Classical Tear-Jerkers

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Faber Music’s Piano Player Series is proving one of their most enjoyable and easy to recommend in recent years. Bringing together accessible pieces, adept arrangements and vividly showcasing the inimitable artwork of Edward Bawden (1903-1989), the books are proving popular in my teaching studio, and are well worth a look.

The latest is the splendidly titled Classical Tear-Jerkers, and promises “twenty of the most melancholy pieces of classical music, specially arranged for intermediate piano solo”.

How can we resist taking a closer look?

In a melancholy mood…

Previous marketing for this collection proposed that it would include “20 of the saddest pieces of classical music, guaranteed to make you weep”. Faber were perhaps wise to rein in such disconsolate expectations, but have nonetheless delivered a collection that is notably downbeat, made up of the following maudlin melodies:

  •  A Collective Destiny [Luke Howard]
  • A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder [Jóhann Jóhannsson]
  • Adagietto [Gustav Mahler]
  • Ave Maria [Franz Schubert]
  • Come Sweet Death [Johann Sebastian Bach]
  • Dolly’s Funeral [Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky]
  • Glantaf [Morfydd Llwyn Owen]
  • Intermezzo [Pietro Mascagni]
  • Lacrimosa [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]
  • Lamentation for a lost life [Max Richter]
  • Menuet [Georg Friedrich Händel]
  • Moonlight Sonata [Ludwig van Beethoven]
  • Pavane pour une infante d [Maurice Ravel]
  • Prelude in E minor [Frédéric Chopin]
  • Sicilienne [Maria Theresia Von Paradis]
  • Sonata in D minor [Domenico Scarlatti]
  • Sospiri [Edward Elgar]
  • Ständchen in D minor (After Schubert) [Franz Liszt]
  • Un bel di vedremo [Giacomo Puccini]
  • When I Am Laid In Earth (Dido’s Lament) [Henry Purcell]

As usual with this series, the list of pieces delivers an enjoyable mix of classical originals, simplified arrangements (uncredited), and more contemporary fare (on this occasion, representative pieces from Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Luke Howard).

In terms of their difficulty, the collection is more consistently appropriate for intermediate players than the previous volumes; except for a couple of outliers, all this music is suitable for players from around UK Grades 4-6 level.

The classical originals are nicely, and for the most part accurately, presented. Teachers familiar with the works may notice the occasional oddity (the Chopin Prelude certainly had me rushing to check other editions), but I wouldn’t expect Urtext editorial purity here.

Where dynamics are added they are always tastefully done, and the inclusion of fingering is highly welcome. I should mention here that some pieces also include pedalling instructions, which is pleasant to see.

Simplified versions of more difficult pieces (which include a very accessible Ravel Pavane and a respectful transcription of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata into D minor) are elegantly accomplished, as are the arrangements of orchestral favourites such as Mascagni’s Intermezzo, Mahler’s Adagietto and Elgar’s gloomy Sospiri.

The transcription of Maria Theresia von Paradis’ beautiful and evergreen Sicilienne is particularly welcome, perhaps because it is a little less mournful than its musical surroundings, allowing its beauty to shine more brightly, and perhaps uplifting the player’s spirits!

The gorgeous Menuet (HWV 434) by Handel has long been an encore favourite in Wilhelm Kempff’s majestic arrangement, but the simpler version here speaks with a gentle beauty and will, I anticipate, prove hugely popular with adult players exploring the collection.

Special mention also to Glantaf, a starkly beautiful miniature written by the tragically short-lived Welsh composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen (1891-1918). This single-page piece conveys its evocative folk melody in adventurous harmonic scenery which suggests Owen’s talent would have flowed more prominently had she lived longer.

To cry for…

When I first learnt that Faber Music were bringing out a series that, alongside its musical content, would celebrate the artwork of Edward Bawden I thought the concept rather quirky. In the event, it seems an inspired idea.

Growing up a Bedfordian, I frequently visited the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, loftily secluded in gardens on the town’s River Ouse embankment, from whence these pieces come; there’s something reassuringly familiar and nostalgic about them. I think they are also very “on-brand” for Faber.

Each image has been perfectly matched to the thematic content of its book, in this instance a grasshopper playing the violin oddly appropriate to the lamentations within. And as usual, the book itself includes a colour pullout A4 poster of the artwork, which the more enthusiastic collector will no doubt find a use for, and which is in any case a delightful addition.

Those familiar with the series, and indeed with Faber Music’s house style, will know what to expect within: 48 white pages with well spaced and nicely presented music engraving. The black ink is pleasingly clear, and with a more generous font size than some publications, I found the scores here easy enough on the eye.

Closing Eulogy

The Piano Player series got off to a strong start last year, but this volume is perhaps the best yet. And with another three publications promised for the imprint, it seems sure to be one to which players will continue returning, and indeed finding abundant pleasure in for many years to come.

Oozing class, and filled with such a good selection of high quality pieces and arrangements, it seems to me that Faber Music have gone to extra lengths to make this book a particularly rewarding one. There really is nothing to add, because this is a superb publication!

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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.