By Tom Gerou
To play with correct style, it is essential to understand the historical background of the piece and its composer. Deeper understanding leads to greater expression and appreciation.
With the success and interest in Great Music & Musicians 1: An Overview of Music History, Nancy Bachus and I felt a second book focusing on keyboard composers and keyboard literature would be helpful to piano teachers by providing an easy way to introduce both well-known, and lesser-known, composers and their music to students.
Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature explores the progressive development of the piano repertoire and the times and personalities of leading keyboard composers. Great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms (known as the “Three Bs”) are household names in the lexicon of keyboard literature and are given greater emphasis. Also discussed are many lesser-known composers who have made contributions to keyboard literature, and are important in understanding the progression of musical styles.
Burgmüller, Clementi, Czerny, Hanon, and Heller are composers likely to be more familiar to students than to the general public. Successful piano teachers themselves, these composers wrote pieces aimed as preparation for more complex concert repertoire. Students learn many of these pieces during their formative years of piano study, since they were specifically created to assist technical and musical development. History is a series of smaller stylistic developments that culminate in works of great masters in each cultural style period. Yet, to students and teachers alike, the lives and times of these influential, often overlooked composers, are commonly unknown.
Great Music & Musicians 2 presents in chronological order, the development of keyboards, style, and composers, with colorful use of fine art to visually guide students through the centuries. Musical examples for listening are provided through downloads to further illustrate the text. Each section of the nine units, is organized into six pages. The final page provides a summary of the unit, musical examples with guidance for listening, and a written activity. Texts are brief and intended to offer easily-read insight on each topic.
The example pages that follow are a small sampling from various units throughout the book that illustrate the approach we took in writing Great Music & Musicians 2.
A student may wonder if there was keyboard music before the Baroque period. During the late Renaissance early Baroque period, influential English virginalist composers—Byrd, Gibbons, and Bull, became known through large collections of published keyboard works, allowing the spread of the English keyboard style throughout Europe.
Concurrently, in Italy, composers Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and Merulo developed their own keyboard styles. Uniquely idiomatic to the instrument, their music introduces new examples of dynamics and virtuosity.
Each activity page contains a unit summary, two listening examples, further suggested listening, and an activity that reviews important concepts from the unit.
Female composers such as Élizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Nannerl Mozart, Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Cécile Chaminade are appropriately included throughout the book. Each is placed within their style period, along with their more famous male counterparts.
Lesser-known composers, like the Englishman John Field, are included because of their influence on the great composers. In this case, Chopin’s masterful Nocturnes were influenced by Field’s earlier ones, yet he is virtually unknown to many students.
Master composers such as Claude Debussy are given greater treatment in the book. Notice the image of Debussy’s piano at the top right. Effort was given to show pictures of keyboards throughout history so students can see its development. More attention is given to the piano, although clavichords, harpsichords, and organs are also represented visually and in listening examples.
A vital tool to understanding chronology in piano literature is the numbering systems used for different composers. Where appropriate, the most common numbering systems used for a composer’s catalog of works is introduced. For instance, Debussy’s works are identified by the Lesure (L.) catalogue numbers of François Lesure (French, 1923–2001).
Effort was made to introduce composers in chronological order. However, since multiple musical styles often develop simultaneously, many units focus on unique developments within the major cultural periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century). An example of this is one page of Unit 8 exploring the Spanish style of Albéniz, Falla, and Granados at the turn of the 20th century.
A wealth of 20th century piano literature stems from Russia and the Soviet Union. Major composers of this library of literature are Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and student favorites Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. Each page discussing the composers has a visual backdrop that helps to convey the time, like this page on Soviet composers Shostakovich and Kabalevsky. This is to encourage teacher and student to further explore the impact of politics and culture on music.
Nancy Bachus and I enjoyed creating this book. One of the most difficult challenges was what not to introduce or explain. We tried to avoid lengthy text and details, believing an introduction to major keyboard composers would be most memorable and helpful to students as they progress in their studies. A framework of the major style periods and composers gives a foundation for students to understand musical style and to interpret it. Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature merely touches the surface of an immense library of literature and the composers who created it. We hope students will be inspired to explore and to learn more about the great music and musicians they are studying!
With over 130 publications, Tom Gerou is known for the wide variety of his output. His outgoing personality also allows him to excel as a popular Alfred Music clinician, offering special insights into Alfred’s latest publications.