Alexandre Tansman, piano, Pour Les Enfants

Experiencing the first Sunrise in your playing

I had intended to title this posting, “Falling in Love Again”-a tribute to the music of Alexandre Tansman. It would highlight an affaire de coeur ignited by Amazon. (No Saturday Night Live script in progress) I would encapsulate the day I’d ordered what was supposed to be a copy of a new adult student’s album of Tansman miniatures that he’d brought to his first lesson. It included the familiar “Arabia” that was a memory prompt in my worst senior moment. What did I know of the composer’s output beyond the perfunctory inclusion of his picturesque modal morsel within an anthology of Late Beginner level offerings.

My Amazon purchase arrived with no sign of the hallmark piece, and to add to my disappointment, there was just “one” Collection instead of “4” as advertised by the seller: Pour Les Enfants (A bundle of Children’s compositions included 4 sets.) It had been my intention to explore the graded music in one package to assess the contents for teaching purposes.

(I’ve not yet referenced the “sunrise” aspect of this encounter, but it’s on the horizon.)

With only the frugal arrival of Book 1, (“Very Easy” level), I thumbed through its pages, sampling a few phrases of each title, growing more immersed in the music as I “read” along. It was an early blossoming love that was growing in intensity as I delved more deeply through appealing melodic and harmonic threads.

In less than 20 minutes through a sight-reading journey, a resonating epiphany sprang from this earliest exploration: It was my having experienced the “first sunrise” in my playing. (What we often lose in our redundant daily practicing)

I confessed to my adult student in the sanctity of my studio that I had not yet received a copy of his exact album, but the one obtained turned out to be a blessing in disguise, a set of heavenly pieces that were in a divine space I’d inhabited on the FIRST day I learned a few, and then permeating the rest, on the second and third day. It was a Here and Now, in the moment experience of childlike enchantment that I insisted must be retained in our daily practicing no matter the length of our stay with a particular composition.


How else can I express this spontaneous wonderment than through the music itself that’s in the imagination even as fingers are not engaged with the keys.

Day 1 (I fingered these four selections carefully; put in phrase marks that were omitted; scanned the harmonic rhythm of each) and sailed off with the prompted fantasy of the titles.

Naturally, in a personal, unabashed surrender to the music, a natural flow of energy through relaxed arms and supple wrists is needed. But such fluidity is always tied to attentive listening, where the ends of caressed notes, give direction to the beginnings of others.

It’s apparent that Tansman’s music as represented in this collection, Pour Les Enfants, has a bounty of teaching value. Each one, even designated as “VERY EASY,” encompasses a musical/technical challenge that incrementally grows musicianship.

My Day 2 highlighted favorites:

A Hanon-like charmer

An Old World ear-grabber

Another gem

Day 3 preferences:

A French-style Waltz

Finally, Tansman’s “Conclusion”

All 12 pieces in this collection were assimilated in 3 days of pure elation and joy. It sent a clear message that we need to preserve this sense of primordial love in all our practicing–embedding phrase after phrase with the awe of a first encounter.

About the Composer

Wiki summary:
Alexandre Tansman was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of Jewish origin. He spent his early years in his native Poland, but lived in France for most of his life, being granted French citizenship in 1938. Wikipedia

Born: June 12, 1897, Łódź, Poland
Died: November 15, 1986, Paris, France
Education: University of Warsaw
Albums: Polish Violin Concertos, Chamber Music with Clarinet


From the Naxos Website

(1897 – 1986)

“Few composers in the twentieth century have such an exceptionally far-ranging career as Alexandre Tansman. Born in Poland in 1897 at Łódź, also the birthplace of his friend, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, Tansman studied at the conservatory there and in Warsaw. He had as a fellow student the famous conductor and composer Paul Kletzki, who, as a violinist, took part in the first performance of Tansman’s now lost Piano Trio No. 1 and later conducted also in Paris his Fifth Symphony [Marco Polo 8.223379]. After winning in 1919 the three first prizes in the national composition competition organized in the newly established Polish Republic, Tansman settled in Paris, where he had the support and encouragement of Ravel and Roussel.

“He established friendly relations with composers of his own generation such as Milhaud and Honegger and was a member of the Ecole de Paris, a group of composers from central and eastern Europe that included Bohuslav Martinů, Marcel Mihalovici, Tibor Harsányi and Alexandre Tcherepnin. His compositions were conducted by the most famous conductors of the period, Serge Koussevitzky, Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Vladimir Golschmann and Dimitri Mitropoulos.

“In 1927–28 he made his first tour of the United States, performing, with Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, his Second Piano Concerto, a work dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, who was present in the concert hall. In 1932–33 Tansman embarked on a world tour during which he had the opportunity, in India, to meet Ghandi. In New York he had the surprise of hearing his Four Polish Dances programmed by Toscanini with the New York Philharmonic. Later it was thanks to a committee established by Toscanini, Chaplin, Ormandy and Heifetz that he and his family were able to leave France, occupied at the beginning of the Second World War. During his exile in America his career underwent considerable development and his works were played by the best American orchestras (New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, St Louis, Washington, and Cincinnati). He lived in Los Angeles and counted Stravinsky among his closest friends. From this almost daily contact later came a book on the Russian composer that is still regarded as authoritative.

“When he returned to Paris, his European activity resumed. His works were directed by the most renowned conductors of the day, such as Rafael Kubelik, André Cluytens, Jascha Horenstein, Ferenc Fricsay, Charles Brück, Jean Fournet and Bruno Maderna. There were regular commissions from French radio and this final period brought an important number of compositions, among them the oratorio Isaië le Prophète, the opera Sabbataï Zevi and the Concerto for Orchestra [Marco Polo 8.223757].”

4 thoughts on “Experiencing the first Sunrise in your playing”

  1. Shirley, these pieces constitute a treasure trove. And your playing is also a treasure. It is important for all of us to occasionally stop for a moment and indulge in what amounts to the epitome of soulful, romantic expression in the most innocent form. For all the reasons you stated, I occasionally play through Schumann’s Album for the Young, another treasure trove. Such compositions remind us of the essence of pure romantic expression. It awakens the earliest flicker of our “primordial love” for music.


    Liked by 1 person

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