Celebrating Saint-Saëns

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


Centenary years offer an opportunity to celebrate and perhaps reevaluate the works of significant composers from earlier times, and in 2021 (to be precise, on 16th December) we mark the 100-year anniversary of the death of the great French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).

Though best known for orchestral works, including the universally-known Carnival of the Animals, the Danse macabre, the ‘Organ’ Symphony, and his concertos (including five for piano and orchestra), Saint-Saëns also composed a significant body of solo piano music which, these days, is too little played.

This is no doubt in part because his Liszt-inspired writing renders Saint-Saëns’ solo piano music inaccessible to all but the most advanced virtuosi. Pedagogy occupied little of the composer’s time: a fairly brief stint at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris and thereafter occasional coaching (his students including Godowsky). The result: no music composed for formative educational purposes, pre-diploma.

Saint-Saëns’ legacy has suffered in other ways too, including a not entirely fair perception that his music, though sparkling, is essentially superficial. His infamous derision for younger contemporaries such as Debussy and Milhaud no-doubt further alienated him from the public of his later years.

In this revisitation and celebration of Saint-Saëns’ piano music, I will explore three publications from Éditions Durand, who are regarded as the definitive publishers of this repertoire: Œuvres pour piano books I and II, and The Best of Saint-Saëns, a collection of thirteen miscellaneous pieces.

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Jakub Metelka: Modern Piano Studies

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


Jakub Metelka’s Modern Piano Studies is an educationally useful and thoughtfully produced collection of 30 miniature pieces which address aspects both of technique and notation-reading at upper intermediate level.

The book is certainly novel, and may have what it takes to establish itself as a contemporary classic in the pedagogy literature…

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Bertini’s Piano Études

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


Henri Bertini (1798-1876) may be less well-known than his ridiculously prolific contemporary Carl Czerny (1791-1857), but his piano studies should not be overlooked, and were hugely influential in their day.

Now, thanks to Schott Music’s sumptuous Essential Exercises series, 48 Studies have been newly republished, offering the perfect opportunity to rediscover and explore this neglected composer’s marvellous work…

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Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting Your Teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.

Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:

“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”

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Piano Studies for Technical Development

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting Your Teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


Pianists and teachers tend to have a variety of views about the value of “studies”, some strongly advocating daily practice of finger exercises, others suggesting they have little value away from the context of specific repertoire, in which case bespoke studies developed around tricky passages are preferable.

Personally I’ve always taken a middle path here. As I wrote in my recent article The Three Treasures of Musical Learning,

“All aspects of playing need consideration, not merely finger independence, tone control, and fluency – important though these obviously are for pianists. Scales, arpeggios, exercises and studies can all be helpful, but must be executed with an understanding of why they matter, and what is being developed.”

I’ve never found it difficult to understand or explain the benefits of the enjoyable little exercises in the Dozen A Day books, and my students almost always find the Burgmüller Op.100 both musically engaging and inspiring to play (my recording of them is free to listen to here).

But I’ve never been a huge fan of Hanon, Czerny, et al, and have tended to agree with my teacher’s teacher, Ernö Dohnányi, who wrote (with irony, in the introduction to his own book of finger exercises!) –

“In music schools, piano tuition suffers mostly from far too much exercise material given for the purely technical development of the pupils, the many hours of practice spent on these not being in proportion to the results obtained. Musicality is hereby badly neglected and consequently shows many weak points.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that when Gayle Kowalchyk and E.L. Lancaster’s two books of Piano Studies for Technical Development landed on my desk for review, my initial gut reaction was to excuse them from the short-list for consideration. Until … I took a closer look.

Let’s find out why I changed my mind …

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