Introducing Keyboard Composers and Literature in Piano Lessons

To play with correct style, it is essential to understand the historical background of the piece and its composer. Deeper understanding leads to greater expression and appreciation.

Tom Gerou Music

Deeper understanding leads to greater expression and appreciation.
With the success and interest in Great Music & Musicians 1: An Overview of Music
History, Nancy Bachus and I felt a second book focusing on keyboard composers
and keyboard literature would be helpful to piano teachers by providing an easy way
to introduce both well-known, and lesser-known, composers and their music to
students.
Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard Composers and Literature
explores the progressive development of the piano repertoire and the times and
personalities of leading keyboard composers. Great composers such as Bach,
Beethoven, and Brahms (known as the “Three Bs”) are household names in the
lexicon of keyboard literature and are given greater emphasis. Also discussed are
many lesser-known composers who have made contributions to keyboard literature,
and are important in understanding the progression of musical styles.
Burgmüller, Clementi, Czerny, Hanon, and Heller are composers likely to be more
familiar to students than to the general public. Successful piano teachers
themselves, these composers wrote pieces aimed as preparation for a more
complex concert repertoire. Students learn many of these pieces during their
formative years of piano study since they were specifically created to assist technical
and musical development. History is a series of smaller stylistic developments that
culminate in works of great masters in each cultural style period. Yet, to students and
teachers alike, the lives and times of these influential, often overlooked composers,
are commonly unknown.
Great Music & Musicians 2 presents in chronological order, the development of
keyboards, style, and composers, with colorful use of fine art to visually guide
students through the centuries. Musical examples for listening are provided through
downloads to further illustrate the text. Each section of the nine units is organized
into six pages. The final page provides a summary of the unit, musical examples with
guidance for listening, and written activity. Texts are brief and intended to offer
easily-read insight on each topic.
The example pages that follow are a small sampling from various units throughout
the book that illustrates the approach we took in writing Great Music & Musicians 2.

A student may wonder if there was keyboard music before the Baroque period.
During the late Renaissance early Baroque period, influential English virginalist
composers—Byrd, Gibbons, and Bull, became known through large collections of
published keyboard works, allowing the spread of the English keyboard style
throughout Europe.

Tom Gerou Music

Concurrently, in Italy, composers Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and Merulo developed their
own keyboard styles. Uniquely idiomatic to the instrument, their music introduces
new examples of dynamics and virtuosity

Tom Gerou Music

Each activity page contains a unit summary, two listening examples, further
suggested listening, and an activity that reviews important concepts from the unit.

Tom Gerou Music

Female composers such as Élizabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Nannerl Mozart,
Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Cécile Chaminade are appropriately
included throughout the book. Each is placed within their style period, along with
their more famous male counterparts

Tom Gerou Music

Lesser-known composers, like the Englishman John Field, are included because of
their influence on the great composers. In this case, Chopin’s masterful Nocturnes
were influenced by Field’s earlier ones, yet he is virtually unknown to many students.

Tom Gerou Music

Master composers such as Claude Debussy are given greater treatment in the book.
Notice the image of Debussy’s piano at the top right. Effort was given to show
pictures of keyboards throughout history so students can see their development.
More attention is given to the piano, although clavichords, harpsichords, and organs
are also represented visually and in listening examples.

Tom Gerou Music

Effort was made to introduce composers in chronological order. However, since
multiple musical styles often develop simultaneously, many units focus on unique
developments within the major cultural periods (Renaissance, Baroque, Classical,
Romantic, 20th Century). An example of this is one page of Unit 8 exploring the
Spanish style of Albéniz, Falla, and Granados at the turn of the 20th century

Tom Gerou Music

A wealth of 20th century piano literature stems from Russia and the Soviet Union.
Major composers of this library of literature are Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev,
Shostakovich, and student favorites Khachaturian and Kabalevsky. Each page
discussing the composers has a visual backdrop that helps to convey the time, like this page on Soviet composers Shostakovich and Kabalevsky. This is to encourage teacher and student to further explore the impact of politics and culture on music

Tom Gerou Music

Nancy Bachus and I enjoyed creating this book. One of the most difficult challenges
was what not to introduce or explain. We tried to avoid lengthy text and details,
believing an introduction to major keyboard composers would be most memorable
and helpful to students as they progress in their studies. A framework of the major
style periods and composers gives a foundation for students to understand musical
style and to interpret it. Great Music & Musicians 2: An Overview of Keyboard
Composers and Literature merely touches the surface of an immense library of
literature and the composers who created it. We hope students will be inspired to
explore and to learn more about the great music and musicians they are studying!

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