additional fingerings and an outstanding additional 15 pages of detailed playing tips and practice suggestions.
If you are looking for the ‘best’ edition, here it undoubtedly is, although the dry presentation wouldn’t suit younger learners.
With its superbly clear and more attractive presentation, Margaret Orwell’s Schirmer Performance Edition is my current “Studio Choice” for students. With 64 cream pages, the notation is more spaciously presented, and again includes supportive fingering.
The book also includes engaging Historical and Performance Notes suitable for readers of all ages. Sealing the deal, this edition is available with or without audio, which uses Hal Leonard’s splendid Playback+ streaming system, allowing students to speed up or slow down the playback.
18 Characteristic Studies Op. 109
Where to next? Burgmüller’s Op.109 Etudes are the natural sequel to Op.100, and are suitable for players at around UK Grades 5-7 level.
Here we find Orage (Thunder Storm), Cloche des matines (respectively favourites as Grade 5 and 6 pieces) and 16 other pieces that provide the perfect foundation for the the music of Schumann, Liszt and the early Romantics.
Ruthardt’s Edition Peters version (available here) has served me well, but the obvious choice of edition is again the Schirmer Performance Edition, this time edited and recorded by William Westney.
12 Brilliant and Melodic Studies Op. 105
Concluding this brief survey, the Op.105 etudes are the most difficult of the three sets, suitable for players around and above Grade 8.
Dramatic pieces, and again with poetic titles, they demand a mastery of playing in octaves, alternating and other advanced fingering techniques at speed, sensitive pedalling nuances and technical equality between the hands, and in my view they provide a more musically alluring and rewarding alternative to the advanced studies of Czerny.
Though not as well known as the Op.100 and 109 studies, the Op.105 “impressive and tuneful studies” complete Burgmüller’s peerlessly musical introduction to piano technique at all levels, and for the advanced player should really not be missed.
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