Eugénie Rocherolle’s Reflective Piano Solos

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When I recently reviewed Mona Rejino’s Reflections and Relaxations collection (you can read the review here), I noted that the cover image and title suggested it to be part of the current trend for books of calm, relaxing music in the popular ambient classical style, but that in the event it proved to be something different.

It’s therefore with a sense of déjà vu that I now bring you my review of another Hal Leonard title that appeared around the same time. Here, again, the title perhaps implies a relaxed book of soothing adagios, a lovely cover photograph seems to underline this expectation, and the book promises “11 Beautiful Moods and Styles”.

But once again, this proved to be a different (but no less enjoyable) collection to the one I initially expected. Let’s dip in…

As I have written in a previous review of her work, Eugénie Rocherolle (born, New Orleans, 1936) is one of America’s most eminent composers of educational music. WIth more than 100 titles to her name, covering arrangements of film and show tunes as well as her original music, hers is a very well-known name in American piano studios, even though less familiar here in the UK.

The pieces in this new collection would suit early advanced players, around UK Grades 6-7. They require a well-developed pedalling technique, and in some cases quite large hands. Lyrical in nature, they benefit from a developed command of voicing.

In her Foreword, the composer writes,

In playing through the collection, I am certainly reminded that the notion of “reflections” will mean different things to us in the varying seasons of our lives. The young may reflect on the promise of the future; those of us in our middle years may ponder where we have come thus far, and the general state of things; our elders will have a lifetime upon which to reflect with a mixture of pride, sometime regret, and above all, nostalgia.

Rocherolle, if I might be so bold, would seem to me in the latter camp, the emotional landscape of these pieces traversing the bittersweet, the warmly affectionate, and the gentle slopes that lie between.

The pieces include the Traditional Scottish Water is Wide, American Shenandoah, and arrangements of Stephen Foster’s Beautiful Dreamer and the Isham Jones/Gus Khan classic It Had To Be You, the remainder of the titles being Rocherolle originals:

  • Beautiful Dreamer (Foster)
  • Water is Wide (Scottish)
  • Big Tease (Rocherolle)
  • An Easy Swing (Rocherolle)
  • It Had to Be You (Jones/Khan)
  • Long Ago (Rocheroille)
  • On Saying Goodbye (Rocherolle)
  • Reminiscence (Rocherolle)
  • Southwestern Skies (Rocherolle)
  • Shenandoah (American)
  • Prelude in Blue (Rocherolle)

All four arrangements are superb, and essentially straightforward renditions of the original songs, given a pianistically astute flair.

It Had To Be You is a jaunty song, a point which won’t escape the attention of those familiar with it, but this proves not to be the only upbeat tune in the collection. Big Tease among other things teases the stride piano style, while An Easy Swing is a jazz ballad that recalls Blue Moon and, after the dramatic key change leading to the chorus, Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark.

Elsewhere, a sense of nostalgic ballad prevails, a particular highlight being the wistful On Saying Goodbye. The easy-going swing of Southwestern Skies evokes a classic Western homestead scene. And ironically concluding proceedings, Prelude in Blue is the most surprising piece of all. Certainly there are traces of the blues here, but dressed in dissonance that channels Bernstein at his most austere.

The publication itself appears in The Eugénie Rocherolle Series, and ongoing imprint from Hal Leonard that has immediate visual appeal, and which includes several excellent titles collating Rocherolle’s arrangements and original compositions. The notation is (as always) well spaced, clearly engraved, and includes fingering suggestions throughout.

This is ultimately a collection which older American players will especially delight in, a book whose music seems to recall in vivid colours a lifetime of simple joys, and with strong currents of old-time swing and folksy Americana in its musical delivery.

But lest this seem to pigeon-hole the music in too hasty or restrictive a way, it must quickly be added that the collection includes music of a quality and calibre that piano players more widely will appreciate. These are, in short, lovely pieces, consummately composed and beautifully presented.

Eugenie Rocherolle’s Reflective Piano Solos can thus be warmly and heartily recommended.

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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.