Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 PIECES FOR CHILDREN - Dmitri Kabalevsky

10 songs in about six minutes?

That shouldn't tax anyone's attention span, even a child's. What you'll hear may sound more like piano for a Charlie Chaplin short than "classical music." No wonder. Kabalevsky began his career at the keyboard in St. Petersburg theaters, adding music to silent movies!

The reason for an all-classical set this time? Well, the blog IS designed to shine a light on obscure stuff that is actually worth hearing in any category. Well, any category I care about. This entry may also have nostalgia appeal as well. For many piano students, Dmitri (not Dimitri) Kabalevsky was the first composer they could master.

While the guy couldn't exactly compete with past masters Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, neither could anyone else. By the last half of the 20th Century, "classical" music was done. Along with painting and sculpture, all that most moderns could do was fuck things up with discord, bizarre shit and experimentation. No way could they add to the perfection of previous centuries, so they just pushed Darwin on his ass and began doing stuff that had observers grumbling, "hey, even a child could do that!" It's called "art" but rarely is. Kab, at least, who passed away fairly recently for a great master (1987) tried something more creative. He composed a lot of legitimately good classical music FOR a child to play. Or even more advanced students. These are probably the most popular things he composed, along with "The Comedians Suite." But the days of attempting a symphony that could compare with the masters…that was over. (With a nod to Kab's contemporary Prokofiev, best known not for any symphony or concerto but accessible suites involving "Three Oranges" and "Lt. Kije.")

There was never a shortage of classical pieces for kids to practice with, but before Kabalevsky most of this was simplified versions of "The Moonlight Sonata" or bare-bones arrangements of symphonic melodies. While it was nice to be able to fool some relative with what sounded like Mozart, it was a little more satisfying to play something not so well known, and a bit more fresh and contemporary. I know this from experience…as I enjoyed playing some of the Kabalevsky pieces in the download below….along with things like "The Wild Horseman" and "The Happy Farmer," both from Robert Schumann, one of the few major composers to give his pupils some exciting but easy compositions to play.

The ten easy pieces below (and Kab wrote dozens more of them) starts with a favorite of mine, "A Sad Tale," which is far sadder the way I play it. There's just a brief pause between each 40 or 50 second tune, most intended to educate a kid on a particular music form (like "Rondo" or "Scherzo," which seemed the same to me). Some little songs led potential kiddie-composers to perhaps try and illustrate an emotion or activity with their own tune, though the result was probably more "Clowning" than anything else. The complete rundown:

A Sad Tale, Old Dance, Cradle Song, Little Fable, Clowning, Rondo, Toccatina, A Little Prank, Scherzo, and March.

Once we all mastered this stuff, we either gave up, or moved on to "real" piano playing, seeking out the actual manuscripts a Horowitz or Brendel used in the recording of a "real" sonata. And along with Vladimir and Alfred, we somehow never thought to play our sweet Kiddie Klassics ever again in front of an audience. That's why it's not easy to find Kabalevsky's student-oriented piano studies on vinyl or compact disc. The ten here come from an old Musical Heritage 12 inch, as performed by Armenian-Turkish pianist and Victor Borge sidekick Sahan Arzruni.

TEN EASY PIECES Dmitri Kabalevsky

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