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DIGITAL-ONLY CONTENT: Music for the intermediate pianist by eight women composers

Elisabeth_Jacquet_de_La_Guerrehead

Editor's note: This is a companion piece to the January/February 2018 article, "Women of exceptional accomplishment: Eight women composers" by Teresa Rupp, found here.

Anyone who thinks there is a lack of piano music by women composers from previous centuries hasn't looked too hard. Take the music of these eight composers as a great example. Most of us know that Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, and Clara Schumann wrote music for piano. But how many of us have actively chosen to play, teach, or truly explore their music? Have you heard Élisabeth Jaquet de la Guerre's wonderful Baroque keyboard suites? What about the prolific 19th-century virtuoso pianist/composer Maria Szymanowska? She was writing etudes, mazurkas, and polonaises well before those by that other famous Polish composer. Cécile Chaminade wrote several wonderful, coloristic pieces for the concert stage, and both Margaret Ruthven Lang and Clara Gottschalk Peterson contributed pieces to the piano repertoire, as well.

In general, there seems to be a lack of awareness of—and engagement with—these composers in the piano teaching studio. In my opinion, part of the problem falls on major U.S.-based publishers, whose music fills piano teachers' bookshelves. There are a few anthologies available, like "At the Piano with Women Composers" (Alfred Publishing Co., ed. Maurice Hinson), and Dover editions of selected works by Schumann, Hensel, and Chaminade. A few pieces are sprinkled in a variety of other collections, too, that are worth exploring. I just discovered a lovely intermediate piece by Chaminade that a transfer student brought in called Pièce Romantique, Op. 9 no. 1. But the major publishing companies have largely ignored even the most well-known of these composers. The Dover editions mentioned above are good resources and introductory albums, but they feature re-prints that are difficult to read and visually uninviting for the intermediate student, who often benefits from a cleaner score with adequate spacing and some light editorial suggestions. Alfred has published Amy Beach's Young People's Carnival, Op. 25 and Young People's Album, Op. 36 in such an edition, but not much else. There is a plethora of wonderful music by more contemporary pedagogic composers, but major publishers have largely ignored music by women composers.

The other part of the problem is us; we are all so busy that we rarely take time to discover hidden treasures that may become new favorites. For teachers and performers alike, it is far easier to continue using repertoire that is readily available, familiar, and part of the known (and rightfully-loved) canon; pieces that are already included in nice, neat, graded anthologies. While we all have our favorite tried-and-true teaching pieces, doesn't it become mundane to teach the same pieces to students, year after year? And what does it say about our own commitment to diversity and inclusivity, if we continue only teaching music of dead, white, European male composers?

For now, one must look to online resources like imslp.org and libraries, use an inter-library loan system, and/or seek out European editions not readily available in the U.S. Tasked with writing this companion piece, I requested as much as I could find just within the holdings of the University of Wisconsin's library system. I was pleasantly surprised by how many scores there were—and that there were publishers like Hildegard Publishing Company and Furore-Verlag, that focus on music by women composers exclusively.  Hildegard scores are available directly through their online store, or as special order from other online retailers like Sheet Music Plus, Prima Music, and JW Pepper, and Furore scores are available by clicking  here, or through most major university libraries.

Pianists and teachers looking for advanced-level concert music will find an abundance of attractive, challenging pieces from these eight composers that are musically satisfying and pianistic. I cannot believe Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's epic Das Jahr ("The Year" – 12 Character Pieces), for example, isn't played by/taught to more aspiring talented pianists around the world. But works that are within the means of the "intermediate" level students are harder to find, and that is what this companion piece aims to address.

Intended only as an introduction to these composers, I have highlighted a few works that would be great teaching pieces at the early- through late-intermediate levels, and I hope this prods further inquiry into their extensive oeuvres. Links to recordings and scores are included, where possible.



Amy Beach (1867-1944)


Children's Album, Op. 36, no. 1

Minuet, Gavotte, Waltz, March, Polka

Really attractive, short pieces, written entirely in the treble clef, with introductory notes to each. The Minuet is great for teaching question/answer phrases and listening for gentle resolutions of two-note slurs, and the Polka is a lively and rhythmically engaging piece with a lot of patterns. 

Early Intermediate.

Score available from: Alfred, and Hildegard

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Children's Carnival, Op. 25, no. 1

Promenade, Columbine, Pantalon, Pierrot and Pierrette, Secrets, Harlequin

Slightly longer and more challenging pieces than in the Children's Album, these works are charming and full of character. Secrets is ideal for teaching blocked practice, Pierrot and Pierrette is a more harmonically adventurous waltz than many at this level, and Pantalon and Harlequin is great fun!

Early Intermediate/Intermediate.

Score available from: Alfred, and Hildegard



Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)

Scarf-Dance, op. 37 no. 3

This work is from a ballet-symphony called Callirhoë. Key of A-flat major presents some mild reading challenges, but otherwise the short piece should be accessible to the intermediate student. 

Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover

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La Lisonjera "The Flatterer", Op. 50

Lush harmonies, and very satisfying to play, with some passagework that sounds harder than it is (always appreciated by students).

Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover

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Pièce Romantique, Op. 9, no. 1

Lovely work that demands a keen ear for pedaling and control of off-beat accompaniment figures.

Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link

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Gavotte, Op. 9, no. 2

Full of playful back and forth rhythmic energy, repetition of material and some drones make this less work than it might first appear. 

Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link 



Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)

Mélodie, Op. 4 no.2

Beautiful solo melodic line, with broken accompaniment split between the hands. Would be much more attractive to students and teachers in a cleaner edition. 

Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover, Masters Music

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Mélodie, Op. 5, no. 4

Simple texture, melody, and pulsating chordal accompaniment. Some reading challenges presented by the key of B Major, and by pervasive accidentals. Good piece to address shaping a long-breathed melodic line, and balance.

Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover, Masters Music

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Lieder, Op. 6, no. 3

The next time you think about assigning one of Felix's part-song type Songs without Words, consider this lovely gem. The key F# Major need not be a road block. In fact, there are many wonderful Lieder found in Opp.2, 6, and 8.

Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link

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Furore editions have published many, many volumes of Fanny's works, from short incidental pieces, to collections of her Songs without Words, to Das Jahr.



Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)

Pieces de Clavecin 

Suites in D minor, G minor, A minor, F Major

These suites provide many opportunities to explore Baroque keyboard music outside the traditional known canon of Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, et al.Often the Preludes feature notation that is very free, and students can benefit from listening to recordings to see how they are executed. Extracted movements that are particularly good for the intermediate student, and that could easily be included in graded Baroque anthologies, or other repertoire collections, include

Suite in D minor, Sarabande and Minuet

Suite in G minor, Sarabande, Gigue, and Minuet

Suite in A minor, Gavotte and Minuet

Suite in F Major, Sarabande and Minuet

While one can find recordings on YouTube of these suites, they are often incomplete, or are not labeled well. Access the score on IMSLP and read through the movements to see what works best for your students.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link



Margaret Ruthven Lang (1867-1972) 



Le Chevalier, Op. 18 – Petit roman pour le piano en six chapitres

Le Chevalier, Madame la Princesse, Bal Chez Madame la Princess, Monsieur le Prince, L' Épée de M. le Prince, Le Mort du Chevalier

Charming programmatic pieces.Would make a nice studio project with 6 more advanced students. A variety of technical challenges, but certainly accessible. 

Late Intermediate/Early Advanced.

Score available from: Hildegard direct link



Clara Gottschalk Peterson (ca. 1837-1910)

Staccato Polka 1909 

While there isn't a lot of information about Peterson, nor music available, this is a fun and energetic piece that students would enjoy working on. The piece is in G Major, ABA form, with an excursion into E-flat Major in the middle.

Intermediate.  

Score available from: Hildegard direct link



Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)

Given her stature of one of the most distinguished concert pianists of the 19th century, I would consider the majority of her published piano works most suited for the advanced pianist. However, with a little research, one can find quite a lot for the intermediate level. Below is a sampling. 


Four Fleeting Pieces, Op.15, no.1

Slightly more difficult than Träumerei by Robert, this is a beautiful piano miniature with a mixture of of textures and searching melody. 

Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover

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Caprices, Op. 9

No. 2 in D Major, No. 3 in E-flat Major, and No. 9 in D-flat major are especially good for the intermediate student, although the whole set is certainly within the means of the dedicated student who wants a little challenge. Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link

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Prelude and Fugue in D minor

This prelude and fugue could easily replace Bach to start a student's recital. It is mournful and full of beauty, and the fugue ends with a Picardy third. 

Intermediate.

Score available from: Dover, Bärenreiter

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Polonaise in C Major, Op. 1, no. 2

Features very pianistic passagework over simple left hand accompaniment, similar to the Chopin G minor Polonaise, Op. post. in terms of difficulty. 

Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link

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Soirées Musicales, Op. 6

Toccatina, Notturno, Mazurka in G minor, Ballade, Mazurka in G Major, Polonaise

Nice variety of pieces. Try the Notturno, perhaps the most accessible piece for students. 

Intermediate/Late Intermediate.

Score available from: IMSLP direct link



Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

Szymanowska wrote a great deal of piano music, from simple mazurkas to concert etudes. Below are some collections to explore, along with specific pieces.

25 Mazurkas

Short, one-page mazurkas. Great introduction to the style, and much less difficult than the easiest Chopin Mazurkas. Some favorites include: No. 10 C Major , No. 13 B-flat Major , No. 17 C Major , and No. 24 D Major

Score available from: Hildegard direct link

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Music for Piano

Variety of short character pieces that are attractive and pianistic. Try the Contradance in A-flat Major Intermediate; pattern-oriented and fun, Minuet in E Major

Late Intermediate; comparable to Chopin Waltzes, Etude in D minor

Intermediate; effective and not as difficult as it sounds. Similar to Pieczonka Tarantella.

Score available from: Hildegard direct link

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Album for the Pianoforte

Features selections from her Vingt Exercices et Préludes, along with other character pieces. On the whole, this edition features more advanced repertoire. But try Vingt Exercices et Préludes, IX. Moderato, Lento molto cantabile,

Intermediate/Late intermediate

and Le Murmure, a beautiful Nocturne Intermediate

Score available from: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne

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Three Waltzes

The Waltzes in A Major and F Major and both very attractive works that are well within the means of the early intermediate student.

Score available from: Hildegard direct link


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