Happy Holidays! – Practising the Piano

This is my final post for 2017, and I hope I am just in time to wish you all very happy holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas or if you are enjoying a bit of down time at the end of the year.

I thought I would share a few favourite pieces associated with the season – by Franz Liszt, George Crumb, Arnold Schoenberg and Adolf Schulz-Evler.

Some of these might be unfamiliar to you, but one of the best-known piano works associated with Christmas is Liszt’s set of 12 pieces entitled Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) composed from 1873–76, with revisions in 1881. The suite exists in versions for solo piano as well as piano four-hands. Here is Gunnar Johansen in a recording from the 1970s.

A piece I love to play is George Crumb’s magical A Little Suite for Christmas ‘AD 1979’, a piece using “extended techniques” involving reaching into the piano to pluck, strum and mute strings. The sounds that come out mimic the effect of harps, bells, and otherworldly resonances. Here is Andrew Brownell in a live recording, so you can get a good look at what the pianist has to do.

Arnold Schoenberg was born Jewish but converted to Lutheranism in 1898. He composed some little chamber pieces for his family to play at home, including this beautiful little miniature for two violins, cello, harmonium and piano. The main tune is the German carol Es ist ein’ Ros’ ensptrungen, but listen out for ‘Silent Night’ in the strings.

And finally a piece I associate with New Year’s Eve – Schulz-Evler’s transcription of Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz – ‘Concert Arabesques on The Beautiful Blue Danube‘, played here by Benjamin Grosvenor.


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