HomeUncategorizedEditor's Choice: Hand-Picked Sheet Music Every Musician Will Want This Christmas

Editor's Choice: Hand-Picked Sheet Music Every Musician Will Want This Christmas

Frozen Planet, Blue Planet, Planet Earth: The Piano Album

Piano solo (intermediate)
Chester Music
George Fenton’s scores to these three BBC Nature epics tend to be remembered only by the opening titles, or some of the particularly moving scenes (the gorgeous snow leopard, the unicorn-like narwhals, the leaping penguins). When you take a moment to really listen to the music — or play it yourself — then you come to realise the depth of what Fenton has achieved. It’s beautiful. The ‘big’ passages make you feel alive, and the more intimate moments have a wonderful sense of space which perfectly suits the piano.
Rock Classics For Jazz Piano

Piano solo (intermediate to advanced)
Wise Publications
I love a bit of jazz. It’s surprisingly fun to play a well-known rock song in an entirely different setting! ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ as a jazz waltz, mashed together with a hint of the rhythm from ‘Take Five’…? Do it.
Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons

Violin solo (advanced) plus piano accompaniment
Chester Music
As with Rock Classics For Jazz Piano (Wise Publications) this takes what you know and reworks it — this time through the vision of acclaimed composer Max Richter. This is really interesting; you know it, but you don’t. Richter manages to build an amazing sense of energy through just a few memorable figures. This publication is for solo violin and piano accompaniment, but offers a download card with backing audio, just in case you don’t have a diploma-level pianist to-hand.
The Library Of Modern Piano Music

Piano solo (intermediate to advanced)
I gain a real sense of pleasure from finding new music that I really like. Everybody does, I’m sure, however for me the experience of first playing and hearing (simultaneously) is especially rewarding. When it’s a novel piece by composer I know then I’m pleased to have found some more of their music, but when I’m also finding a new composer I feel a different thrill — like discovering a new world. This collection brings together both these experiences.
Claude Debussy: Préludes (Books 1 and 2)

Piano solo (intermediate to advanced)
There are a few very well known preludes by Debussy, but my interest is in finding new music! Not many people will be entirely familiar with all 24 pieces; each captures a different side of Debussy’s character and mind, offering a fantastic treasure trove of musical experiences. As my teacher once said, “This is real music”.
Maurice Ravel: Miroirs

Piano solo (advanced)
As with Debussy’s Préludes each piece captures a different part of Ravel, influenced by the sounds of the ocean, birdsong and Catalan rhythms. Though this suite offers a modest five pieces, most are substantially larger in scale and demand technical assurance beyond the most virtuosic of Debussy’s preludes (‘Fireworks’). Beautiful music, very gritty in parts, and worth the time it takes to learn it.
(also see Selected Short Masterpieces)
Sergei Rachmaninov: Complete Preludes For Piano

Piano solo (advanced)
As with Debussy’s Préludes I suspect very few people know all of Rachmaninov’s, at least not intimately. Whereas much of Classical and Romantic music follows a certain familiarity and (to some extent) predictability, Rachmaninov varies his exploration of sound, harmony and the musical narrative in a way which, to me, feels truly visceral. There is an indulgence in playing and listening to his music, but I challenge anyone to not be enticed. This book — a bargain price for a premium collection.
(also see Etudes-tableaux, Op. 33, Op. 39)
Richard Rodney Bennett: Partridge Pie

Piano solo (intermediate)
Novello & Co
Part 2 can be found here.
If you don’t know much or any music by this fantastic English composer then I would suggest starting here. Relatively miniature in nature, each piece from this suite (in two parts) takes a line from the famous Christmas carol and develops a brilliant musical persona. You’ll hear all the characteristic tricks immediately, but look deeper and you’ll appreciate the other subtleties which reveal RRB’s true personality. Great piano music.
Richard Rodney Bennett: Excursions

Piano solo (advanced)
Novello & Co
For me this is the paradigm of Richard Rodney Bennett’s charm. Though thoroughly tonal, the first movement pushes against what does and doesn’t sound ‘nice’, using pleasing shapes and figures combined with interlocking, driving rhythms to propel the music. The sublime moments are brilliantly timed, emerging and vanishing without taking away from the ‘integrity’ of the style. The second movement gives you blues, and the third takes you on a jazzy journey with hints of the big band. If you want more like this then I’d recommend checking out the music of Nikolai Kapustin.
John Adams: Phrygian Gates

Piano solo (advanced)
Circa 25 minutes in length, you’ll need a strong constitution and solid technique to get through this! One of John Adams’ few solo piano works, this gives you the chance to experience the real essence of minimalist music.
(also see China Gates)
Terry Riley: The Piano Works

Piano solo (advanced)
Chester Music
Another ‘founding member’ of minimalism, Terry Riley has taken influence from music all over the world. For most part, people will think ‘In C’ when they think of Riley, but this collection offers an eclectic assortment of his other works, ranging from jazz and rag to Middle-Eastern-inspired improvisation, loops and atonal constructs. I particularly love the ‘Fandango’, but it’ll take some practice to pull it off at full speed!
Francis Poulenc: Nocturnes

Heugel & Cie
Poulenc, Poulenc, Poulenc. I bloody love his music. There is such a clever charm to it, beyond the obvious ‘nice’ sound of the French parlour. Into the harmony he manages to weave a conflict which is sometimes subtle and sometimes not, all the while elevating the emerging melodies. Throughout all of his music he’s been known to frequently disrupt the calm with an almost anti-romantic flavour, but Poulenc’s Nocturnes offer a great introduction to his kinder side.
(also see 3 Novelettes)
Federico Mompou: Musica Para Piano

Piano solo (intermediate to advanced)
Unión Musical Ediciones
I took a recommendation from a trusted colleague to ‘check out Mompou’, as I always rave about Poulenc. There are some wonderful similarities between the two but Mompou manages to express himself in a more intimate fashion, with ideas which are more self-contained, often very free and thought-provoking. This collection brings together some of these fantastic piano miniatures.
Olivier Messiaen: Rondeau

Piano solo (advanced)
Alphonse Leduc
Messiaen writes birdsong-inspired music, yes… but here is one of his early piano pieces which evokes a playful, more traditional form. You can hear the preamble to his later “full bird” style, with echoes of the birdsong gestures tainting the otherwise relatively conventional tonalities. It’s great! Check out this YouTube video of a performance by a twelve-year-old:
Alexander Scriabin: Piano Sonatas

Piano solo (advanced)
Work through each of Scriabin’s sonatas and you’ll be taken on a journey: the breakdown of harmony as we know it. Or perhaps as we knew it. If you’re able to pull off the first couple of sonatas you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re playing Chopin, but as you progress through the sumptuous fourth, brilliant fifth, to the sixth and beyond you’ll start to question where in the musical world you are. It’s a fantastic experience, and a great example of progressive expression at the turn of the 20th century.
(also see Sixteen Preludes For Piano and Keyboard Essentials For Piano)
Francis Poulenc: Sonata For Oboe And Piano

Oboe solo (advanced) plus piano accompaniment
Chester Music
More Poulenc, but this time for oboe. As one of his last endeavours before he passed, this piece almost didn’t  make it to the final editorial stage — thank goodness it did! This is one of my favourite works by Poulenc, encapsulating his talent for lyricism, rich and sometimes ‘despairing’ harmonies, instrumental showmanship and characteristic irony.
(also see other sonatas: Flute, Clarinet, Cello, Violin)
Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces

Chester Music
Vocal Score
One of my first paid jobs was as a page-turner at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Four grand pianos, interlocked, two choirs, four vocal soloists and an array of percussion… all hidden away under a stageful of dancers. This was Stravinsky’s Les Noces — The Weddings. It was all so immediately harsh and dissonant, but the rhythmic drive and the ‘rural’ vocal lines made a really visceral impact on young me. It was raw and it was good. Years later and this is the piece I have to thank for my appreciation of Stravinsky and contemporary classical music.
Other recommendations:
Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio, Mallarmé Poems And Other Chamber Works
Francis Poulenc: 15 Improvisations
Francis Poulenc: Les Mamelles de Tirésias
Federico Mompou: Impresions Intimas
Frédéric Chopin: Ballades

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