Some Guidelines and Sources for Choosing Repertoire
by Nancy Ostromencki and
John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.
e receive a great deal of e-mail from students and teachers asking for help with repertoire. Without hearing the student play, having a listing of past repertoire, and knowing something about the students technical abilities, this is a difficult task. We usually suggest that the students ask their individual private teachers about appropriate repertoire and communicate to the teacher regarding music they would like to study and the technique needed to help further that study. Choosing appropriate repertoire involves a careful balancing of skills, physical ability, musical interests, pedagogical value, existing repertoire, and emotional maturity of the student. The teacher needs to take a thorough knowledge of the student's level of playing and use it as a springboard to explore and expand the students technical and musical abilities.
In choosing repertoire for yourself or your students, keep in mind the level of technical proficiency at which you are currently playing. There is nothing wrong with having a student tackle a technically challenging piece of music; indeed it can be a valuable method of having a student grow and develop both technically and emotionally. On the other hand, if a student has not yet encountered scales, tackling the Liszt Grande Etudes may be a little overly ambitious, no matter how much the student might like and want to play them.
Keep in mind the emotional maturity level of your student. No matter how talented the student might be, if he is too young or emotionally immature to understand the thoughts and emotions behind Beethovens Appassionata Sonata, an attempt to learn or teach it is likely to be a frustrating and even embarrassing experience for all concerned.
While some of us might like to have ice cream for every meal, we have the good sense to realize that we need to have a broader diet if we are to be physically healthy. Similarly, to be musically healthy, we need to have a familiarity with music of different periods and genres. A critical aspect of the choice of repertoire is finding music which helps fill in gaps of the student's knowledge and appreciation of the broad range of music. This requires knowledge of the technical past of the student and the repertoire that the student has already studied. If the student has a flair for more lyrical music versus more strictly technical music, it might be a good idea to have him work on more technically oriented pieces to develop that aspect of his playing.
We feel strongly that a student should be exposed to all the major compositional eras, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, Contemporary. Even if the student does not plan on majoring in music and does not really care for a specific compositional era, having the student learn some compositions from each era will help the students awareness of different musical styles, and help the student understand that the music of each era is related to that of the next.
To help you and or your students explore some of the classical repertoire, we offer a few examples of good anthologies of music that can be helpful in filling in gaps in training and experience. Easy Solos by the Masters Series, published by Warner Bros. Publications is one of the many starting places to help students and teachers discover music from the different compositional eras. The 4 books in the series present a good first time look at the music of each era. Each book has a wonderful preface describing the musical styles and points out the interrelationship between the economy, culture, fashion and art of the times. The editing is well done, with fingerings and written out ornamentation. The Easy Solos series is geared for easy/intermediate level. The series includes: Easy Solos by the Baroque Masters, Easy Solos by the Classical Masters, Easy Solos by the Romantic Masters, and Easy Solos by the Contemporary Masters. The music featured in each book is original piano music, not transcriptions or simplifications of the original music.
For students of the Upper Intermediate level, the Piano Masters Series is available by the same publishing company. The music is decidedly more difficult, but as in the first series, the selections within each book are arranged in a progressive order of difficulty. These series do not go into a detailed biographical sketch of each individual composer, however, the dates of each composer are indicated underneath the name of the composer in each specific piece of music.
The Neil Kjos Publishing Company has produced a new series of books edited by Joseph Banowetz, including the following titles: The Pianists Book of Baroque Treasures, The Pianists Book of Classic Treasures, The Pianists Book of Early Romantic Treasures, The Pianists Book of Late Romantic Treasures, and The Pianists Book of Early Contemporary Treasures. Each volume includes not only a factually correct overall view of each compositional era, but also, before each individual composition, a wonderful biographical sketch of the composer of each composition. Included with these biographies are pictures of the composers. The repertoire in this series is not geared for beginners, but the editing, fingering and selections are great. This series was a gem to discover; students using these books give enthusiastic "thumbs up" to the biographical sketches and the included repertoire.
The Alfred Publishing Company has a series called the Introduction to the Great Composers series. Each book in the series contains biographical material, performance practices of the period, and the composers easiest pieces. The series not only has books on individual composers, from Bach to Kabalevsky, but also has wonderful books focusing on each era, for example, the Baroque Era, The Classic Era, Keyboard Sonatinas, and The Romantic Era. This series is also highly recommended by students and teachers alike. The information given at the beginning of each book makes the composers come more alive to the students, and helps explain how their compositions evolved.
Yorktown Press has an informative series of books in their An Anthology of Piano Music Series. These are selected and edited by Denes Agay. Included are: Volume I The Baroque Period, Masters of the 17th and 18th Centuries, Volume II The Classical Period, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and their Contemporaries, Volume III The Romantic Period, Masters of the 19th Century, Volume IV The 20th Century, Major Composers of Our Time. All music included is in its original form, without simplifications, or modifications of the original masterworks. What we like about this series is that in each volume one can find music for all ability levels, from easy beginning pieces along with a good repertoire of works for the more advanced student. Editorial marks and additions are in small print, clearly distinguishable from the basic original text. Each volume is prefaced with a detailed informative article. These introductions describe the historical background, the stylistic traits of each period and furnish practical suggestions on performance. A glossary of terms and brief biographical sketches of the composers complete the texts of each book.
There are many single volume anthologies available, where the student and teacher can, in one volume of music, study works from pre-Baroque composers to composers of the 20th Century. The works in these books are usually arranged chronologically. Some anthologies provide the music only; others will provide biographical material for each composer and in some cases will also provide a thumbnail sketch of each compositional era.
The Music for the Millions Series, published by the Consolidated Music Publishers, contains different volumes of music (in anthology form) Volume 17 , Easy Classics to Moderns contains 142 easy pieces by the masters of piano literature from the 1750's to the 20th century. The music is presented in its original form, not simplified, modified, or rearranged. These pieces are arranged chronologically. No biographical information about the composers is given. Volume 27 is a continuation of Volume 17, the same rich source of repertoire is given. Volume 37, Classics to Moderns in the Intermediate Grades, covers the same chronological eras as the preceding books, but for the intermediate level. Not only will students and teachers find many of the standard masterworks of the composers but also some wonderful rarely-taught gems of the composers. Volume 47 is for the early advanced student. Music in Volume 47 ranges from Couperin to Bartok. The editing in the volumes was also done by Denes Agay.
The Young Pianists Library, From Bach to Bartok, a series published by Warner Bros. is also edited by Denes Agay, and again the editing, repertoire selection and presentation are very well done. Each volume does not contain as many individual pieces of repertoire as the above discussed books. A volume contains approximately 20-25 original unmodified compositions, along with brief biographical sketches of the composers found in each volume.
The Alfred Publishing Company has several series of anthologies available for students and teachers. Essential Keyboard Repertoire, Volumes 1 and 2, selected and edited by Lynn freeman Olson. These plastic comb bound books present music from pre-baroque to 20th century masters. Again, the music presented is in its original form; no notes are added or removed. Where articulations have been added, the student and teacher are always informed.. In much of the music through the 18th century, dynamics and musical directions have been selected editorially, and these appear in the music in brackets. These volumes are geared for beginning to early/advancing intermediate levels. There are no biographical details of the individual composers, save for their years. Also available is the Encore! Series. The music in each volume has been selected by Jane Magrath. The series has three books, with the degree of difficulty in each book increasing, for intermediate or higher level students. Repertoire in Book One ranges from Scarlatti Sonata in d minor, K 90d to Tcherepin Bagatelle, Op.5 No.1, with works of classic and romantic composers also included. Shorter and longer pieces allow one to choose pieces with different time constraints and motivational needs of performers during various times of the year. The fingerings in the Baroque period selections in all three books are editorial with those from other periods generally are so, as are the realizations of all ornaments. While there are no biographical details of the individual composers in these volumes, the dates of each composer are given.
Occasionally, a student will come along with a high level of talent, but hands too small to reach even an octave. Fortunately, there is a sizable repertoire for even that student. Keep in mind that many pieces of music which contain octaves can still be played by smaller hands, especially if the octaves are to be played staccato or if the octave reach between two notes is not struck at the same time; for example, the thumb plays Middle C and the fifth finger stretches to the octave above or below, but that octave note is played staccato or released, making it easier to reach the octave. For fine examples of music written for the hand which cannot quite span an octave, investigate music written for children by Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, Bartok, Tansman, Pinto, JS Bach, WA Mozart, Leopold Mozart, Gretchaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Haydn, Handel, Scarlatti, Lynn Freeman Olson, and Robert Vandall. The Suzuki piano books also contain excellent examples of fine repertoire that is suited for the smaller hand.
The listings above are by no means all-inclusive, but we hope they will help provide some repertoire starting points. As stated before, open and extensive communication between student and private teacher is highly recommended in the process of choosing repertoire. These volumes should help the teacher and student to open up the vast horizons of the many different musical genres with which a student should be familiar.