Thursday, 26 August 2010

Three Commonwealth Piano Pieces

The other day I found an album of piano pieces in a Mind charity shop. It was a book of music that had certainly travelled a long way. This was the Grade III (1953) Pianoforte Examination Lists, published by the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto. Amongst the usual diet of Czerny studies, simpler pieces of Beethoven and Diabelli, I found a three useful pieces by British and Commonwealth composers that deserve mention.

The first was an attractive little waltz by a certain Cedric W. Lemont entitled Three Blind Mice. This is an ideal piece for developing a variety of rhythmic off the beat left hand accompaniment and balancing short loud and quiet phrases. It is written in A minor and played moderato. Lemont does not appear to have much in the way of biography on the internet, yet there are YouTube recordings of a number of his works including his Elfin Frolic.

Healey Willan is perhaps better known as a composer, especially to those who enjoy organ music. Originally born in South London in 1880 Willan moved to Canada when he was forty. In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Toronto, a post he occupied until he retired in 1950. His short piano piece Peter Enjoys a Swing is a pleasing little tune written in 6/8 and managing to musically paint a picture of a gently rocking swing. It is one of those little pieces that appear easy, yet even after a few play-throughs there are a number of places to trip up the unwary pianist. The dynamic ‘rocking easy’ well sums up the mood of this little tone picture.
Alec Rowley is well known for his educational music and his Jumping Jack is a good example of his craft. It would be so easy for a composer to be patronizing towards Grade III players. However, Rowley engages their attention with a rhythmically subtle little toccata. The melody is based on broken triads played as quavers separated by quaver rests and played staccato. Like many educational pieces it purpose is to teach, rather than inspire. In this case it is a sharp staccato touch at varying degrees of loudness that is the aim.
All this tells me that there are many hidden gems in the charity and second hand shops.


Mathias Richter said...

Nice to hear about Healy Willan!
I love his 2nd Symphony and even more his Piano Concerto. As if Elgar having had tea with Rachmaninov. I cannot believe why it is almost unknown. Absolutely brilliant and inspired! Anyone who regrets that Elgar didn't finish his own Piano Concerto should try to get hold of Willan's. Unfortunately a CBC recording of both works seems to be no longer available. But there is an excerpt at youtube of a Taipei performance.

John France said...

The entire Concerto is available for download at Amazon!

Thanks for that, Mathias