Variations on a Waltz: The Diabelli Project

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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In early 1819, the well-known composer and music publisher Anton Diabelli (1781-1858), sent a 32-bar waltz to the most reputable composers of the Austrian Empire, together with an invitation to submit their variations for publication as a collaborative collection.

Among those who responded to the call were Czerny, Hummel, Moscheles, Schubert, and the eleven-year-old Franz Liszt, and from their contributions Diabelli was able to assemble a set of 50 Variations on his theme.

We only know for sure of one composer who explicitly declined Diabelli’s invitation to collaborate: Beethoven. It remains unclear why he did not want to participate directly, but he nevertheless composed his own monumental set of 33 Variations, not directly for Diabelli but exploring alternative avenues of publication.

Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz Op.120 quickly established itself not only as one of his most important keyboard works, but one of the pinnacle summits of the entire classical piano repertoire, entirely overshadowing the rest of the project.

Delivered for the recent Beethoven 250 anniversary year, Mario Aschauer’s landmark new scholarly performing edition of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations is an essential score for serious students of the work, published by Bärenreiter, BA 9657.

Perhaps even more interestingly however, Bärenreiter have also brought us their edition BA 9656, which includes Beethoven’s masterpiece together with Aschauer’s new edition of the 50 Variations on a Waltz composed by his contemporaries in response to Diabelli’s call.

Let’s take a closer look at this ambitious and exciting publication…

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J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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The Six Partitas BWV 825-30 of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) have long been regarded as one of the most important milestones of the Baroque keyboard repertoire, and exist in many editions.

The latest, edited by Ullrich Scheideler, with fingering added by concert pianist William Youn, and published by Henle (HN 518), replaces the same publisher’s 1979 Rudolf Steglich/Hans-Martin Theopold edition (HN 28), and aims to deliver the latest scholarship in a practical performing edition…

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Piano Music of Amy Beach

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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American composer Amy Beach’s significant contribution to the solo piano repertoire is finally beginning to receive the recognition and popularity it rightly deserves.

Beach (1867-1944) remained a hugely committed and prolific composer, even though much of her output received little attention in the first half of her career.

Her music is avowedly conservative, doing little to advance on the language of the early Romantic era composers, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. And yet there is certainly a timelessness to its appeal that continues to speak to audiences and connect with players.

Hal Leonard’s 2013 publication Piano Music of Amy Beach offers an enticing introduction to this important composer’s work, and has recently been reprinted (in part because it is a core text for America’s National Federation of Music Clubs Junior Festivals programme for 2020-24).

The collection offers ten intermediate to advanced solo pieces selected from across Beach’s long career by Gail Smith. Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Music of Amy Beach

Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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In my recent post Discovering Chopin I included two editions of the complete works, both brought to us by PWM Edition: firstly the celebrated Paderewski Edition beloved by performers, and secondly the more recent scholarly Chopin National Edition, edited by Jan Ekier.

The latter has established itself as a benchmark urtext edition by which other versions are presently judged, although sources of Chopin’s music are so many and surprisingly varied that, often, definitive readings are elusive.

Further underlining this point, were it in any doubt, comes the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition from Edition Peters, prepared under the watchful eyes of editor-in-chief John Rink.

Joining the first six volumes in this work-in-progress series, the latest addition is the Trois Nouvelles Études of 1840, edited by Roy Howat.

I will start with a full review of this new publication, EP 73229, and then gracefully segue into a more detailed consideration of Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition, and take a quick look at the solo piano issues in the series so far.

Continue reading Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

Trinity College: A Recital Anthology

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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Once in every while a music book arrives on my review desk which is simply too wonderful for words, and yes! this is one of those!

Surprisingly so, perhaps, given that on paper this looks like a rather plain anthology of well-worn diploma repertoire. According to the blurb,

“This unique collection contains 21 pieces from the ATCL repertoire list for Music Performance Diplomas in Piano from 2019. The most popular recital choices join lesser-known treasures, allowing performers to create diverse and compelling programmes, whether preparing for a Trinity diploma or not.”


So you’re possibly wondering what lifts it above the exam jargon and makes it truly special. Let’s find out…

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Ji Liu: Fire and Water

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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Ji Liu is one of the young upcoming generation of Chinese pianists to find global success in the wake of Yundi and Lang Lang.

Following studies at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and London’s Royal Academy of Music, Liu has had significant success as a Global Classic fm recording artist, topping the UK Classical Charts, and as a concert artist who has performed around the world, appearing in such distinguished venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Liu’s 2018 album Fire & Water took as its inspiration the Chinese five-element theory Wu-Xing, which is at the heart of Daoist philosophy, qigong practice and traditional acupuncture. Of the five (Wood, Earth, Metal, Fire, Water) Liu selected the pairing of fire and water as a basis for programming contrasting pieces by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Einaudi, de Falla, Scriabin, Ravel, Xian Xinghai, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.

Fire & Water delivers an intoxicating blend of virtuosity and appealing melody that has proved immensely popular. Several of the pieces are Liu’s own arrangements, fuelling demand for the sheet music to be made available.

For the Fire & Water publication, recently brought to us by newcomer Master Music Publications, Liu has obliged with his transcriptions, together with his annotated editions of some (but not all) of the album’s other pieces, and a brand new composition Tragicomic Trilogy.

Continue reading Ji Liu: Fire and Water

Schubert: The Late Sonatas

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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Back in June 2018 I reviewed Bärenreiter’s then new issue of Schubert’s G major Fantasy Sonata, concluding:

“I am grateful that this beautifully presented edition of the Fantasy Sonata has given me a fresh opportunity to explore such a magnificent work – and with this Bärenreiter edition to hand, it becomes still more enticing.
The Fantasy Sonata must surely be among Schubert’s greatest piano works, and one of the more accessible of the later Sonatas. And whether for studying or performing this masterpiece, this new edition from Bärenreiter is undoubtedly the one to own!”

Now that edition reappears as the opening work in Volume III of Bärenreiter’s complete Schubert Sonatas edition, in which is is joined by the great Sonatas in C minor, A major and B flat major, D 958, 959 and 960 respectively, surely three of the most hallowed pieces in the entire classical piano repertoire.

Read on for the Pianodao review…

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Kurt Schwertsik: Collected Piano Works

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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When Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik’s Albumblätter: collected piano works landed on my desk in 2018, I was intrigued, but like too many books it ended up buried in my review backlog.

Fast forward to Summer 2020, and the newly released recording of this music by pianist Aya Klebahn caught my attention on Apple Music. Second time lucky, I was quickly hooked…

Publishers Boosey & Hawkes tell us:

“Kurt Schwertsik’s music is characterised by ever-changing moods and is idiosyncratic with a refreshing lightness of touch. Though a pupil of Stockhausen, the composer rejected serialism in favour of new forms of tonality. His search for an ‘alternative’ modern culture draws inspiration from Satie and the Dada movement.”

Intrigued? A little belatedly, here is the Pianodao review…

Continue reading Kurt Schwertsik: Collected Piano Works

Schott’s ‘Joy of Music’

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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Schott Music is one of the world’s oldest and most revered music publishers, with a back catalogue that includes first editions of some of the greatest compositions in the history of Western Music.

Founded in 1770 by Bernhard Schott in Mainz, the distinguished publishing house celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2020, and Pianodao joins the music-loving community in congratulating them on this brilliant milestone.

Schott have themselves released a few new publications in which they celebrate their heritage, two of which I am now reviewing. Carsten Gerlitz’s Happy Birthday Schott Music will be reviewed separately, and in this article I will be looking at The Joy of Music: Discoveries from the Schott Archives, a collection of virtuoso and entertaining pieces of piano music for advanced players.

As Schott explain:

“To mark this anniversary, the Schott publishing house has dug up and reedited treasures from its historical publishing archives.”

Let’s lift the lid and see what’s inside this treasure chest….

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Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • written by ANDREW EALES

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One of the many positive developments within the piano teaching and performing community in 2020 has been a re-evaluation of the contribution of musicians of African descent to the repertoire.

A primary sourcebook for this music, Oxford University Press published Piano Music of Africa and the Afrian Diaspora in five volumes, compiled and edited by William H. Chapman Nyaho, between 2007-8. Between them, the books offer 60 pieces by 36 separate composers of African descent, organised by difficulty level as follows:

  1. Volume 1: Early Intermediate
  2. Volume 2: Intermediate
  3. Volume 3: Early Advanced
  4. Volume 4: Advanced
  5. Volume 5: Advanced

More than a decade has passed since the publication of these books, and it is odd that so little of this music has made its way onto concert platforms or found regular use in teaching studios, exams, and homes.

Quite why more haven’t picked up this music is a mystery, because anyone with a fair mind and musical imagination will discover as soon as they explore these OUP volumes that the music of these neglected composers is consistently superb.

So let’s explore the series…

Continue reading Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora