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More piano teaching favorites: Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, op. 100

Burgmuller, a German composer living in France during the Romantic era composed these delightful programmatic pieces in order of “progressive” difficulty; I’ve chosen 3 favorites to showcase: “Arabesque,” “La Chasse” (The Chase) and “L’Harmonie des Anges” (Harmony of the Angels)

Arabesque (“beautiful decoration”) is a sprightly, fast paced miniature in “A” minor, that basically utilizes an open hand position. There is just one shift of the thumb under other fingers, in the “A” section. The challenge is to observe punctuated accents and learn to shift the 16th notes from right hand to left hand with as much facility as possible. The piece whizzes by so fast that it’s easy to forget the precise phrasing, articulation of notes, etc. The best approach is always exaggerated slow practicing with attention to detail until the student is able to pace himself at a faster tempo and not lose sight of Burgmuller’s phrase marks, dynamics, accents, etc.

The Chase: This is a hunting song in C Major, with a punctuated chordal Introduction followed by three distinct sections. The “A” section is tricky to master, because the composer has triplet staccato figures over legato, dotted quarter length chord progressions that emulate the hunting horn motif. (harmonic sixth, fifth, third) Hands should be separated in slow motion before playing “up to tempo” is undertaken.

The “B” section is in G Major (the Dominant key) and is less technically challenging as compared to part “A” Once again, slow and steady practicing always helps in the overall learning process.

The “A” section then returns before a distinctly contrasting “C” section begins.
This is a beautifully spun out part of the compositions, with broken chords in the left hand over a gorgeous lyrical minor (sad) melody in the right hand. This is a good opportunity to block the left hand chords alone as a preliminary, and then play the melody over these chords, before the chords are broken as written.

Finally the “A” section returns again with an added Coda concluding the piece.

“Harmony of the Angels” strikes a real contrast to the preceding two pieces from Burgmuller’s collection. It is totally spun out broken chords crossing from hand to hand, and should be seamlessly played if at all possible. A supple wrist, and rotating hands will assist in the communication of a limpidly flowing melodic line.

What a simply heavenly composition this is, and a nice one to conclude with.

5 thoughts on “More piano teaching favorites: Burgmuller’s 25 Progressive Pieces, op. 100”

  1. What a treasure your blog is! During all my years of piano study (which was heavily laden with the classics) I was never introduced to this composer. Thank you! I now eagerly await this book from Amazon; “Harmony of Angels” is particularly enchanting and has the kind of “liminal space” forward movement that I adore in compositions.

    One of my childhood favorites that livened up a landscape of mostly sonatinas and Hanon scales was “Calvary Trot” by one A. Rubinstein. 🙂 That was certainly most horsey and fun to play. I believe that one is out of print but I was able to find a used copy on Amazon.

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  2. Hi Lisa, Thanks for your comments. I’ll have to look into the Rubenstein piece as you’ve whet my musical appetite. One of the warhorses when I was growing up was the Spinning Song. Nearly every piano student had to play it.

    As for Burgmuller, I’m glad you’re drawn to his exquisitely composed pieces, and yes, “Harmony of the Angels” is simply divine. “La Chasse,” is a particular favorite of mine because of the changed moods within a single tableau. I used to play the interluding minor section over and over, just to make myself “feel” the sadness that was so poignant.

    Would you believe, I had the chutzpah to program the complete Op. 100 as the first selection on a recital. I guess a lot of the piano teachers in the audience were wondering what hit them. But these character pieces, do move nicely as a set, so I didn’t hesitate to expose them to an audience that was willing to open their ears to a composer whose name they couldn’t exactly pronounce.

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  3. Oh yes, “Spinning Song” — that was in one of my Michael Aaron books and that’s a delight to play. And “Solfegietto” — another chestnut. And your playing the poignant sections over and over — I thought I was the only that did that with a piece. (One of Beethoven’s funereal “Minore” passages comes to mind . . . .)

    I’m chuckling at your Burgmuller recital . . . well my first teacher had two of her students playing the SAME PIECE and didn’t warn me. She did not anticipate that a certain nine-year-old (Moi) would be mortified to hear HER selection played first, and that her sensitivities would be so wounded that she would opt out of playing it altogether. Not only was ego involved, but also a certainty that listeners would NOT wish to hear the same piece twice.

    I can’t believe Cavalry Trot is now obscure . . .yikes, I’ll see to it that you get a copy.

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  4. Wow! Thanks for sending the PDF.. I will be checking it with great interest.
    Fabulous story you wove about the recital, and double piece scheduling. If you had a Suzuki teacher, the parents would have been subjected to hearing the same composition at least 7 to 10 times, ugh. I make sure that does not happen even remotely at my students’ musical gatherings.

    Calvary trot has a nice ring to it.. somewhat funny…

    Shirley K

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