The Bach, Mozart & Beethoven books in three progressive levels make up the first volumes in the new Classics for Students series. They are designed to encourage students to bring new life to the music, as well as to provide core literature by the most important Baroque and Classical masters in one book. The selections are at the center of the standard repertoire at these levels, and the book format provides aids to help connect students with the composer. Each volume includes spacious editions of the pieces, inviting composer biographies, and study guides that focus on three key teaching points for each piece.
The Composer Biographies are divided into two parts. For example, the first section of the biography for Mozart in Book 1 provides a basic overview of his life and works. In the second section, his life as a Child Prodigy and the difficulties related to this are discussed. This section explores how Leopold Mozart booked engagements haphazardly for Wolfgang. He relied on word of mouth for concert promotion. Once, when the family was temporarily stranded in London, the children performed in a tavern to earn enough money to continue travelling.
In Book 2 the same core overview of Mozart’s life is provided in the first half while the second section goes into detail about the Dueling Pianofortes in Mozart’s competition with Clementi. The discussion reviews the various stages of the contest, what they played, and how Mozart and Clementi were asked to sight-read and improvise in the competition.
The About the Music section provides three key points for students to consider when studying each piece. For example, for the Mozart Minuet in F Major, K. 15oo in Book 1, the key points provide a concise and clear introduction to the piece.
Students should play the melody with a light sound and slight emphasis on first beat of each measure. I often ask students to circle the two-note slurs throughout (11 in this one-page piece). Writing in small diminuendo signs beneath each slur reminds the student to taper the slurs. Students can also locate the upbeats that seem to pull over the bar line toward downbeats of the next measure. In these examples (marked with arrows), two eighth notes pull to the quarter note on beat one, helping to bring the music to life.
With the Polonaise in G Minor, BWV 125 from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena in Book 2, students may want to listen to a recording and then divide it into practice sections. I have marked suggested practice sections with brackets. I like to help students discover the surprises (sudden stops on quarter notes) at the ends of the main motives (two sixteenth notes and an eighth note). These unpredictable surprise endings appear at the end of the declamatory gesture each time it appears (mm. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 21, 22). For variety, I usually suggest that the sections beginning at measure 13 and measure 17 be played lighter.
Some of Mozart’s most attractive writing for students appears in the Viennese Sonatinas that were originally composed as Wind Divertimenti, K. 439b for two bass horns and bassoon. They have become standards in the piano repertoire in these arranged versions. Pianists can imagine the different sections of the orchestra playing different phrases, alternating in dialogue. This can expand students’ abilities to “orchestrate” at the keyboard by studying the varying textures (thick and thin) within the examples. The performer also learns to work with thick versus thin textures in voicing and inflecting the phrases. Both Books 2 and 3 contain a Viennese Sonatina.
A Suggested Order of Study is included in each book as a guideline for teachers. While most students will not study every piece in every book, these guides can aid teachers with repertoire selection. The Suggested Order of Study for each of the three volumes is included below.
I hope teachers will enjoy working with students on these pieces and that the information in the books with help student find fresh and creative ways to bring them alive.