Small is Beautiful - The Piano Miniature
When considering the piano repertoire, we tend to focus on the big works in the canon – the great concertos and piano sonatas, and large-scale works like the Goldberg, Diabelli or Handel Variations, or the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. But many of the composers of these “big” works also wrote small, self-contained pieces which explore one or two sentiments, rather than a broad narrative or emotional sweep. Sadly too often dismissed as salon pieces, these impromptus, ‘Albumblätter’, intermezzi, serenades, songs without words, lyric pieces, etudes, nocturnes, ‘morceaux’ and preludes are minute gems of the repertoire, miniature musical miracles which offer, in microcosm, a glimpse into a composer’s personal soundworld and compositional language. For the novice listener, these piano miniatures can provide a bridge to the exploration of more complex or larger repertoire and are a wonderful introduction to the idioms and styles of the composers who wrote them. Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.Read more…
- Beethoven • Six Bagatelles for Piano op. 126 • 1. Bagatelle in G major. Andante con moto cantabile e compiacevoleSix Bagatelles for Piano op. 126
1. Bagatelle in G major. Andante con moto cantabile e compiacevoleMichael Korstick (Piano)2005, Hannover, Beethovensaal
- Beethoven • Six Bagatelles for Piano op. 126 • 2. Bagatelle in G minor. AllegroSix Bagatelles for Piano op. 126
2. Bagatelle in G minor. AllegroFriedrich Gulda (Piano)1953 - 1957
- Beethoven • Six Bagatelles for Piano op. 126 • 3. Bagatelle in E flat major. Andante cantabile e graziosoSix Bagatelles for Piano op. 126
3. Bagatelle in E flat major. Andante cantabile e graziosoJohn Lill (Piano)September 1991, Suffolk, Snape Concert Hall
- Schubert • Moments musicaux op. 94 D 780 • No. 1 in C major. ModeratoMoments musicaux op. 94 D 780
No. 1 in C major. ModeratoClaudio Arrau (Piano)1956, London
- Schubert • Impromptus op. 90 D 899 • 2. Impromptu in E flat majorImpromptus op. 90 D 899
2. Impromptu in E flat majorCordelia Williams (Piano)November 2012, Southampton, Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton
- Schubert • Impromptus op. 90 D 899 • 3. Impromptu in G flat majorImpromptus op. 90 D 899
3. Impromptu in G flat majorShura Cherkassky (Piano)℗ 1995
- Schubert • Impromptus op. posth. 142 D 935 • Impromptu No. 3 in B flat major. Thema. Andante – Var. I-VImpromptus op. posth. 142 D 935
Impromptu No. 3 in B flat major. Thema. Andante – Var. I-VPaul Badura-Skoda (Piano)℗ 2006
- Schubert • Moments musicaux op. 94 D 780 • No. 3 in F minor. Allegro moderatoMoments musicaux op. 94 D 780
No. 3 in F minor. Allegro moderatoMartin Helmchen (Piano)2007, Köln, Deutschlandfunk, Kammermusiksaal
- Schubert • Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces) D 946 • No. 3 in C major (Allegro)Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces) D 946
No. 3 in C major (Allegro)Ian Hobson (Piano)℗ 2014
- Chopin • Nocturnes op. 62 B. 161 • 1. Nocturne in B major. AndanteNocturnes op. 62 B. 161
1. Nocturne in B major. AndanteEarl Wild (Piano)℗ 1997
- Mendelssohn Bartholdy • Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) op. 19b MWV SD 5 • 6. Andante sostenuto in G minor (MWV U 78) "Venetian Boat Song"
- Mendelssohn Bartholdy • Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) op. 85 MWV SD 46 • 4. Andante sostenuto in D major (MWV U 190)
- Schumann • Romances for Piano op. 28 • 2. Romance in F sharp major. EinfachRomances for Piano op. 28
2. Romance in F sharp major. EinfachAlicja Fiderkiewicz (Piano)August 2007, Manchester, Whiteley Hall, Manchester
- Brahms • Pieces for Piano op. 118 • 2. Intermezzo. Andante teneramentePieces for Piano op. 118
2. Intermezzo. Andante teneramenteLeon McCawley (Piano)January 2011, Pulborough, Champs Hill, Pulborough
- Brahms • Pieces for Piano op. 119 • 4. Rhapsody. Allegro risolutoPieces for Piano op. 119
4. Rhapsody. Allegro risolutoJonathan Plowright (Piano)January 2016, Westleton, Potton Hall, Westleton
- Grieg • Lyric Pieces for Piano (Book 2) op. 38 • 5. Spring DanceLyric Pieces for Piano (Book 2) op. 38
5. Spring DanceHåkon Austbø (Piano)℗ 2010
- Tchaikovsky • The Seasons op. 37a TH 135 • May. White Nights (Andantino)The Seasons op. 37a TH 135
May. White Nights (Andantino)Freddy Kempf (Piano)November 2014, Munich, Bavaria Studios
- Tchaikovsky • The Seasons op. 37a TH 135 • October. Autumn Song (Andante doloroso e molto cantabile)The Seasons op. 37a TH 135
October. Autumn Song (Andante doloroso e molto cantabile)Freddy Kempf (Piano)November 2014, Munich, Bavaria Studios
- Rachmaninoff • Études-tableaux for Piano op. 33 • Étude No. 2 in C major (Allegro)Études-tableaux for Piano op. 33
Étude No. 2 in C major (Allegro)John Lill (Piano)℗ 1994
- Rachmaninoff • Études-tableaux op. 39 • Étude-tableau No. 2 in A minor (Lento assai)Études-tableaux op. 39
Étude-tableau No. 2 in A minor (Lento assai)John Lill (Piano)℗ 1994
- Janáček • Po zarostlém chodníčku (On an Overgrown Path) JW VIII/17 • Book I • 7. Dobrou noc! (Good Night!)Po zarostlém chodníčku (On an Overgrown Path) JW VIII/17
Book I • 7. Dobrou noc! (Good Night!)Charles Owen (Piano)September 2002, London, Wathen Hall St. Paul's School London
- Ravel • À la manière de Borodine M 63/1 (1912-1913) • Valse. Allegro giustoÀ la manière de Borodine M 63/1 (1912-1913)
Valse. Allegro giustoFlorian Uhlig (Piano)June 2012, Kaiserslautern, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern
- Shostakovich • Fantastic Dances for Piano op. 5 (1920) • 1. March in C major. AllegrettoFantastic Dances for Piano op. 5 (1920)
1. March in C major. AllegrettoKathryn Stott (Piano)April 2008, Suffolk, Potton Hall Dunwich
- Messiaen • Preludes for Piano (1928-1929) • 1. La colombe (The dove)Preludes for Piano (1928-1929)
1. La colombe (The dove)Cindy Lin (Piano)2013, Ames, lowa State University, Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall
- Britten • Suite for Piano op. 5 (1934) 'Holiday Diary' • 4. NightSuite for Piano op. 5 (1934) 'Holiday Diary'
4. NightMaria Marchant (Piano)February 2017, Southampton, Turner Sims Concert Hall Southampton
Take Beethoven’s late Bagatelles, for example. The opus 126 set display all the characteristics of his instrumental and symphonic music composed around the same time, including the final three piano sonatas, and these brief works demonstrate an extraordinary range of styles and emotions, from terse to serene to heroic or angst-ridden. They divert from strictly classical structures, suggesting improvisation and spontaneity in their design and moods.
If the pinnacle of the Classical era was the solo piano sonata, by the start of the Romantic period attention turned to smaller or more fluid works, and sequences of miniatures were very much in vogue. Schubert used the miniature form to exquisite effect in his ‘Moments Musicaux’, the two sets of Impromptus, and the ‘Drei Klavierstücke’, works whose unassuming titles belie the wonders within. Here we find many elements of his orchestral and chamber writing, his songs and his piano sonatas, including long-spun lyrical melodies, textures drawn from his string-quartet writing, the use of remote keys and strikingly piquant harmonies. The two sets of Impromptus, D899 and D935, remain amongst Schubert’s most popular piano works today, widely performed in concert, either as single works or as a set.
Many composers of the Romantic period wrote works that we call "miniatures" today. Famous examples include Mendelssohn's ‘Lieder ohne Worte’ ("Songs without words"), which are the length of a short song and organised accordingly, yet are for solo piano. Chopin had his Preludes, Nocturnes, Mazurkas and Waltzes; Schumann his ‘Kinderszenen’, Romances, ‘Blumenstück’, and ‘Waldszenen’; and Grieg his Lyric Pieces. Brahms called many of his works in this genre "Intermezzo," a word which translates as “something in-between”. Like Chopin's Preludes and Schumann’s Romances, they work as stand-alone pieces or performed as a complete set.
Rachmaninov was a master of the miniature form and one finds many echoes of his piano concertos in his ‘Moments Musicaux’, Preludes and other small-scale works.
Composers have continued to exploit the miniature form right up to the present day, enjoying the challenge of genre’s concision and the opportunity to explore a few specific ideas within a small form.