Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Summary of the “Call for Scores: multi-hand piano duets” project from January to September 2011 with links to reviews of selected individual works by living composers.

Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets

This was an experimental project to get living composers to submit interesting duets for pianists to play and to get feedback from the pianists on readability, playability, and more.

The first round of sightreading took place in Maui: over 3 separate sessions, Karyn Sarring and Anne Ku sightread the 42 duets accepted. This set was short-listed and some sent to Chong Kee Tan, organiser of the mid-May event in San Francisco to get interest. As a result of feedback, it was decided not to have a sightreading competition but a sightreading workshop with piano soiree instead. The event was not publicised to composers because some pianists expressed reservation in sightreading new works in front of them. In spite of this, two Bay Area composers attended.

To get more pianists to play, Anne Ku took the printed PDF sheet music to the Netherlands to interest pianists to try the music with her. The following pianists (by first name only) in chronological order attempted the duets: Tom, Thera, Brendan, Ahti, Huub, Liesbeth, Carol, and Bart. Anne Ku recorded several extracts of sightreading with Texas-based Brendan Kinsella in early July and 3 studied pieces with Utrecht-based Carol Ruiz Gandia in early August 2011.

Chronology from 31st January 2011 onwards:

REVIEWS OF SELECTED DUETS ## = sample score ** = mp3 or video recording

Steinway Grand used in recordings of multi-hand piano duets
Steinway Grand Model A 188 (1909 New York) at the Monument House, Utrecht, Netherlands used in recording of multi-hand piano duets

Many hands and pianists on one piano – Elizabeth Lauer

Elizabeth Lauer’s Pischna Polka is written for 5 pianists, one hand each. Five men tried it in San Francisco while 2-men, 2 women tried it in Utrecht only to find that a 5th person was needed. Lauer also sent two arrangements (Berlin & Gottschalk) for multi-hand piano duets that were sightread in Netherlands.

One of the most enthusiastic responses to my Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets came from composer Elizabeth Lauer. She responded to the multi-hands aspect of a duet.

“What about one piano, five pianists, one hand from each?  The one in the middle should be, preferably, a hipless wonder.”

I replied, “That’s exactly the sort of fun duets we’re looking for – playable, many hands, and fun!”

She e-mailed. “Well, I cannot find the Pischna Polka anywhere, but I’ve sent out e-mails to anyone who might have the score.  The basis of the piece is one of the Pischna piano exercises, which roams around the five hands, while whoever is NOT playing this is participating in a rather atonal polka.  It’s fast and about 2.5 minutes long. ”

While she was looking for the polka, Elizabeth Lauer sent me her 8-hands on 2 piano arrangement of Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle, the first 10 pages of which I sightread with three pianists last Sunday in Utrecht, Netherlands. It’s the subject of another blog post — how we started with two pianists on one piano, three on one, 4 on one, and moved eventually to two pianos on a rainy day in July in Holland. The Gottschalk was a lot of fun, stopped by my hesitation to print the remaining 53 pages from a home printer that was starved of paper and toner.

Lauer also sent me her arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” for 4 pianists on one piano in which some had to recite “I love a piano.” We tried that arrangement here in Holland and discovered that pianists can play but not necessarily recite.

At the Sightreading Workshop and Piano Soiree in San Francisco, five men stood in front of a grand piano and sightread the “Pischna Polka.” When I tried it with the three pianists (seated) here in Holland, I discovered that you really need five pianists (one hand each).

The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer: Five men on one piano in San Francisco, May 2011
The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer: Five men on one piano in San Francisco, May 2011

From Lauer’s programme notes on “The Pischna Polka” written in 1978 and refined in 1998 and dedicated to Walter Hautzig.

My original intent was to compose a piece (using one of the Pischna exercises throughout, wandering up and down the piano, with a spiky polka in — how shall I say? — counterpoint) for piano duet. There was such clamoring for participation that I had to change that cast of characters to five pianists, one hand apiece (with the middle person being a hipless wonder). I ventually gave up my position as player, and did the page-turning for the (then) hand-written score.

The 11-page polka moves along quite fast at quarter note = 68. The challenge is getting all the 16th note scales in sync. Imagine getting all five pianists to play together — with one hand each!

Extract from The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer
Extract from The Pischna Polka by Elizabeth Lauer