Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Music for children

Today at Emmanuel URC in Cambridge and tomorrow in Ely Cathedral I play(ed) a collection of such music. At the recital today I wore jeans, big muddy trainers, a baseball cap and a hoodie. Trying to be like a child of today, or something. Probably the only classical recital where the soloist looked quite so silly in quite that way...


Erik Satie, Gymnopédie No. 2 is one that never gets taught to kids, who always have to put up with no. 1, but it was written for Conrad Satie, who I hope was Erik’s little son. I haven’t done the research on that one, though!

Yvonne Adair, The Golden Isle. There is a lot of delightful music out there that is not too hard, such as this suite from 1928 that my teacher gave me when I was nine. It begins with a Prelude (The Gulls) that sets the scene from on high. The musical highlight is The Cave, richly evocative and mysterious. The Little Donkeys with Red Saddles are immediately recognisable before we dip into the limpid Venus Pool. With the Wind in the South West comes some scary stuff before calm descends on The Cradle Rock at Dusk with more than just hints of ‘Away in Manger’.

Robert Schumann, Scenes from Childhood, Op.15. This is the classic work about children and for children. Imagine a typical day spent observing or looking after some kids in the holidays… In Von fremden Ländern und Menchen and Curiose Geschichte the parent tells unusual stories to the children before rushing around the house in a game of ‘catch’ (Hasche-mann). One child puts on a pathetic voice to ask for something that is probably out of the question in Bittendes Kind – but, surprise, surprise, whatever it was is forthcoming and they are all quite happy (Glükes genug). A generous and rather grand aunt comes to visit in Wichtige Begenheit, but adult conversation proves too much and the child eventually starts daydreaming (Träumerei). My favourite is Ritter von Steckenpferd – presumably having been released from needing to entertain the aunt, you can now hear the kid rocking furiously backward and forwards in heroic adventures in the playroom, but, being on a rocking horse he gets nowhere fast! As the day wears on some stories and games prove almost too serious (Fast zu ernst) and even a bit scary (Fürchtenmachen) and the childrens’ energy levels drop. So, off to bed for Kind in einschlummern, and the composer has the last word (Der Dichter spricht).

Dimitri Kabalevsky, Sonatina No. 1, Op.13. Much of Kabelevsky’s music sounds as if it was written for children – it has a wonderful circus-like quality and is always entertaining. This mini sonata is almost easy enough for small hands. It has a punchy opening movement, Allegro assai e lusingando, a dark slow movement, Andantino, and a brisk and slightly skinny finale, Presto.

Debussy, Children’s Corner. The children of Debussy’s acquaintance, including the ‘petite Chouchou’ he wrote it for, must have been pretty good pianists. Also quite generous in their musical tastes, in my opinion. I have ommitted the boring, wierd ones from the set (a couple of which are also really hard to play!) and will leave you with the advice that doing your exercises at the keyboard will enable you to reach truly great things (Dr Gradus ad parnassum). Should you get lost when out in the fields, The little Shepherd will give you assistance, and then you can round off the day with a show featuring the inevitable Golliwogg’s cake-walk.