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Topic: How do you build up a classical repertoire?  (Read 3943 times)

Offline soultrap

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How do you build up a classical repertoire?
on: June 03, 2018, 07:21:21 AM
So, here is the thing.

This is going to be a relatively long post.

I have a relatively small classical repertoire, and I would like to expand it.
I have bee drilling and perfecting a small set of works, ever since I got to an advanced level, for competitions, exams and whatnot.

In fact, I have an exam (ARCT performance, RCM grading system) which is roughly 60 minutes of repertoire, and the 16th Ettlingen International Piano Competition for Young Artists coming up in August. Which means I have a set of pieces to drill for both.
(if you want details, I'm working on the following pieces right now:

Bach- Toccata in E minor, BWV 914,
Beethoven- Sonata no.21 in C major, op. 53 "waldstein" (complete)
Chopin: Ballade no.4 in F minor, op. 52,
            Etude no.5, op.10 in G flat major "black keys",
            Concerto in F minor, no.2 (1st mvmt- I recently performed the complete with a string quartet)
Liszt: Paganini Etude no.3, "La Campanella"
Rachmaninoff: Moment Musicaux no.4 in E minor,
Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in G major, no. 3)

I've been stuck in this cycle for many years. Learning multiple pieces, drill them for a year-2 years for whatever competition there is, then moving on to a new set.

But, my repertoire is actually very limited, and there is a huge stash of scores I want to learn.

So, here is the question: How did you guys build your repertoire, or, how did you choose your pieces? Did you work on pieces by their groups (ex. Chopin Etudes, op.10) or did you use a more "balanced" or "broad" approach? (ex. a sonata, few etudes, couple of Bach WTC's, some large-scale romantic work, a mvmt of a concerto). And, do you learn pieces as "cycles", learning multiple at once and leaving them behind together, or is it a constant learning 1-3 pieces? I wanted to have a general idea of what people do to build their repertoire.
Pieces I'm working on:
Beethoven op. 109
Chopin Etudes op.10
Tchaikovsky Seasons June & October
Tchaikovsky Russian scherzo op. 1 no. 1
Tchaikovsky concerto 1
Mozart K 488
Rachmaninoff sonata 2
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Offline pianoville

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Re: How do you build up a classical repertoire?
Reply #1 on: June 03, 2018, 06:05:07 PM
So, here is the thing.

This is going to be a relatively long post.

I have a relatively small classical repertoire, and I would like to expand it.
I have bee drilling and perfecting a small set of works, ever since I got to an advanced level, for competitions, exams and whatnot.

In fact, I have an exam (ARCT performance, RCM grading system) which is roughly 60 minutes of repertoire, and the 16th Ettlingen International Piano Competition for Young Artists coming up in August. Which means I have a set of pieces to drill for both.
(if you want details, I'm working on the following pieces right now:

Bach- Toccata in E minor, BWV 914,
Beethoven- Sonata no.21 in C major, op. 53 "waldstein" (complete)
Chopin: Ballade no.4 in F minor, op. 52,
            Etude no.5, op.10 in G flat major "black keys",
            Concerto in F minor, no.2 (1st mvmt- I recently performed the complete with a string quartet)
Liszt: Paganini Etude no.3, "La Campanella"
Rachmaninoff: Moment Musicaux no.4 in E minor,
Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in G major, no. 3)

I've been stuck in this cycle for many years. Learning multiple pieces, drill them for a year-2 years for whatever competition there is, then moving on to a new set.

But, my repertoire is actually very limited, and there is a huge stash of scores I want to learn.

So, here is the question: How did you guys build your repertoire, or, how did you choose your pieces? Did you work on pieces by their groups (ex. Chopin Etudes, op.10) or did you use a more "balanced" or "broad" approach? (ex. a sonata, few etudes, couple of Bach WTC's, some large-scale romantic work, a mvmt of a concerto). And, do you learn pieces as "cycles", learning multiple at once and leaving them behind together, or is it a constant learning 1-3 pieces? I wanted to have a general idea of what people do to build their repertoire.

I also applied to that competition, didn't get in though. I wish you the best of luck!

So, back to your questions.

How do I choose pieces? Usually I find a piece that I really like, or I get very interested in a specific composer, and then me and my teacher discuss from there what to play. I always try my best to play from many different musical styles.

Do I work on my pieces by their groups? I don't think that matters at all. Sometimes I pick some pieces from a set of pieces, and sometimes I do the entire opus. Some collections, like a Bach partita, I always learn in its entirety whereas for example Chopins op. 10 etudes, which aren't really meant to be performed in its entirety, I usually only learn a few.

Do I work on my pieces in cycles? No. Never, except for when I am preparing programmes for recitals, competitions etc. I don't think this is a good method at all in fact. I think it is better to just work on a piece until you feel done with it and then move on to the next piece(s). Drilling the same pieces for a year is in my opinion very ineffective, in many cases, I find that I can play a piece WAY better after leaving it for a few months. (Beethoven is a great example of this)

Keep in mind though, every pianist has their own way of learning new repertoire, and what works for me might not work for you. I hope I could help you!



"Perfection itself is imperfection." - Vladimir Horowitz

Offline rachmaninoff_forever

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Re: How do you build up a classical repertoire?
Reply #2 on: June 03, 2018, 06:15:38 PM
I just learn whatever I want whenever I want.  If I gotta prepare for a competition or something then I'll pick up new music if I have time or bring back old stuff I've played before.  And I only consult my teacher if I'm trying to prepare for something and I need a well balanced program.  But at the end of the day I usually get the final word for what I wanna play.

I don't think you should look for a method of building repertoire.  It kinda sounds forced an inauthentic.  Just do what you want and your repertoire will build over time

Live large, die large.  Leave a giant coffin.

Offline jinfiesto

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Re: How do you build up a classical repertoire?
Reply #3 on: September 26, 2018, 11:57:14 PM
You're picking pieces that are too hard for you if it's taking that long to learn. Back off on repertoire to a point where you can learn pieces to a point you're happy with in a month or less and work your way back up. If you're practicing 4+ hours a day, you shouldn't be spending more than a couple weeks on pieces to do the initial leg work (notes, basic analysis and up to speed-ish) most of the time. Obviously some pieces are going to be bigger projects, but most miniatures like the etudes you've mentioned shouldn't be taking you more than a couple weeks to get to a 75/80% level.

I think a better way to work is to push a lot of pieces to 75/80% (I don't mean 80% of the notes, I just mean 80% of what you would ultimately be happy with) as fast as you can and then only drag them up to 100% when you want to play them for something.

A lot of pieces will more or less cook themselves after you get them most of the way and move onto other stuff. You'll improve a lot faster this way as well. Playing La Campanella for 2+ years isn't doing anything to you.

I'm not an incredible piano player by any stretch of the imagination (pretty mediocre by my own estimation,) but by way of example, I learned the Schubert/Liszt Erlkonig maybe a couple months ago and played it in a recital from memory at a reasonable clip (maybe 80%) a couple weeks after starting and I certainly don't practice 4+ hours a day. I studied music in college way back in the day, but have a full time software engineering job and 2 kids and I'm lucky if I can get an hour of practice in the evening. I'm pretty happy with the Erlkonig now (it's basically where I want it) and I probably spend less than 10 minutes a day on it unless I'm playing it for something.

Anyways, I've been working on Gretchen and I expect that will take me a couple weeks as well. I'll play it in a recital (teacher has studio recitals multiple times a month) and then put it away until I want it for something more serious. I generally expect that I can crank out most miniatures at a reasonable level in 2-4 weeks. Bigger programmatic works I tend to nibble on over longer periods of time. I spent almost a year chipping at Variations Serieuses before playing it in a recital, but I was putting out a couple miniatures a month in the interim.

I've been in your shoes. I had bad teachers when I was younger and got in the cycle of learning 1 set of pieces for competitions every year and just playing them ad nauseam. You just have to force yourself to learn faster and accept that for a little while you're not going to be playing stuff that's "at your limit." Use the time to re-evaluate your practice strategies. I made a lot of progress in learning faster when I started front-loading my practice with score preparation and analysis. Nowadays I spend a significant amount of time analyzing a score and working out/writing in fingerings and notes before I start in earnest.

Something else you'll find is that when you start a new composer you learn pretty slowly again. In my experience I have the easiest time by starting with a composer's easy works (if they exist) and working my way into the harder ones progressively even if the easy works are "beneath me" so to speak. There's a lot to be said for "leveling yourself up" through an actual progression. Most people understandably want to jump to playing difficult repertoire, but in a lot of ways you actually slow yourself down by skipping easy and intermediate pieces.
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