Month: September 2022

New Edition! Vivaldi Concertos for solo keyboard

I’m excited to announce that a new edition has been given the green light.

Way back before Covid, I spent many enjoyable hours in the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester, looking at the manuscript known as ‘Anne Dawson’s Book’ (which, let’s face it, is a much catchier name than GB-Mp BRm710.5Cr71). One of the jewels in this particularly exceptional 18th-century musical crown is a set of solo keyboard arrangements of twelve of Antonio Vivaldi’s concertos, from L’estro armonico, op. 3, and La stravaganza, op. 4. Vivaldi is not known to have composed any original music for keyboard, so these arrangements are a valuable addition to the collection of any keyboard player who admires Vivaldi’s music (as I do).

Although next to nothing is known about Anne Dawson, she must have been an extremely gifted musician, if the contents of her ‘Book’ are anything to go by. While it was common for eighteenth-century students of keyboard or voice to compile their own collections of miscellaneous pieces for performance and private study, the change of medium is far less usual. What’s more, these arrangements are idiomatic and effective, and certainly bear comparison with Bach’s (with which there is some overlap). For me, exploring these pieces in more depth was one of the things that made lockdown bearable, and I’m thrilled that I will now be able to share them.

I’m currently in the final stages of cross-checking, proofing, and checking again. Anticipated release date is towards the end of December, but we’ve put them on pre-order now (which is helpful for planning the print-run). I’ll add some sample pages once they’re ready. In the meantime, my thanks to Ros Edwards and the team at the Henry Watson Music Library!

Featured composer: Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)

The French composer Cécile Chaminade features in both LCM and TCL diploma syllabuses, appearing in the repertoire lists for DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM, and ATCL. This is not a token nod, either, as the choice of works by Chaminade is more than double that of those by Amy Beach, Miriam Hyde, Clara Schumann, or those by the living composers Sofia Gubaidalina, Judith Weir, and Diana Burrell — this last being the only female composer to feature at all in the ABRSM’s repertoire lists.

This relative embarrassment of riches is no doubt partly due to the ‘syllabus-ready’ nature of many of her works, which for the most part fall into that now much-derided category called ‘salon music’: which generally implies relatively short, technically straightforward characterful pieces that, for all their invention and charm, remain somewhat conservative in their musical language, and are therefore valued less than more challenging — for player or listener — and more ‘progressive’ works by some of her contemporaries.

Well, the times they are a-changing, and we are perhaps better placed now to appreciate these works for what they are, rather than denigrate them for what they are not, than were the earlier commentators whose opinions, like it or not, have been passed down to us today in the form of a canon of ‘great works’ written by a group of predominantly male and almost exclusively white composers. While geographical origins and immutable historical circumstance — regardless of its injustice — might account for the white-heavy-ness, an ever-growing number of studies shows that musical composition has never been an exclusively male activity, even if musical professionalism was, until the twentieth century, by and large a stain on the social reputation of ‘respectable’ women, just as was a career on the stage, or indeed, any career at all. Chaminade’s own life illustrates this middle-class prejudice: her father forbade her from enrolling in theory classes at the Paris Conservatoire, despite Le Couppey’s enthusiastic recommendation that she do so; for him, private tuition with Le Couppey was a more decorous compromise.

It is not my aim here, however, to justify or to explain the wrongs of the past. Rather, I celebrate representation of female composers’ piano works in the syllabus lists, even if it is patchy — where’s Fanny Hensel, for instance? — and hope that this will encourage further exploration and yet more discovery of works that, because of little more than historical accident, have not yet received their proper due.

This series of posts will examine all the works by Chaminade to feature on the current diploma syllabus repertoire lists, and offer some musical and technical suggestions for tackling them productively. These works are:

Sonata in C minor, second movementop. 21W23DipLCM
Sonata in C minor, completeop. 21W23ATCL
Étude symphoniqueop. 28W32LLCM
Automneop. 35, no. 2W42DipLCM, ATCL
Fileuseop. 35, no. 3W43ALCM (with no. 4)
Scherzoop. 35, no. 4W44ALCM (with no. 3), LLCM
Tarentelleop. 35, no. 6W46DipLCM
Marineop. 38W56ALCM
Toccataop. 39W57ATCL
Les Sylvainsop. 60W83ALCM
Balladeop. 86W116ALCM
Thème variéop. 89W124ALCM
Sérénade vénitienneop. 154W227LLCM

In terms of their availability, all works are available on IMSLP at the time of writing, in first edition, except for op. 60, and op. 38 — which IMSLP says is a first edition, but is actually from a slightly later American edition, a collection entitled Anthology of French Piano Music (Boston: Ditson, 1906). In modern editions, Les Sylvains can be found in Kalmus’s Selected Compositions, and also in Dover’s Cécile Chaminade Piano Music, where it is accompanied by Étude Symphonique, Automne, and Tarantelle. Automne, undoubtedly one of Chaminade’s most well-known piano works, also features in LCM’s In Concert.

There is an error in the LCM repertoire list, as op. 35 no. 4 is in fact Appassionato, Scherzo is op. 35 no. 1. The error is consistent in both ALCM and LLCM lists. I have contacted LCM for clarification, and will update this post when I receive a response. — MM

For background, you cannot do better than Marcia J. Citron’s Cécile Chaminade: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1988) which, although it is ostensibly a catalogue of works and writings, is remarkably thorough, and contains a detailed biography. Since its publication in 1988, no other English-language monographs devoted to Chaminade have appeared, and only a couple of articles dedicated to her music (although she does receive passing mention in a number of discussions of related subjects).

I will examine each of these works in dedicated posts, giving you an analytical overview, as well as some technical and musical suggestions. Check out the links below as they appear here!

Productive Practice published

I’m proud to announce that my book Productive Practice has just been released in paperback.

For a long time I have wanted to write a book that sets out what I believe to be the fundamental principles of good practice. Over my years of teaching, the one thing that has struck me repeatedly is simply that students, regardless of their age and level, rarely understand how to manage their practice time. The question people ask most often about practice is how long they should spend doing it. Of course, there is no single right answer to this, but I’m certain that most people actually spend more time than they need to, but achieve less than they could.

This book isn’t so much about how to practise, in terms of technical or musical advice, but rather about how to approach goal-setting and time-management in your practice sessions, how to adjust your thinking about what practice is about, and how to put together manageable and achievable practice plans that will guide your short-term practice and structure your long-term progress.

Although the book obviously sets out the kind of thinking that underpins my ways of working with my own students, I didn’t want this to be a book just for pianists, so the majority of the thoughts and ideas that I discuss here apply equally to all instruments, and also to players of any age and standard. With sections on—amongst others—mindset, diagnostics, evaluation, focus, flow, perfectionism, and persistence, I hope this book offers a different perspective on an activity which is essential to all musicians, but also too often dreaded, endured, or avoided.

The paperback edition is out now on my webstore, and is available from your favourite online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores. The product description also carries links to the eBook edition.

Members can read an excerpt of the book for free here!

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