Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora

Sheet Music Review

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…

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Melanie Spanswick: Simply Driven

Sheet Music Review

Melanie Spanswick enjoys a very successful career as a pianist, teacher, adjudicator, writer and blogger. In recent years she has added composer to this list, with a succession of publications beginning with easy minimalist pieces for EVC Music, and now writing for Schott Music.

I have previously reviewed Spanswick’s No Words Necessary for intermediate pianists here on Pianodao, as well as her series Play it Again for adult returning pianists.

Spanswick’s latest book Simply Driven is a collection of 5 Virtuoso Pieces, suitable for players at around Grade 8 and above…

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Evgeny Kissin: Four Pieces Op.1

photo: G. Henle Verlag

Sheet Music Review

Evgeny Kissin hardly needs any introduction to readers of Pianodao: one of the leading pianists of his generation, Kissin’s stunning performances and recordings have wowed audiences worldwide.

Now he joins that highest echelon of the great pianist-composers by bringing the world his first solo piano compositions.

Kissin’s Four Piano Pieces Opus 1 were published by G. Henle Verlag late last year, joined by his Cello Sonata Op.2 and String Quartet Op.3.

And yes, this is the first time that Henle have committed to publishing the work of a living composer. Picking our jaws up from the floor, let’s find out more…

Continue reading Evgeny Kissin: Four Pieces Op.1

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: Wiener Urtext

Sheet Music Review

In the conclusion to my recent review of Bärenreiter’s recently published Jonathan Del Mar edition of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, I noted,

“With the appearance of Jonathan Del Mar’s new benchmark edition for Bärenreiter, we have less of an excuse than ever when it comes to understanding and interpreting the master’s intentions… This magnificent resource is surely not only a new landmark in Beethoven scholarship, but for pianists its issue is the publishing event of the decade.”

In the light of such high praise, eyebrows might be raised at the spectacle of me now reviewing an alternative edition. However, it’s only fair to admit that however definitive an edition is (and the Del Mar edition is as definitive as they come), there is still space for more than one edition of these masterpieces on our shelves.

Given the complexity of establishing an exact text of these core works, and the performance considerations they raise, I certainly welcome the option of having a couple of editions to consult, especially if they offer complementary strengths and insights.

Also last year, and with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth clearly in sight, Wiener Urtext released their own fully updated and revised urtext edition of the Sonatas in three volumes, UT 50427/8/9.

Without detracting from my enthusiasm for the Del Mar edition in any way at all, there are good reasons why some players might welcome the strengths offered by the Wiener Urtext editions, or even prefer them; this review will focus on explaining what I think those are…

Continue reading Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: Wiener Urtext

Nicola Campogrande: ‘Nudo’

Sheet Music Review

In addition to their recent new editions and reissues of the music by Brahms and Busch, Breitkopf & Härtel continue to bring us fresh and brilliant new concert works.

Nicola Campogrande (b.1969, Turin, Italy) is one of today’s most exciting classical composers; his music has been performed around the world by such luminaries as Gauthier Capuçon and Lilya Zilberstein, with glowing praise from audiences and critics alike.

Campogrande’s compositions have also been featured on more than 30 CD recordings from a variety of labels.

Since 2017, Campogrande has published exclusively with Breitkopf, and an early fruit of their partnership is the recent publication of a solo piano concert work intriguingly titled Nudo.

Let’s take a peek…

Continue reading Nicola Campogrande: ‘Nudo’

Breitkopf’s Brahms and Busch

Sheet Music Review

Celebrating their 300th Anniversary in 2019, august publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel reissued several heritage editions alongside their typically exciting new publications.

I have recently reviewed their edition of Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas and reissue of Clara Schumann’s celebrated edition of her late husband Robert Schumann’s complete piano works, with fingering by Wilhelm Kempff.

Now I’m looking at their reissued Complete Piano Works of Johannes Brahms, drawn from the Urtext of the Brahms Complete Edition issued by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreund, Vienna: this is the famous edition prepared by Brahms’ close personal friend Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929).

And, breaking newer ground, I’ll also discuss Jakob Fichert’s new urtext edition of Adolf Busch’s (1891-1952) Piano Sonata in C minor Op.25.

Continue reading Breitkopf’s Brahms and Busch

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition

Sheet Music Review

As publishers prepare for the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, several have been revisiting his Piano Sonatas, a steady flow of which have been arriving for review over recent months.

First to deliver their new version of the complete cycle are Bärenreiter, whose edition of all 35 Sonatas (including the three early Sonatas WoO 47) is now complete and available in a variety of formats.

An epic achievement, this new edition has already won the hearts and minds of some of the world’s greatest Beethoven interpreters; those giving glowing endorsements include Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Leslie Howard and Igor Levit (whose recording of the cycle I recently reviewed here).

To quote Paul Badura-Skoda:

“Jonathan Del Mar’s Beethoven edition is unparalleled in terms of its precision. What I value most about it is the use of lesser-known or previously unknown sources, the commentary, which is the most extensive to date, and the discussion of problematic sections. I wholeheartedly recommend this new edition of Beethoven piano sonatas.”

So now let’s take a more in-depth look…

Continue reading Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition

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…

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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.

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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 …

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Fazil Say: Troy Sonata

Sheet Music Review

It’s my pleasure to review a lot of superb new piano music on this site, but rarely do I have the chance to hail a monumental masterpiece to compare with Fazil Say’s Troy Sonata.

The piece was recently recorded by the composer himself and released on his outstanding Fazil Say Plays Say CD from Warner Classics, which was highly praised as my Recording of the Month and reviewed here.

In that review I noted:

“There really is no doubt in my mind that the Troy Sonata is one of the most significant solo piano works of our current century.”

It is with therefore with genuine pleasure that I can also now tell you about the sheet music publication, brought to us by Schott Music

Continue reading Fazil Say: Troy Sonata

Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

Sheet Music Review

Kapustin’s extensive catalogue of solo piano music is increasingly recognised as one of the significant landmarks of the contemporary recital repertoire.

In an earlier review, Discovering the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin, I had a look at two contrasting works, the fiendishly difficult Sonata No.6 Op.62 (1991), and the more accessible (and now highly popular) Sonatina Op.100 (2000), new editions of which Schott Music had recently released.

Since then, Schott have been continuing to refresh the Kapustin catalogue (theirs since 2013) with new editions of his solo works appearing at regular intervals.

In this follow-up I will be giving a quick round-up of all the latest arrivals. Of these it must be noted that even the least assuming pieces here are rightly classified as “virtuoso”, being at least Diploma level in difficulty.

In all cases, these works are fully scored-out compositions in the classical vein, but heavily imbued with the language, techniques and aesthetics of contemporary jazz, leaning on influences that encompass modern jazz piano icons from Thelonious Monk to McCoy Tyner and beyond.

Continue reading Exploring the Piano Music of Nikolai Kapustin

The Greatest Schumann?

Sheet Music Review

In a grand publishing milestone, Breitkopf & Härtel have reissued in seven volumes Robert Schumann’s complete piano works in the edition prepared by his widow Clara Schumann, and later updated with additional fingerings by the legendary pianist Wilhelm Kempff

Let’s dig straight into the fascinating history of this one ….

Continue reading The Greatest Schumann?

Weber: The Piano Sonatas

Sheet Music Review

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) was one of the significant pioneers of German Romanticism in music, chiefly remembered for his operas Der Freischütz, Oberon and the popular Invitation to the Dance.

Weber was also a brilliant pianist who composed four Sonatas, several shorter solo pieces, two Concertos, the Konzertstück in F minor for piano and orchestra, and considerably influencing successors such as Mendelssohn and Liszt.

Though not as universally known as those of his contemporaries Beethoven and Schubert, Weber’s four Sonatas have found a continuing place in the repertoire, and have been championed by leading concert artists such as Artur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Leon Fleischer, Hamish Milne and Paul Lewis.

They have been less-well served in print however, an oversight which Schott Music hope to rectify with the publication of their new, affordable single-volume edition.

Continue reading Weber: The Piano Sonatas

Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas

Sheet Music Review

At the peak of his success in the 1870’s, Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was one of the most celebrated composers in the world, his eleven symphonies popular in concert halls across Europe and beyond, his marvellous body of solo and four-hand piano music a staple of the repertoire.

And yet, but the time of his death a few years later, his star was already in decline, his fall from fashion remarkably rapid. His music languished largely unperformed through the twentieth century, and is only now being properly reappraised, enjoying something of a revival.

Of Raff’s 216 works with opus numbers, 117 are works for piano solo, 54 for four-handed piano, and 23 piano arrangements of works by other composers. Concert pianist Tra Nguyen has led the charge to rediscover some of this extraordinary music, her stunning recordings revealing the quality of Raff’s writing and once again elevating him to a position alongside Brahms and his contemporaries.

Nguyen’s recordings for Naxos’s Grand Piano label are available to stream via the major platforms, and can be bought as a budget 6CD set from Amazon UK here. They are well worth exploring!

Introducing his new scholarly urtext edition of Raff’s three Piano Sonatas, recently published by Edition Breitkopf, Ulrich Mahlert suggests:

“It was precisely the enormous scope of Raff’s creativity that was one of the reasons why his works were not paid so much attention, because a differentiated engagement with so many compositions is time-consuming. The disregard of abundance went along with generalised, stereotypically repeated negative judgments, obscuring the view or even preventing dealing with Raff’s music at all. Thus, an unfortunate cycle of ignorance emerged which we hope that the present edition can help overcome.”

With that goal in mind, let’s consider Mahlert’s new edition of the Piano Sonatas.

Continue reading Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas

Play it Again: Piano

Sheet Music Review

Melanie Spanswick’s Play it Again: Piano series launched with two books published by Schott Music back in 2017. At the time, I heaped praise on those books, and I have subsequently used them with adult “returners” who have also loved them.

Now, with a third book joining the series, it’s time for another look. This new review covers all three books in the series, so let’s dig in…

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Henle’s revised Chopin Scherzi

Sheet Music Review

Ask a group of pianists which edition of Chopin’s piano works is the best, and you will probably get little consensus.

Some cling to our old copies of the much-revered Paderewski Editions which have been widely used since their appearance in the mid-twentieth century, while of the more recent urtext editions, the Jan Ekier Polish National Edition comes highly recommended.

Alongside these, the ever-reliable Henle Urtext editions have been popular for many years, and enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that they have just added a new revised edition of the 4 Scherzi, edited by Norbert Müllemann and with fingerings by Hans-Martin Theopold.

Continue reading Henle’s revised Chopin Scherzi

Johanna Doderer: “Everything Flows”

Sheet Music Review

“Alles fließt” – “Everything Flows” – is a virtuoso piano piece which was commissioned for the International Beethoven Piano Competition 2017, and first performed during its opening by Christoph Traxler.

When reviewing new music, it always helps to have a recording; and if it happens to be accompanied by an arty film of a man wearing just his underpants having an existential meltdown in a remote forest (see below) … well, so be it.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you more about this rather wonderful new concert work, just published by Doblinger…

Continue reading Johanna Doderer: “Everything Flows”

Couperin: Pièces de clavecin

Sheet Music Review

François Couperin ‘le grand (1668-1733) was undoubtedly one of the great keyboard composers. His seminal influence is not only evident in the music of later French composers from Rameau to Ravel, but as an antecedent finds echoes in Chopin’s piano miniatures and even perhaps (by way of Creole migrants) the rhythms of New Orleans Jazz.

And yet his music remains too little known, and too rarely performed.

Now we have an even better chance to explore his glorious solo keyboard output, thanks to Bärenreiter’s recent publication of a stunning new edition of the Second Livre (1717) of Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin.

Continue reading Couperin: Pièces de clavecin

LCM Diplomas: In Concert 2

Sheet Music Review

London College of Music’s suite of LCM Diplomas have just been revised for 2019, with certification beginning this Spring, and with a crossover during which candidates can continue to use the 2011 syllabus until the end of 2019.

Alongside the Diploma syllabus revision, a new anthology of solo piano repertoire has been published, called In Concert 2. This book is the sequel to last year’s In Concert, which I enthusiastically reviewed here.

In this review I will first consider the syllabus changes, link to the full syllabus for those interested, and then offer a more detailed review of In Concert 2.

Continue reading LCM Diplomas: In Concert 2