‘Under the Rowan Tree’ by Robert Peate

Following in the footsteps of Robert Schumann, Bela Bartok and Dmitri Kabalevsky, British composer Robert Peate has created a delightful collection of piano miniatures for children. Like Bartok’s For Children and his Mikrokosmos, Peate’s pieces are both imaginative and educational, and range in difficulty from very easy (pre-Grade 1) to more challenging (cGrade 3/4). The early pieces are written in simple 5-finger positions, but utilise dynamics, contrasting articulation, accidentals and the pedal to create interesting and characterful music, which will appeal to children while offering teachers opportunities to explore technique, expression and contrasting styles. There are also duets to play with a teacher, parent or older sibling or friend.

Inspired by the birth of his son Rowan, Peate’s pieces have evocative titles which are immediately appealing to young pianists – Sleepyhead, Cheeky Chappie, Sunrise, Steps to the Stars, Music Box. I particularly liked the more impressionistic pieces such as New Moon, By the Sea and Wind on the Water, and all the pieces offer much scope for expressive shaping and musical imagination.

This is a very welcome addition to contemporary piano literature for children.

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Spectrum 5 – 15 contemporary pieces for solo piano

The ‘Spectrum’ series, published by ABRSM, and compiled by acclaimed pianist Thalia Myers, holds a special place in piano repertoire in helping many pianists, young and old, discover the world of new music for piano, what might loosely be termed “contemporary classical music”. The first Spectrum collection appeared in 1996. Commissioned by Thalia Myers, it was a response to the dearth of serious contemporary piano music accessible to the amateur and/or student pianist. The latest volume, Spectrum 5, is now available, making some one hundred and seventy seven contemporary piano pieces available to pianists and piano teachers. Works from the series (5 volumes for solo piano and 1 for piano duet) now appear in exam and competition syllabuses, and are used by teachers of piano and composition as important reference materials. Perhaps what is even more significant is that the series showcases the work of contemporary classical composers around the world, allowing them to distil in miniature, characterful pieces the essence of their compositional language and style.

As in previous volumes, Spectrum 5 offers a broad range of pieces by composers such as Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Howard Skempton, Michael Finnissy, Helen Grime, Chen Yi and Karen Tanaka. The pieces have appealing, evocative, and witty titles – Imaginary Birds, Schrödinger’s Kitten, The Jig is Up, Beethoven’s Robin Adair, Commuterland – to fire the imagination, and range in difficulty from around Grade 6 to Diploma level. The wonderful range, originality and variety of pieces prove that contemporary classical music is not “plinky plonky”, atonal, inaccessible or lacking in melody, and as such as Spectrum series is the best introduction I know to encourage young students in particular to explore contemporary music.

The book contains biographies of all the composers and in most instances, the pieces are accompanied by footnotes by the composers giving background information about their music and guidance on interpretation. There is an accompanying audio download of all the pieces, elegantly and characterfully performed by Thalia Myers.

Recommended.

Further information

‘Spectrum for cello’, compiled by William Bruce, and ‘Spectrum for Clarinet’, by Ian Mitchell, were published in 2004 and 2006 respectively.