Researching my recent review of Joachim Raff’s brilliant piano sonatas (which you can read here), I was struck by the following quote by Liszt, included in the editor’s Foreword:
“Neither in terms of your peculiar circumstances nor in terms of their musical significance can I entirely endorse your writing and your publishing much too much.
The publishers’ interest you intend thereby to exploit will soon turn completely indifferent. In any case, you waste your talent and your name – yes, even put the stamp of commercial and artistic uselessness on your works from the outset, be they good or bad.”
Franz Liszt (1811-1882) in a letter to Joachim Raff.
Bearing in mind that Liszt’s own output of solo piano music alone takes up more the 200 hours, one might be forgiven for thinking, “pot, meet kettle”, but in Raff’s case the sheer quantity of his music has indeed made exploration and rediscovery of it more difficult.
A Contemporary Problem
But what was true of Raff in the C19th could equally be an issue for composers today, if not more so given the ease with which musicians and composers can now share their work with the world in the internet age.
Given the mounds of review materials I receive, I must wonder whether composers and publishers today risk falling foul of Liszt’s advice by flooding the market in exactly the same way that Raff did in the nineteenth century.
Surely, there has never been a larger corpus of easy to intermediate piano music on the market? And how about the method book series which explode into exhaustive libraries in their own right.
How many books does a method series really need to comprise? Four, perhaps (such as Get Set! Piano, for example)? Maybe 16 (Piano Junior), or how about 326 (Piano Adventures, including its many permutations and the huge catalogue of supplementary materials)?
As a teacher and mentor, I really don’t consider it best practice to lock students into a single approach or, importantly, the musical output of a single composer or arranger. And yet many composers, arrangers and publishing stables seem intent on producing sufficient material to cover every eventuality, an end-to-end solution which allows players to never explore the wealth of other musical personalities out there.
While in principle we must undoubtedly welcome this outpouring of creative activity, and the extraordinary range of musical choices and voices available, actually sifting through so much music certainly presents a significant challenge to both players and teachers.
And this challenge is even greater now that digital and self-publishing has become such an easy and universally-available way to bypass the quality assurance provided by a traditional commercial publishing house.
A Reviewer’s Dilema
This is where the role of the reviewer can prove especially helpful. But even for a reviewer, the flooded market can pose a challenge. I certainly find it difficult to stay on top of the vast amount of new material submitted to Pianodao, much of it genuinely excellent.
That’s one of the reasons that I decided a while ago to focus on reviewing just those publications that I can honestly recommend. Why spend my free time, unpaid, reviewing poor (or even “satisfactory”) material when there are better alternatives; ones which I am far more likely to play myself, or use with my own students?
I must also consider the point that as a reviewer, I too might “flood the market” with too many reviews, so that readers are left equally unsure which music to purchase or otherwise. Some of my friends have already jokingly suggested that my site is bad for their purses!
As a general goal, I aim to publish one review each week on Pianodao (occasionally more), and within that to cover a wide variety of material, from educational resources, through easy and intermediate repertoire, right up to virtuoso (often obscure) concert works and brand new contemporary music.
I always try to be clear about exactly who any reviewed publication is really for, rather than making a blanket recommendation. Of course it is for the reader to detect these nuances and work out whether a specific publication is right for them.
Likewise, I always include any reservations I might have, and try to spot any drawbacks (however minor) that make a publication less than “outstanding”.
Of course, by focusing primarily on reviewing just the best, most worthwhile and innovative publications, I leave myself open to the charge that my reviews are “hype”, and not to be trusted. But the cynic who mistakenly rushes to this conclusion is missing the point, and at their own expense.
As I continue to publish regular reviews here, I hope that I won’t “flood the market”, but that I will help Pianodao readers make discerning choices and discover the best repertoire.
And I would like to hear from you:
- Are you overwhelmed by too many choices?
- Do you struggle to fully use and get to know the music you purchase?
- What reviews here do you most enjoy, and am I succeeding in helping you with your choice-making?
Please let me know or leave a comment below… thanks!
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