The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

The Intermediate Pianist is an award-winning set of three books co-written by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond, published by Faber Music in 2017. They launched Marshall’s Piano Trainer Series, which grew to include the Foundation Pianist (with David Blackwell, 2018), the Advanced Pianist (with Mark Tanner, 2019), and supplemented by the Piano Trainer Scales Workbook (2021).

Between them, these eight books deliver a fully self-contained curriculum for piano players from elementary to advanced level, but they have now been joined by another important supplementary book. The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection has been written, compiled and edited by Marshall, and the publishers tell us,

“This collection gathers together nine complete sonatas that are all intermediate to early advanced (Grades 4 to 6) in standard. Featuring works by Beethoven, Anna Bon, Haydn, Mozart and Robert Schumann, it provides the highest quality of music and many years of study. Each sonata is accompanied by a live recording, background information, playing tips and musicianship activities; students are also encouraged to use the Sonata Music Map to analyse each work in detail themselves.”

Let’s start to unpack all this…

Nine Complete Piano Sonatas

In her introduction to this collection, Marshall writes,

“Piano Sonatas are a fundamental part of the piano repertoire, but many students miss out on these masterpieces because they so rarely play a complete one…”

Whether Marshall’s assessment of this situation is generally true I don’t know, but if so it’s a pity, and rather an indictment on piano teachers. In any case, the nine complete works which she selects for this publication are:

Joseph Haydn
• Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI/7
• Sonata in F major, Hob. XVI/9
• Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI/8
• Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/4

Anna Bon
• Sonata in B flat major, Op.2/2

Ludwig van Beethoven
• Sonata facile in G minor, Op.49/1
• Sonata facile in G major, Op.49/2

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
• Sonata in C major, K.545

Robert Schumann
• Sonata in G major, Op.118/1

Most of these are works which I very regularly (in some cases, routinely) teach, and the couple I don’t are welcome additions. Having them all in one affordable collection is certainly good news, provided that the editions themselves are on a level with those I currently use and recommend (and I will come back to that point later).

But as always with Marshall’s publications, there’s much more here than just the musical scores, and with her usual commitment to high quality learning, nothing is left to chance. So let’s first consider these additional bonus features…

The Supporting Content

Marshall’s pedagogic content proves, as ever, to be uniformly excellent, and a key selling point of the book.

Framing the historical context of the music, the book begins with a two page essay considering What is a sonata? which explains both the sonata genre, and sonata form as a structural outline widely adapted by composers.

This is followed by a Composers’ timeline and recommended listening page, and then the Sonata Music Map, a template that the player can presumably photocopy and use as a guide for analysis of each sonata in the book. The grid includes space to write about four movements, and in the case of the first movement (a generalisation which works for the included pieces) to consider the exposition, development and recapitulation as distinct sections.

The sonatas themselves follow, each including its own preamble introducing the composer and context, and some helpful playing tips. At this point, the book is allowed to unfold as a fairly standard music collection, the remainder of the material confined to the final pages.

These offer Musical knowledge and theory questions relating to each of the sonatas, and will undoubtedly prove useful as a prompt to help players analyse the music for themselves, and for teachers to oversee their developing understanding both of the genre as a whole, and of the individual works they are learning.

Concluding the book, there is also a helpful Glossary of musical terms. This broadly covers analytical terms such as “first subject” and “rondo”, rather than being a dictionary of Italian terminology.

Lastly, I must give high praise to the live audio recordings of all the sonatas. These are downloaded from the Faber Music website, where the performer seems to be uncredited; the small print in the book identifies him as Sean Greenheld.

Apple Music Classical and Spotify hardly suffer from a deficit of world-class recordings of most of this repertoire, but Greenheld certainly deserves more prominent credit and appreciation for his wonderfully stylish performances, which will undoubtedly help players realise this music with greater musical inspiration and awareness.

Editorial Matters

Turning to the scores themselves, as a teacher I would need these to compare favourably with the likes of Henle, Wiener Urtext and Bärenreiter, my usual recommendations for this repertoire. Outstanding though the book’s other attractions are, this is undeniably a key point that any good teacher will certainly want to consider.

My general impression during the review period is that the editing here is excellent. Having played through most of the sonatas, I have yet to notice any errors or unexpected surprises, and it is obvious that very high standards have been applied throughout.

Furthermore, Marshall’s fingering suggestions are consistently helpful. Comparing, for example, her fingering in the Beethoven Op.49 with my usual teaching edition (Henle, reviewed here), her solutions to common problems are often similar to Murray Perahia’s, if not as fussy.

Where there are no dynamic markings in the original, Marshall has added editorial suggestions, and they are shown in a grey font to clearly identify them as her ideas, optional for the player. I really like this elegant solution to the common dilemma between supporting learners and honouring the authentic score.

Mozart’s K.545 is the sonata that I use most frequently to introduce my students to the point that composers of the eighteenth century often left dynamics to the performer’s discretion. Here, there are so many creative and equally effective alternatives; Marshall’s ideas are good, but I would encourage players to deviate and explore alternatives too, and the presentation here supports this pedagogic agenda nicely, while offering a helpful start point.

Ornamentation is another matter; editorial suggestions and proposed realisations would have benefitted from also being presented in grey, and for similar reasons. Marshall’s apparent rationale is to present each ornament with a suggested realisation at least once, then allowing the player to follow the general principles.

Unfortunately, the results are inconsistent. For example, turns as used in Beethoven’s Op.49 don’t seem to be explained at all. Meanwhile in Mozart’s K.545 the only realisation given for the whole work suggests starting trills on the main note, whereas in most instances the convention of starting on the upper note would be more authentic. Overall, I feel there’s a danger that some will be confused here; a general ornament table at the start or rear of the book would perhaps have served players better.

The bigger issue I have with these scores, when compared side by side with those I daily rely on, is that despite the careful engraving I actually found them harder to read. Since my eye surgery I have become more sensitive when reading music printed on bright white paper. (I am told that neurodivergent learners also benefit from cream paper). Compounding this, Faber’s music font is a smaller size than the Henle standard.

Closing Thoughts

A wholehearted recommendation of this compilation in preference to the well-established alternatives is obviously a complex matter for the honest reviewer, but this does not diminish the very significant achievement and contribution to piano pedagogy that this publication makes.

The real brilliance of this book is in the wise insight and unique material that Marshall herself includes. Her Sonata Music Map, helpful playing tips, background information and analysis questions deliver a uniquely approachable and (for the most part) superb scaffolding to support the player approaching this music for the first time.

For adult players wanting to explore this music, and for teachers wanting to expand their students’ experience and understanding of the sonata repertoire, The Intermediate Piano Sonata Collection can thus be warmly, enthusiastically and very highly recommended. I can certainly imagine using the book with many of my own students in the years ahead, such is its convenience and the quality of the supporting materials.

For the most committed player, building a library of authoritative performing editions from Henle, Wiener or Bärenreiter will unquestionably be a worthwhile investment, but Marshall undoubtedly understands her audience well, and this book is a genuine winner.

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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.