piano repertoire, piano repertoire for the beginning student

Delightful “Primary” Level Repertoire for Teachers and Students

A few years ago, I recorded a set of the most charming tableaux from Alexandre Tansman’s Pour Les Enfants, thinking the composer had surely reached a peak of immeasurable poetic expression in his “Very Easy” volume 1.

In truth, the contents could not be described in such Primer-like terms, because each miniature had built-in technical and musical challenges that far surpassed its labeled level. Given my less than rigid pedagogical perspective, I inevitably shy away from such an “easy” classification of music, preferring to examine compositions for their teaching value as applies to a diversity of students with varying needs.

Nonetheless, in my ongoing pursuit of custom-fitting repertoire for my beginning pupils who have at least mastered note-reading skills, and have had some exposure to one octave scales in legato/staccto around the Circle of Fifths, I serendipitously sprang upon Tansman’s Happy Time, “Book 1 Primary.” Its 4-line pieces which are less complex than Pour Les Enfants 1/ (Though there’s crossover value between the two albums) afford a panoply of colors, articulations and moods, with many having Ostinato bass lines (repeated bass patterns), against soulful melodies. The structure of these compositions, readily absorbed as binary and ternary forms, provide an important dimension of learning that enlarges melodic and harmonic contouring.

To summarize, within both early Tansman volumes, there are a repository colorful character pieces that synthesize technical and musical goals. Likewise, composers such as Kabalevsky (Op. 39 Children’s Pieces), and Tchaikovsky (Op. 39 Pieces for Children) had the same aim, but the latter, had tread into more advanced territory than what is contained in Tansman’s early Happy Time and Pour Les Enfants collections.

In short, the Introduction to Happy Time, Primary level, well describes the composer’s intentions.

“..Tansman devoted himself to the idea that learning piano need not be drudgery. It can be interesting, vital, and musically alive while accomplishing a teaching technique in a progressive sequence for the piano student.” (Paraphrase)

About Tansman

Born in Poland, 1897, Alexandre Tansman emigrated to Paris, France in 1920 where he composed most of his works. “From the first song to the last in Happy Time, the composer holds the musical interest of the student with his modern harmonies and dissonances while he brings into play suggestions of modern rhythms.”

In my overview of this “Primary” framed collection, I demonstrate wrist rolls to realize legato groupings of notes through various measures, particularly in sequences. And with my identification of Ostinato bass lines, I amplify their harmonic transit (ex.Arabia), in their underpinning of a captivating melodic line. In the same vein, I’ve discovered generous opportunities to flesh out forms of counterpoint (in an expressive, lyrical genre) through a process of structural examination (inversion of voices, for example) Finally, sequences (previously mentioned) that are central to the composer’s music with their ascending intensification, or descending relaxation become pivotal to beautiful phrasing and interpretation. In conclusion, all these elements of Tansman’s music afford a deep and pleasurable immersion that lends itself to heightened teaching and learning.

Selections from Happy Time 1 with my commentary

Two additional samples from
Tansman’s Pour Les Enfants (“Very Easy”) Take this labeling with a grain of salt.

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