Thursday, May 19, 2016

Solo Repertoire for the Collaborative Pianist

With the arrival of summer, many collaborative pianists are find themselves with a lighter performance load. This is the perfect time to begin preparing repertoire for next season while continuing to develop our skills. I'm finding that it is also a perfect time to venture into solo repertoire that I generally neglect in the height of performance season. Here are some suggestions of repertoire to consider working on this summer to specifically address concerns common to the collaborative pianist.

  • Bach's Well Tempered Clavier is good for every pianist to return to on a regular basis. Not only do the preludes and fugues promote good technique, but the emphasis on melodic figures that appear in all voices -- especially in the fugues -- are great for the collaborative pianist. These works bring our skills (or lack of skill) in the areas of balance and phrasing to the forefront while challenging the pianist to maintain a legato line without being overly dependent on the use of the pedal.
  • Currently, I am fascinated with The Songs without Words by Mendelssohn. These charming miniature pieces clearly resemble German lieder with the simple melodic lines accompanied by repetitive figures in the piano. Once again, the Songs without Words require careful attention to balance while also providing an interesting study of harmonic progression and the effect the chords' movements have on the overall shape of the music. I'm working through the 6 pieces in Op. 19 right now in preparation for a scheduled solo recital in the fall.
  • To improve my sight reading, I find myself constantly returning to the sonatas of the Classical era. Their adherence to form allows the pianist to anticipate where things are going; the constant use of arpeggios, scales, and sequences develop finger dexterity as well as speed. When you tire of works by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, I suggest looking to the sonatas and sonatinas of Cramer, Clementi, and Kuhlua.
  • Song transcriptions are an obvious choice of solo repertoire that will be beneficial to the collaborative pianist. If you are like me, you immediately think of the massive (and incredibly difficult) transcriptions by Liszt and say "No, thanks!" Before you write off the form entirely, a brief search on IMSLP will reveal a treasure trove of standard art songs transcribed by lesser-known composers. Many of these are simply charming and provide challenging material for the developing pianist -- soloist or collaborator. (I'm just beginning my personal exploration of these works, so keep an eye out for a future post about the gems I find in this genre.)
Those are my immediate recommendations. What solo works do you recommend working on during the summer months? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.