Piano Street's Classical Piano Blog

- your guide to the classical piano world.
What Does a Pianist See?

In this video, eye-tracking glasses are used to show exactly where the gaze of a pianist is directed while playing. A professional concert pianist and his student take turns using the glasses, revealing interesting facts about how experience makes a great difference in terms of effective eye movement, both when playing from memory and from a piano score.


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Now is the Hour by Christopher Norton

Following the successful Eastern Preludes collection by the composer Christopher Norton, the Pacific Preludes are now set to be released on April 4. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell talked to Christopher Norton, who gives us an exclusive glimpse into his compositional world. He is also generously offering Piano Street Gold members the score to Prelude no. 7 “Now is the Hour” as well as an instructive manual for how to practice the piece.

These collections allow us to explore the rich musical landscape of the East as each Prelude weaves together native themes from countries in this specific part of the world. The creator of the Micro Jazz series demonstrates an interesting fusion of Eastern and Western culture and styles and suits ideally intermediate to advanced-level pianists. The fourteen pieces are perfect for the concert platform, as well as providing excellent teaching material. An accompanying CD puts each Prelude on the map with a fine demonstration performances by British pianist Iain Farrington.

Piano score: Now is the Hour by Christopher Norton
Practice manual: Now is the Hour by Christopher Norton


- Christopher, we all know you as the creator of the Microjazz series which is one of the most widely used educational series ever published but your production as a composer is vast and diverse. Which was your idea and inspiration when you started creating Preludes collections for piano?

- I wrote the original Microjazz books back in 1981 – the brief I was given was “graded pieces in popular styles” In difficulty terms, none of the pieces in the original series were easier than Grade 1 or harder than Grade 5. This is one of the reasons the series became popular so quickly, the other reason being that there was a range of styles that students found very appealing. I was originally quite a “serious” pianist, playing repertoire that included the Barber Sonata, the Prokofiev 1st concerto and lots of classical repertoire. So it came quite naturally to me to write more challenging piano music and a request to write longer, more complex pieces in rock and Latin styles was, as they say, pushing an open door. The Rock Preludes and Latin Preludes, both written in the late 80s/early 90s, are still popular with students looking for more challenging fare that is also in a contemporary popular style.


- In 2015 the collection Eastern Preludes was published and contains pieces which weaves together native themes from countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, and Thailand with characteristically innovative popular music styles. For many a performer and teacher these materials can work as performance pieces or as an excellent introduction to works by the Impressionists. I know Debussy is your favorite composer but how do you think as a composer when combining modern modes with a basically impressionistic soundscape?

- I love Debussy because he liked to set up an atmosphere using complex textures with often quite simple melodic material. Taking existing tunes and weaving a tapestry of sound around them is something I particularly like to do. There are a number of pieces in Pacific Preludes where a melody is passed between the hands while other figuration happens above or below. The tunes I found are in a variety of modes, so there is an interesting harmonic palette in the Pacific Preludes, with very jazzy passages, passages that are pure texture and highly rhythmic and exciting pieces as well.

- Talking about the “serious” Christopher Norton, I just heard performances with Yuja Wang in Bartóks 3rd concerto and Peter Jablonski in the Stravinsky concerto and these composers’ battle between modernity and tradition. How would you distinguish art music in this context and how does this reflect your own composition work?

- I have spent most of my working life involved with educational music, in which modernity plays a less significant role than in some other fields! However, I have discovered that if I let my ear be the guide I can get away with delving into slightly more esoteric realms, including bi-tonality, aleatoric elements and free improvisation. I have recently written a Piano Sonata and it has a lot of time signature changes and quick contrasting of highly varied stylistic elements. Other large-scale pieces allow me to be slightly more experimental. At the moment I’m digitising the score of a Piano Concerto, written when I was 23, which includes elements of Bartok and Stravinsky.


- Now we are eagerly waiting for a new collection of Preludes, soon to be released and named Pacific Preludes. What can you tell us about these works?

- The Pacific Preludes use tunes culled from a variety of countries that border the Pacific. My starting point was my own origins – 2 tunes from New Zealand, Pokarekare Ana and Now is the Hour. I then added Waltzing Matilda from Australia and from then on it was a matter of finding appealing melodies from Central and South America, from the USA and Russia (topical!) and from China, Vietnam and the Philippines. There is a nice mixture of ballads, extrovert rhythmic pieces and rockers, as well as a ragtime piece (Waltzing Matilda) The pieces are challenging, but very pianistic.

- The Preludes in the Eastern collection as well as in the Pacific collection were recorded by British (and Hyperion artist) pianist Iain Farrington. Has this been a collaboration which has blended your composition process or raised interpretational or textual questions or considerations?

- Iain Farringdon is a fabulous pianist and musician and he played the pieces beautifully from the word go. I had one or two suggestions in terms of articulation and some slightly unusual pedal effects, but broadly speaking what you hear on the recordings of both Eastern Preludes and Pacific Preludes have been, as American politicians like to say, been approved by the composer.

The collection is now available from scott-music.com


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International Piano – March/April Issue

A new issue of the magazine International Piano is out!

Yuja Wang scales the peaks of the piano repertoire with fearless self-confidence and profound artistry; depth and discipline in the playing of Dinu Lipatti; a new straight-strung concert grand for the 21st century; and exploring the hidden art of the répétiteur.

Plus, the eccentric genius of Percy Grainger; mastering the art of playing octaves in repertoire from Scarlatti to Bartók; 250 composers write works for Beethoven’s 250th birthday; calling all women composers to rise up and be counted; Francesco Digilio pays tribute to David Bowie; festival dates for your diary; and giving new music a fair hearing.

Piano Street Gold members have instant online access to the digital version of the magazine.


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Belated London Premiere for Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel on International Women’s Day

As part of its special day of programming for International Women’s Day, BBC Radio 3 broadcasted a live performance of the Easter Sonata, a major piano work which until recently had been attributed to Felix Mendelssohn, but is now proved to be the work of his sister Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

Fanny Hensel

These days Fanny Mendelssohn is considered to be as worthy of study as Felix, but in her lifetime she was barred from composing by her father, who said a public career was unsuitable to her sex.
“She was an amazing woman, who persevered despite complete discouragement,” her great-great-great granddaughter Sheila Hayman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She explains to Mishal Husain how, “despite complete discouragement”, Fanny overcame the attitudes of the time to compose 500 pieces of music.
“When she was 14, she learnt all of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues off by heart – which is quite a thing – and her father’s response was to say, ‘That’s all very well, dear but you’re a girl, so you can’t be a musician… You’ve got to stay at home and make the lives of men better.’”

Fanny_Mendelssohn Ostersonate

When The Easter Sonata was discovered, the manuscript was marked “F Mendelssohn,” and many concluded it was by Felix. American Mendelssohn scholar Dr Angela Mace Christian proved otherwise after gaining brief access to the original, privately-owned manuscript in 2010. By comparing the handwriting to Fanny’s, analyzing the notes and alterations, and matching the page numbers to a missing section in an album of Fanny’s music, she was able to prove that the sonata was her work.

Podcast by BBC 3: How Fanny Mendelssohn fought sexism with music

Listen to the Easter Sonata!

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s piano sonata was performed in the “Women in Music” concert at the Royal College of Music in London by Sofya Gulyak – the first female winner of the Leeds Piano Competition.

Listen to a recording of the “Women in Music” concert – live broadcast earlier today by BBC (The sonata starts at 32:40.)

What do you think of this piece?
Please post a comment below!


Article in The Guardian
Piano Scores and recordingby Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel


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Barenboim on Chopin’s Ballade no. 1

Frédéric Chopin is considered the first “pianistic” composer, which means he wrote specifically with pianists in mind. He tailored his music to their artistry and technical wizardry. But, he didn’t always launch into bracing octaves or challenging passagework. For example, in the Ballade No. 1 in G-minor, Chopin teases the audience with a meandering introduction that seems to indicate he didn’t know where he was going. This is in direct contrast to Beethoven, who never meandered anywhere.

Chopin inspires musicians to greater artistry and, as Barenboim says in this video, makes them want to sound as if the music is simply emanating from them as light from a candle. In this ballade, Chopin also takes us on a leisurely stroll through his own private musical world.

Piano score to download and print:

Chopin Ballade in G minor


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