Piano Bulletin (EPTA)

Ignaz Moscheles – Tägliche Studien über die harmonisierten Skalen …

In the nineteenth century numerous books were published with technique exercises, usually based especially on scale figures. Technical studies of this sort were put on the market notably in the nineteenth century, and were characterized by containing many kinds of exercises with varying levels of difficulty. It is certain that those short elementary scale exercises à la Czerny for daily usage have hardly any artistic value. I don’t think it very likely that in our parts many teachers will bother their pupils with them. Opus 107 by Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) would seem to belong in that category of skills exercises, if one goes by its title, which reads in full: Tägliche Studien über die harmonisierten Skalen zur Übung in den verschiedensten Rhytmen. Still, this is a horse of quite another colour, which appears already from the fact that the 59 pieces, published in two parts, were written for piano duet. In practically all exercises the focus is on scales, but throughout presented in different ways. They are definitely not all pieces in étude style: you can also find pieces clearly composed for recital purposes, like dance, boléro and waltz. Gradually, the level of difficulty increases, from elementary C-major scales in equal movement in adagio tempo (nr. 1) to an imposing concert étude full of hurtling chromatic scales up and down the whole keyboard. With the exception of the first four short pieces, with the primo practising basic scales, and secundo taking care of an attractive accompaniment (to be played by the teacher), generally both parts are equally difficult. But it should be noted that in the one piece primo knows the scale passages, and in the other secundo.
As a composer, Moscheles is clearly not in the top range, even though we possess a good deal of well-written and attractive sounding concert literature by his hand. In composing such basic exercises he turns out to be a great master, for with simple material he has created an extremely versatile volume of etudes. It is odd that this material should have been largely forgotten. Indeed, for presentday group lessons practice it is attractive material (though we should bear in mind that it is meant for advanced students, the pieces actually increasing from grade 2 to grade 6 Kloppenburg). It is of course traditional and tonal, but it offers much variety. Students having worked their way throught the 59 pieces will definitely have mastered playing scales. And in the process all kinds of different ways of playing and rhythms are practised in melodious pieces which really have the character of music.

Together with the review copy Bart van Sambeek has sent for our information a photocopied page from Recent Music and Musicians, which contains Moscheles’ memoirs, edited by the composer’s wife Charlotte. In that passage he says he takes extraordinary delight in having his children play scales, and harmonizing those scales in an attractive manner. “Since I accompanied my little girl in the C major scale, I have had an idea running in my head of making a ‘harmonized work on scales’. This is to make the dry mechanical practice of the different scales pleasant to the pupil, and form her taste by hearing a melody; it will also make her a good timist. Such a work might possibly become useful to the world of piano-forte players; the sooner the purely mechanical part of the study is put into the background, the higher will be the cultivation of the artistic element. […] I advice the pupil to practice the scales with both hands, and that too ‘con amore’; the master, who has the responsibility of listening to his pupil while he practices the scales, should not weary over his work. As often happens, both should be agreeably employed, the master in reading his own part and paying attention to that of his pupil, the latter in hearing a rhythmical piece, a melody, and accustoming himself to count, instead of having to run up and down the bare scales. You would not believe with what enthusiasm the children rush at every newly finished piece of the work on scales. Emily naturally acts as Professor; they must play it all even before the ink is dry, and ‘La danse des Fées’ is their favorite.”

It is to Bart van Sambeek’s credit that he, as a music publisher/pianist/teacher has saved Moscheles’opus 107 from oblivion by publishing it in a modern two-volume edition. Bart van Sambeek has applied himself for some years now to the reissue of unknown early nineteenth century piano works in newly set scores, which are always published oblong (landscape) in spiral binding on fine ochre colour paper. As an appendix to the volumes, which have the character of an Urtext, there is an account of the sources.

It has crossed my mind with earlier Van Sambeek Edities, that it is a bit of a pity that this publisher should replace the original and characteristically nineteenth century copperplate printings by modern looking computer type settings. True, it is better readable – if only because it is not splodgy, as is so often the case in photographic reprints, and because the parts that sound together have been printed beneath each other (in manually engraved scores this is not always the case). Still, a facsimile edition of such an old publication looks more attractive and charming than the clinical, present-day text reproduction. In the case of Moscheles’opus 107, however, it is certainly an advantage that Van Sambeek has produced a score so well legible, the more so with a view to its didactic usage. Personally I think that children and adult students can enjoy these pieces as much as ever in the year of 2008, even if they are romantic, and not hip, jazzy, funky or soft.
Christo Lelie