Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity

Building a Library

One Saturday morning in March 2018, I learnt that my good friend the composer, author and educator Paul Harris had been rushed to our local hospital emergency department overnight…

Paul had for several months been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a virulent cancer that had already seemed to take so much from him.

He was receiving excellent treatment at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, but having taken a turn for the worse the previous night, Paul had been instructed to come straight to Milton Keynes, his nearest A&E.

Continue reading Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity

The Melody at Night, With You

Sheet Music Review

Keith Jarrett has long been one of my piano heroes, his album The Melody at Night, With You an all-time favourite recording.

I am absolutely delighted that, 20 years after its release, Schott Music have brought out a complete sheet music transcription of the ten album tracks, by Friedrich Grossnick.

I’ll get straight to it – this music is a very special recommendation.

Let me tell you why…

Continue reading The Melody at Night, With You

Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Recording of the Month

Following her superb recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2017, leading classical music magazine Gramophone named Beatrice Rana Young Artist of the Year, noting:

“Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It’s a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you’ve got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.”

Two years later her latest recording, a dazzling account of music by Ravel and Stravinsky, further affirms Rana as one of the most extraordinary artists of our time.

No difficulty in selecting my Recording of the Month

Continue reading Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Ravel: Jeux d’eau

Sheet Music Review

“…the wellspring of all the pianistic innovations which have been thought to be found in my work.”

So said composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) of his breakthrough composition Jeux d’Eau, completed on November 11th, 1901 and dedicated to his teacher Gabriel Fauré.

As such, the work is surely a milestone not only in Ravel’s compositional development, but also in that of the classical piano repertoire.

In this post I will consider the genesis and significance of Jeux d’Eau before taking a look at Nicolas Southon’s brand new urtext edition of the piece, with fingering and notes on the interpretation by concert pianist Alexandre Tharaud, recently published by Bärenreiter.

Continue reading Ravel: Jeux d’eau

Reindeer Reading Duets

Guest Post by Alison Mathews

including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Games downloads

Continue reading Reindeer Reading Duets

Beethoven’s Variations for Piano

Sheet Music Review

As the 250th centenary of the birth of Beethoven approaches, it’s no surprise that the major publishers are issuing new and updated editions of his major piano solo works.

The monumental cycle of 35 Sonatas (the “New Testament” of the solo piano repertoire) are inevitably a centrepiece of the release schedules of several major publishers, but Beethoven’s other piano works mustn’t be overlooked.

Happy news, then: Henle Urtext have brought out an updated edition of Beethoven’s Variations for Piano in two volumes.

The first volume [HN 1267] appeared a couple of years ago, but it’s the second [HN 1269], now available, that may prove the more irresistible.

Let’s find out why …

Continue reading Beethoven’s Variations for Piano

Graham Lynch’s “Art Preludes”

Sheet Music Review

A recent review that I read elsewhere suggested that Elena Cobb’s EVC Music has “cornered the market in pedagogical, developmental publications for piano”. While this is something of an overstatement, it is certainly great to see EVC at last receiving its due recognition for a published catalogue that has continued to go from strength to strength.

EVC Music is not just about pedagogy though; the company has been steadily bringing to market a growing and glowing range of performance works by contemporary composers, the latest of which is Art Preludes, a suite of five new pieces by British composer Graham Lynch.

Interested in finding our more? Then read on…

Continue reading Graham Lynch’s “Art Preludes”

The Faber Music “Soundtracks Piano Anthology”

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music have in recent years welcomed the onset of the Christmas shopping season with the publication of lavish anthologies, making perfect gifts for the pianist in your life (or indeed for yourself!).

First (in 2016) came the Faber Music Piano Anthology, a stunning hardback collection including 76 popular intermediate and advanced classics, which I reviewed here.

In 2018 they followed this with the lush Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology, an essential seasonal purchase which I reviewed in more detail here.

New for 2019, the Faber Music Soundtracks Piano Anthology is a collection of 58 pieces which have appeared in movies or TV shows, including popular classics alongside recent film scores.

Let’s take a closer look….

Continue reading The Faber Music “Soundtracks Piano Anthology”

Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Iyad Sughayer has been quietly establishing a reputation as one of our brightest upcoming pianists, appearing as soloist with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Cairo and Amman Symphony Orchestras, as well as giving solo performances in such prestigious venues as London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s Place, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Steinway-Haus in Hamburg.

Now he has released his debut recording on the BIS label. A brilliantly conceived and executed disc of solo piano works by Aram Khachaturian (1903-78), the recording is certainly a stunning showcase for the brilliant talents of this young player, who delivers performances of the utmost musical conviction and power.

Sughayer wrote a short piece touching on the nature of musical engagement for Pianodao a couple of years ago, and I was delighted to more recently catch up with him at the Chetham’s Summer School for Pianists, since which I have now had a chance to interview him in more depth for the site…

Continue reading Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?

I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…

For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.

Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.

How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?

Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?

Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

ABRSM Goes Digital for 2020

Usually around this time of year I write a report from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference (for more info you can follow these links to the reports from 2016, 2017, 2018, and my 2018 interview with chief executive Michael Elliott).

This year I wasn’t a media guest at the conference, but in any case ABRSM chose to make their biggest announcements online. And two of those announcements are pretty significant…

This article offers a quick update on ABRSM’s new online booking service for exams, including some details teachers may have missed, as well as taking a look at their new online learning platform, Journeys: Guitar.

Continue reading ABRSM Goes Digital for 2020

Winter Repertoire Challenge

The Winter Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great opportunity for developing your Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?

Continue reading Winter Repertoire Challenge

Playing like the Winter Sun

Those looking to “catch some rays” may head for an exotic tropical beach, but as I drove an early morning errand a few days ago I was struck by the purity of the winter sun blazing brightly, but low, on the horizon.

The fact that in winter months the sun is lower in the sky doesn’t change its essential nature or dim its brightness, even though cloud cover might. On a clear morning, the low angle of the sun only makes it seem brighter.

Blinding, even.

The low winter sun is just as virtuosic as the blazing beast of the equator. The difference of course, is the angle of view, the more modest apex, the changed attitude towards altitude.

Piano Journey

Observing this puts me in mind of how our attitude similarly determines our view of the piano repertoire.

Some devote their piano journey to the pursuit of altitude, learning ever-harder pieces in their ascent to virtuoso prowess.

Others are more content to play “for pleasure”, perhaps neither striving for the same heights, nor ignoring them. They simply enjoy a different viewpoint.

Those who devote their lives to playing the most difficult repertoire may end up doing so with great difficulty.

Better, I believe, to devote ourselves to playing the most beautiful music, and playing it with great beauty.

As the great writer Albert Camus once wrote,

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus

Continue reading Playing like the Winter Sun

What Christmas Piano Music Books, 2019..?

Sheet Music Review

The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.

In this mega-review, I’ll be surveying the collections which have especially caught my eye as we enter the festive season in 2019…

Continue reading What Christmas Piano Music Books, 2019..?

The Easy Piano Series: Christmas

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music’s ‘Easy Piano Series’ has steadily been establishing itself as one of the brightest jewels in the publisher’s sparkling catalogue of educational piano music. New for 2019, this collection of seasonal favourites sets out to maintain the high standards of the series…

Let’s take a quick peek inside…

Continue reading The Easy Piano Series: Christmas

Andrey Gugnin plays Shostakovich

Recording of the Month

Though perhaps not the best-known of his piano works, Shostakovich’s solo music for the instrument surely ranks among the best of the twentieth century.

Now, in his newly released Hyperion debut, Russian pianist Andrey Gugnin presents an all-Shostakovich programme which showcases both the quality and variety of this repertoire…

Make no mistake: this is a stunning album, and even in a month crowded with new releases from major artists, I found it an easy choice for inclusion in the Recording of the Month series…

Continue reading Andrey Gugnin plays Shostakovich

June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

Many Pianodao readers will already be familiar with the wonderful, creative and pedagogically rich compositions by June Armstrong.

Andrew’s previous reviews on her work can be found here:

Having had much success on examination syllabuses including with Dusty Blue from Paint Box (set for LCM Grade 1 and ABRSM Grade 2), Unicorn from Stars (ABRSM Grade 3) and Sails from Stars (LCM Grade 4), June has just celebrated having sold over 5000 books to date.

Her latest book reviewed here, Alphabet, is her 16th publication.

This new collection is for Elementary Piano, and I would say in terms of the UK Grades it is Pre-Grade 1 to Grade 1. June herself suggests beginner to Pre-Grade 1, although I would clarify this after trying it with my own students by saying the book is best accessed at the end of a first Primer book.  

A level of reading and co-ordination is required to truly get the most out of this lovely collection. 

Continue reading June Armstrong’s “Alphabet”

Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos

Sheet Music Review

Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos from Hal Leonard offers a collection of 30 seasonal pieces arranged for solo piano.

Stick with me to find out what’s included…

Continue reading Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos

Jazz on a Winter’s Night

Sheet Music Review

Jazz music and Christmas have a beautifully nostalgic association for many, and it’s no surprise that jazz pianist Nikki Iles’ Jazz on a Winter’s Night has been such a huge success since its 2009 publication.

Jazz on a Winter’s Night proved to be a milestone publication that spawned three outstanding sequels in Jazz in Springtime, Jazz on a Summer’s Day and Jazz in Autumn, each including a selection of seasonally themed jazz standards and originals composed by Nikki herself.

I was thrilled to recently notice that Oxford University Press have now brought out a second collection of Christmas classics arranged by Nikki in a range of jazz styles that once again pay homage to legendary jazz musicians.

In this review I will recap what makes the original book such a classic must-have for every advanced pianist before taking a closer look at its excellent new sequel…

Continue reading Jazz on a Winter’s Night

Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair

Sheet Music Review

Phillip Keveren has established a formidable reputation as an outstanding arranger with his Phillip Keveren Series, numbering nearly 100 titles published worldwide by Hal Leonard.

Ranging from Gospel music, hymns and worship songs to contemporary popular artists such as Coldplay, Queen and Billy Joel, and with plenty of music from films and stage thrown in, these beautifully presented “Piano Solo” collections offer arrangements suitable for the late intermediate player, while there’s also a selection of “Easy Piano” titles aimed at elementary players.

The Phillip Keveren Series already includes several Seasonal titles, such as A Celtic Christmas, Yuletide Jazz, and for “easy piano”, Santa Swings.

For 2019, Keveren brings us another seasonal newcomer to the series, Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, so let’s see whether he has again struck gold…

Continue reading Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair

Your FREE Christmas Downloads!

Great News!

Karen Marshall and David Blackwell have created some superb, FREE carol arrangements and Christmas lesson resources to accompany Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers, which publisher Collins Music has generously agreed to host here on Pianodao!

Some of these resources appeared here in 2018, when Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers was also published, while others are brand new for 2019…

Visit the Downloads Page here!

The Maze of Methods…

Here’s a fabulous opportunity for teachers to come and explore some of the many great piano methods currently available and in wide circulation…

EPTA UK have organised a special event at which some of the world’s leading method book writers and publishers will present an overview of the most popular books on the market, answering the questions you may have.

Hosted at the Schott Music London store, the event is FREE, but you will need to reserve a place using the link below.

I’ll be there too, chairing discussion and introducing the day, so I look forward to seeing you there if you can make it!

Full information in the poster below…

Continue reading The Maze of Methods…

Capturing the Season

Sheet Music Review

As autumn nears its end, the thoughts of musicians everywhere are no doubt turning to the coming season, likely to be a musically rich one for many.

Piano players and teachers are always on the look out for fresh material, and I’m happy to remind you of two excellent collections co-written by composers Alison Mathews and Barbara Arens, Capturing the Joy of Winter, and Capturing the Spirit of Christmas.

Both were positively reviewed here when they appeared in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and it’s high time to consolidate my thoughts into a single review. So here goes…

Continue reading Capturing the Season

Hauschka: A Different Forest

Sheet Music Review

Known professionally as Hauschka, composer Volker Bertelmann has catapulted himself into the top tier of composers. Perhaps best known for his compositions for prepared piano, Haushka has also excelled as a film composer, receiving an Oscar nomination for his soundtrack to the 2016 film “Lion”.

Hauschka’s latest album A Different Forest, a solo piano recording (with some electronic elements and treatments), was released back in February on the Sony Classical label.

There is now also a supporting sheet music publication from Bosworth Edition, distributed by Hal Leonard, the subject of this review…

Continue reading Hauschka: A Different Forest

The Sufferings of the Queen of France

Sheet Music Review

Ut Orpheus Edizioni (distributed by Universal Edition) have recently published a new urtext edition of Dussek’s catchily-titled The Sufferings of the Queen of France (for piano of harpsichord), subtitled in the original:

“A Musical Composition, Expressing the feelings of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, During her Imprisonment, Trial, etc. The Music, adapted for the Piano-Forte or Harpsichord Composed by J.L. Dussek.”

Ripping stuff! Let’s take a look…

Continue reading The Sufferings of the Queen of France

The Beethoven 2020 Diary

The Pianodao Review

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2020 marks the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), without doubt one of the greatest composers of all time.

Inevitably, concert programmes, air waves and the media will be suitably saturated throughout the year. And the celebrations start here…

The Beethoven 2020 Diary from Bärenreiter is a simple idea, brilliantly executed. Essentially this handsomely presented pocket diary offers an overview of the man and his music, presented in daily bite-sized chunks.

And for the record, generally I chuck pocket diaries straight in the bin.. this one, however, is a definite keeper!

Let’s find out why …

Continue reading The Beethoven 2020 Diary

“If only I had known then…”

Tea Room Tips  from the  Pianodao Tea Room

As is often mentioned here on Pianodao, learning to play the piano is the journey of a lifetime! And the further we travel, the more insight we gain, and the deeper our skills develop. 

But… suppose you could turn the clock back to when you were a teenager… What do you really wish you had known and understood about piano playing back then?

This was the latest question I posed in the Pianodao Tea Room community, and as I suspected the answers given were many and varied. Each member contribution is, complete in itself, a heartwarming and insightful story…

Here for your interest are a selection of those contributions…

And please feel free to leave your own answer as a comment below!

Continue reading “If only I had known then…”

Julia Hülsmann: Modern Piano Improvisation

Sheet Music Review

Here’s an interesting concept!

“Is it possible to learn to improvise? The acclaimed jazz pianist Julia Hülsmann answers this question with a resounding ‘yes’. In volume 1 of her Modern Piano Improvisation series she presents an easy and inviting introduction to this skill.
Songs are the main focus of her approach: easy arrangements of 15 jazz classics and original compositions by the internationally-renowned composer Hülsmann. Ideas and themes are given for each piece to help you to create attractive piano solos.
Demo recordings and play-along backings are available as MP3 files to download.”

So reads the blurb on the rear cover of an attractive new publication from advance music, brought to us by Schott Music.

Adding excitement to the mix, author Julia Hülsmann is indeed one of the most distinguished pianists of the contemporary European jazz scene, with a string of albums on the ECM and ACT labels, including the award-winning Scattering Poems.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Julia Hülsmann: Modern Piano Improvisation

Igor Levit: Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas

Recording of the Month

Undertaking a complete recording of the 32 published Piano Sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the monumental challenges for any concert pianist, and with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next year it’s likely that the many accounts on disc will come under greater comparative scrutiny than ever.

Enter Igor Levit, who has previously impressed critics and audiences around the world both in recital and on disc. A Sony Classics artist, Levit is flying the flag for one of the world’s largest labels with his new 9CD set of the Sonata cycle, released this month.


photography © Felix Broede /Sony Classical

These are interpretations which inevitably face comparison with the legendary recordings by such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff and Friedrich Gulda, beloved cycles by Stephen Kovacevich, Alfred Brendel and Claudio Arrau, and the more recent accounts by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and (revelatory on fortepiano) Ronald Brautigam.

With such high stakes, let’s find out how Levit’s cycle fares …

Continue reading Igor Levit: Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas

Contemporary Piano Masters

Sheet Music Review

You’ve surely spotted the rise-and-rise in popularity of so-called ‘new classical’ music, as championed by Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter, Yiruma and others.

Their music seems to travel from TV shows to school concerts, and from adult piano clubs to the studios where those of us who teach students of all ages are routinely asked to help them learn River Flows in You, The Heart Asks Pleasure First, Nuvole Bianche and more.

And why not? These are expressive, melodic and reflective pieces that seem to have struck the perfect chord in our otherwise often turbulent times.

How happy, then, to find a single collection that includes so many of the genre’s top titles in one tastefully presented bumper compendium!

Contemporary Piano Masters may just offer a one-stop-solution to your ‘new classical’ needs, bringing together 40 pieces from 20 of “the world’s leading piano composers”.

Let’s take a loser look…

Continue reading Contemporary Piano Masters