Here’s a case of music composed by a pianist who has an abundance of talent in so many directions that it’s dizzying!
If I thought LEONARD Bernstein was the renaissance man, with gifts as a conductor, pianist, composer, and mentor, well here comes SEYMOUR Bernstein in a shimmering spotlight of his own!
Having composed my own collection of miniature character pieces (Moonbeams and Other Musical Sketches) they are no rival to Seymour’s well developed Birds tableaux. I say well developed, because though some are quite short in length, they all have musical substance.
Birds, Book 1 attaches a fascinating anecdote which Bernstein relayed to a receptive audience at the University of Missouri. He described and played the compositions as he went along.
The opener was worth a chuckle and a gulp of emotion.
As Bernstein wove the story, during a composing summer in Maine, he met up with a neighbor’s child of 10-years old who was a beginning piano student and played for him. Bernstein being very impressed with the child’s progress in such a short time was inspired to compose 3 pieces in the frugal space of one hour that could be taught by rote. One of these called for smashing fists over a series of notes to imitate the raucous sound of The Seagull.
As it was charmingly related, when the child excitedly returned home to play this delightful musical morsel, he managed to pound away on his piano, promptly shattering hammers in the treble range.
Bernstein woefully reported that the cost of repairing the hammers exceeded the price of the piano so a new one was no doubt on the horizon. (It took a year for the family to forgive the teacher)
Apparently, on a whim, Bernstein submitted the three composed pieces to a publisher. Though well received, they were needing expansion to a larger set, so Seymour hopped to the task creating five more that filled out the delightful first collection that includes The Purple Finch, The Humming Bird, The Woodpecker, The Sea Gull, The Chickadee, The Vulture, The Penguin, and The Eagle. (Upper Intermediate to Advanced Level repertoire)
Once this first group is sampled, it’s enticement to check out Birds, Book 2 which comes with surprising special effects.
Here are both links to Seymour Bernstein’s performances:
(Performed at the 92nd St. Y)
A Second Suite of Nine Impressionistic Studies for Piano Solo
“The nine masterful studies are somewhat more difficult than the pieces in Birds 1. There is a great variety in articulation. The piano is used as a echo chamber in the Phoenix. Musically the trills, glissandi and clusters give a wonderful picture of each bird. The pedaling is very specific and will teach pianists a great deal about resonance. The birds included in this set are Myna Bird, Swan, Robin, Owl, Roadrunner, Condor, Nightingale, Guinea Hen, and Phoenix. These pieces have been used by students and teachers worldwide for their evocative qualities.”
Available at Manduca Music Publications
A young student plays Birds, Book 1
Note the use of fists in SEAGULL–1:43 into the video
If you’re curious to discover additional repertoire composed by Seymour Bernstein, run to check on RACCOONS!