HomeEducationLCME Piano Syllabus: Grades 6, 7 & 8

LCME Piano Syllabus: Grades 6, 7 & 8

Welcome to your essential resource for acing the London College of Music Exams (LCME) Piano Syllabus for Grades 6, 7, and 8. This blog offers invaluable insights into technical work, supporting tests, recommended repertoire, and alternative works in the syllabus to fully prepare piano students or teachers for the LCME Piano examination. From getting to grips with new techniques to selecting the perfect musical pieces, read on to find out more!

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By Katrina Fox, Amy Wakefield, Karen Marshall, and Murray McLachlan

Grade 6

LCME Piano Handbook Grade 6

Headlines for the level:

  • An impressive selection here with music that is potentially going to be loved for a lifetime
  • Teachers need to be very aware of music that may be too challenging for the grade especially where technique is concerned as benchmarking is variable. The Anthology again provides the choice to balance this
  • Core repertoire isn’t in abundance here, but brilliant pedagogical material is. Teachers would do well to use easier core repertoire to develop sight reading alongside to maintain stylistic awareness over a broader time period
  • Repertoire here is particularly suitable for concerts and festivals

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

The aural is more similar to Trinity exams here and does dig deeper into the content of the music but no questions on style. Cadences and modulations are again covered. The discussion again is broad and a ‘cover everything’ approach would be wise. Sight reading is logical and accessible. A massive jump in the scale requirement with over 50 shapes, compared to just 30 in the previous Grade. Again, an excellent range, tricky keys here including F sharp major although it’s not a difficult scale as it fits so easily under the hands. Now you have to do two studies instead of one, they’re not quite as accessible as the Grade 5 one. They certainly aren’t an easy option to the scales this time, the one packed with arpeggio shapes is quite a workout!

Repertoire

Choices outside the Graded Album are indicated. Anthology (Anth), Alternatives (Alt)

Musically Nutritious

A – Jigg from Suite No. 3 in B flat (Alternative)

B – Baba Yaga (The Witch) by Tchaikovsky

C – Le Pastour by Grovlez Additional piece: Une Larme by Mussorgsky

Safe Choice

A – Invention No.14 in B flat

B – Columbine Dances by Martinu (alternative)

C – Blackberry Jam by Milne Additional piece: A Lighthouse in the Fog by Linn

Recital, festival, or Concert

A – Presto (1st movement) from Sonata No. 7 in A by Arne (Alternative)

B – Clouds by Takemitsu

C – Comptine d’un autre été: L’après-midi from Amélie by Tiersen Additional Piece: Like Blue by Previn

Invention No. 14 in B flat by J S Bach

A very solid Grade 6 choice that’s repeated motif makes it manageable to play once the rhythm has been mastered and there’s good control in the fingers. Finger dexterity is essential along with a steady constant tempo throughout. A detached touch for quavers works well here, contrasted against a legato touch in the opposite hand. Sounds very impressive when played with a bright energetic style, much to enjoy here!

Rondo by Dussek

A Rondo form by its very nature enjoys a great deal of repetition so even though five pages, do point this out to students. Maintaining the stamina throughout the piece does require a certain student. There’s lots of excellent material in here but developing finger work, balance of melody accompaniment and mastering dotted rhythms but this is quite challenging for the grade in terms of its quantity. Technically it is accessible with minimum octaves.

Bagatelle Op. 5 No. 9 by Tcherepnin

This two-page piece packs a punch in terms of musical and technical content to develop an early advanced pianist. This piece is a study in staccato playing and would benefit from chromatic scales practised (with a staccato touch) at speed alongside the preparation (especially if your student is playing the two studies instead of scales). This is very much 20th century music with a sound world to match, students can enjoy playing this piece more than listening to it. Much can be gained from exploring it technically and musically.

Mazurka in C by Chopin

This is arguably one of Chopin’s most attractive Mazurka; however, perhaps at this level his Preludes are more accessible? The ornamentation is very challenging, and it really would have helped teachers to provide the notation. Judicious pedalling is required along with balance of melody and accompaniment with the ability to portray the sense of style required for a Mazurka. Approach with caution and only with the most able students.

Une Larme by Mussorgsky

This piece is gorgeous! However again for the more able student but manageable within the grade. There are some large leaps in the left hand (first section) which require careful choreography and care to ensure no tension develops in the hands and fingers. Take careful note of the changes in tempo and the different moods of the sections. The title means ‘a teardrop’, which is a very accurate description of the music. It is so truly lovely and well worth playing, wonderful to see this here.

Clouds by Takemitsu

How wonderful to have this piece here. There are challenges in rhythm and voicing to ensure the melody and accompaniment is balanced well but a fantastic opportunity to grow as a pianist. Breaking the parts down and working on them individually will really help in the initial learning process. Effective pedalling will add enormously to the piece. Teachers are best to put in some suggestions for students if they struggle to intuitively pedal the music. Many students will be unlikely to have encountered this genre before, so it’s an excellent experience to do so!

Like Blue by Previn

Do ensure your student hears the orchestral performance of this piece here:

Even some body percussion improvised as they listen will really help to encourage the rhythmic sense essential for a good performance of this music. Watch out for the tricky rhythms and practise these away from the piano. These can so easily be mis-leant. Lots of fun and will be enjoyed by many.

Le Pastour by Grovlez

Students love this piece of music and it’s been used at concerts and festivals for some time now and of course a previous ABRSM Grade 6 piece. Very haunting and expressive. Challenging sections appear in one hand at a time making it also technically very accessible. A light touch, care with rhythms and attention to the voicing and sound world results in something extremely beautiful. One to be truly enjoyed!

Allegro by Berkeley

Also appearing in the Anthology, this piece needs great care given to the rhythm and articulation. Frequent time changes at speed with a detailed score makes this a harder choice in the book. Packed with musical and technical content, there’s much to be enjoyed here. Do make sure though that the students are technically able enough to attempt it to avoid any strain in the large leaps.

Alternatives in the syllabus, one’s to take a look at:

A – The Presto by Arne is a beautiful harmony and the Jigg by Chilcot is also a lovely example of the Baroque period and is enjoyed by students. Allegro Assai by Mendelssohn is also worth a try, fantastic for developing overall technique.

B – Columbines Dance by Martinu is very accessible and extremely safe to play in an exam, it is expressive and catchy but technically not too demanding. It’s been used in ABRSM and other boards before. Valse by Prokofiev again is extremely attractive and playable – it’s also available in the Anthology. The Witch (Baba Yaga) by Tchaikovsky is a challenge but brings about many rewards to the player.

C- Blackberry Jam by Milne is an extremely accessible, very likeable jazzy piece with a fantastic catchy tune. With lots of similar motion playing but with lots of jazzy scale colour it’s one to definitely check out for the right candidate. One must also give a special mention to Comptine d’un autre été: L’après-midi from Amélie by Tiersen a massive hit with students generally, the LH is a challenge as is the RH in parts with the part playing. Great care must also be taken to ensure the performance is musically varied and interesting, but teens truly love this one. The video below (The Piano – Amazing Short) is extremely touching where the music is used in the background. It needs to be used sensitively especially if a child has recently experienced loss, but it does help to encourage expressive playing and can give deeper meaning.

Anthology – for list B and C only

LCME Piano Anthology Grades 5 and 6

B – Capricho Catalan by Albeniz, substantial in length but very playable. Brilliant for working on balance on melody and accompaniment, pedalling, chord voicing and preventing a bashing repeated thumb! Much can be gained by hearing the piece performed on the guitar found here:

Klavierstuck by Max Bruch is also very attractive and a good piece to build skills for a more difficult romantic repertoire.

Londonderry Air (Trad.) Arranged by Cornick brings Folk music to this list, it first may appear very easy but don’t be fooled, some complex voicing here at times which excellent fingering required.

C- The Lighthouse in the Fog by Linn is an excellent educational piece of writing in an impressionistic style. You need ideally an acoustic piano for this one, which is incredibly expressive and a wonderful sound world. Elite Syncopations, Joplin, Arranged by Tuner is a rare Jazzy piece on this list. Not easy but lots of fun!

Grade 7

LCME Piano Handbook Grade 7

Headlines for Grade 7

  • Potentially inspirational option of two substantial, significant studies (a rarity of exquisite beauty from Louise Farrenc and a dexterous left hand challenge from Czerny) 
  • Considerable number of tried and tested pieces that have appeared in past grade 7 syllabuses 
  • Outstanding rarities from female composers 
  • Wide range of repertoire overall, though with less options from late 18th century repertoire

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

Though we all know that a thorough and comprehensive knowledge and facility with scales and arpeggios is essential for technical control and basic musical awareness, there is no question that ABRSM and Trinity demand much less in terms of quantity in this area than the current LCM syllabus does.  At grade 7 the list of keys expected (piano and forte, legato and staccato) is impressively wide-ranging and is certainly worthy for many to pursue- time permitting. But it seems strange to offer as an alternative to this well-constructed throw-back to the old days of ABRSM the option of playing two challenging studies. Étude work is a different genre entirely. Surely most teachers would ideally hope that students could take time to practise scales alongside their study repertoire. In any case, Farrenc’s op. 26 no. 7 is a challenging chromatic legato essay which certainly could develop understanding of fingering as well as flexibility, balance and co-ordination. Czerny’s D minor op. 740 no. 37 is much better known, requiring a supple left hand wrist and filigree passagework if it is to be realised with the appropriate élan and quasi-scherzando characterisation.  

In the Viva Voce section, it is encouraging to see that knowledge of the chosen repertoire’s historical context is expected along with an understanding of harmony, theory and technique. This latter is especially noteworthy: Candidates are intriguingly asked to ‘explain finger placement and posture on the keys and how these factors can change tone colours’. This seems admirably progressive when compared to other examination boards! Aural tests are more traditional, with specific requirements relating directly to how the analytical basics of a short passage are processed, assimilated and recalled.  The sight reading requirements may appear ‘easier’ than the comparable tests for Trinity and ABRSM, but the nature of this section is rather different than in the other boards- candidates are given a whole minute to come to terms with tests that (in the LCM handbook at least) are never more than two lines long.  What we really have therefore is a ‘quick micro study test’ rather than a sight reading component as such.  Candidates at grade 7 LCM have far more time to prepare this section of the exam than they do at ABRSM (30 seconds maximum). Some could say that this makes LCM ‘too easy’, but there is another way of viewing things: It could be   argued that it is actually far more important for students to develop considered quick study skills rather than instantaneous facility with literal sight reading, as this is perhaps more directly relevant to the challenges of working in the music industry itself.

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious 

List A: Haydn Moderato from Sonata (Divertimento) in B flat Hob.XVI/2 

List A: Modesta Bor Fuga no. 1 

List B:  Kjerulf Wiegenlied 

List C: Richard Lambert Ostinato Download 

Safe Choice 

Alternative List A: Handel Allemand from Suite no. 3 in D minor 

List B Janáček: A Blown Away Leaf (On an Overgrown Path) Alternative List B: Liszt No. 1 or No. 2 from Five Pieces S 192 

Anthology List B: Bartók Merry Andrew  Alternative List C: Norton Shiba Mo (from Eastern Preludes Collection)

Recital, festival, or Concert 

List A: Kabalevsky Presto from Sonatina in C, op. 13 no. 1 

List B: Pejačević Lilies from Blumenleben 

List C: Gershwin ‘S Wonderful  Alternative List C: Joplin Magnetic Rag

List A: Fuga No. 1 Bor 

In List A the exhilarating Fugue from Modesta Bor would make an excellent first approach to fugal playing for many a student. Its non-legato figuratations certainly make fingering easier-though there are still considerable co-ordination and technical issues present if the piece is to emerge convincingly at the marked ‘Allegro giusto’. Perhaps this is a challenge which only the most ambitious and hardworking grade 7 students would be willing to undertake.  

List A: Moderato from Sonata (Divertimento) in B flat Hob.XVI/2 Haydn 

It makes sound pedagogical sense for a player at this level to study a substantial but manageable sonata allegro movement, and this well-loved Haydn piece has fit the bill for many generations of students.  It is tuneful, memorable and satisfying to study and teach. Though it requires a firm control of pulse through contrasted rhythmic groupings the ornamentation is never technically overwhelming.  Students need to focus on tonal balance, co-ordination between the hands, and rhythmic discipline in order to successfully unify the movement into a cohesive whole.   

List A: Presto from Sonatina in C op 13 no. 1 Kabalevsky 

This is an excellent vehicle for technical development, requiring excellent agility, rhythmic focus and variety of touch within an essentially non legato texture throughout. It has regularly appeared on grade 7 syllabus’s over the years. Though a sizeable challenge for many players, it has proved to be extremely effective for developing pianistic confidence. Once mastered it can make an excellent ‘showstopper’ at concerts.  

List B: Wiegenlied from 3 Pieces op. 4 Kjerulf 

The Norwegian Halfdan Kjerulf (1815-1868) may not be a familiar name to many of us, but this exquisitely poetic and expansively sonorous fifty-two bar essay in double notes and cantabile pianism is a most welcome inclusion. Caution is the byword though as this choice would not necessarily be appropriate for students with small hands or issues relating to stiffness and tension. Excellent material for cultivating suppleness and tonal balance in the deliciously rich tonality of F sharp major.  

List B: Lilies, op. 19 Pejačević 

The tragic early death of the Croatian pianist-composer Dora Pejačević (1885-1923) unquestionably deprived the world of much fine music.  Nonetheless there are some exquisite and significant pieces for piano available from her authoritative hand, and Lilies makes a strikingly colourful, characterful impression. Confidence with chordal figurations as well as with legato pedalling is essential here. Perhaps the final page left hand arpeggiated flourishes may seem too formidable for students who feel reticent, but at this level hard work and perseverance will unquestionably pay dividends, and this could prove a striking choice for the adventurous.  

List B: Water-Pearls Baines 

Like Pejačević, the Yorkshire composer (1899-1922) died tragically early. He compared himself to Debussy in that he ‘learnt more from the wind than from any master’. Certainly, the light filigree required for his strikingly mercurial ‘Water-Pearls’ (from Silverpoints) makes sense in this context. This is exquisite music that, in the hands of a master-player, could make an extremely striking impression in a professional recital. At grade 7 level however, it is going to take considerable efforts to bring that kind of pianistic conviction and facility to a secure, presentable level. Perhaps this is a choice for the more enterprising candidates only? 

List C: ‘S Wonderful Gershwin 

The immediately engaging and varied miniatures that comprise the anthology known as ‘The Gershwin Songbook’ (hugely popular transcriptions of many universally beloved songs from the great American) is not normally associated with grade 7. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see diploma recital pianists including this vibrant music in their recital repertoire. Caution is again the word here, in music that not only requires rhythmic and pianistic flare to bring off convincingly, but also hands of a certain size: This would not be recommended fare for those who struggle with fast moving double notes and chordal figurations.  Though it is only thirty-two bars long, it would surely have fitted better into the grade 8 list (possibly with another number added on as a requirement) rather than here? 

List C: Ostinato Download Lambert 

A really rewarding find indeed- Richard Lambert’s evocative and immediate writing is perfectly tailored to the level and makes an excellent vehicle for instilling rhythmic discipline into students- with colour. Arresting and unusual, this is a great but manageable essay. Also useful for developing textural balance between different voices.  

Prelude in E flat Minor. Op. 34 no. 14 Shostakovich 

Though this may be inappropriate as a choice for players with small hands, it has proved extremely popular and useful as a grade 7 choice over the years for many students (and for different examination boards). The orchestral writing, evocative of a great Mahlerian Adagio, encourages students to think out of the box, demanding extra-pianistic resources so that sounds can envelope the listener in a terrifying vista.  Inspirational and extremely helpful repertoire at this level.

In the Alternatives

In the list A choices, it is encouraging to see Fanny Hensel’s beautifully crafted ‘Praeludio’, which could be a safe choice for many. The Paradies Presto and Scarlatti Sonata in A K182 will be useful as alternatives to the Haydn from the handbook, whilst the Mozart Presto from the F major Sonata K280 is perhaps too close to grade 8 to be recommended without caution. In the Alternative list B, there is much f enterprise and novelty. Coleridge-Taylor’s Andante in A flat from his op. 71 Suite could prove rewardingly lyrical, whilst the Janáček (A Blown Away Leaf from ‘An Overgrown Path) is surely a sound, safe and reliable option for many candidates. In list C Christopher Norton’s ‘Shiba Mo’ is exotic but could prove a confidence booster, whilst Scott Joplin’s ‘Magnetic Rag’ will always be popular- provided players have confidence to master the necessary challenges of co-ordination. 

In the Anthology

LCME Piano Anthology Grades 7 and 8

Bartók’s ‘Merry Andrew’ is rewarding and relatively easy to come to terms with quickly. Christopher Norton could again prove useful with his attractive but always approachable ‘Prelude 2’ and ‘A steady Hand’, whilst sensitivity and joy in producing dolce sounds will be encouraged through Grovlez’s ‘Petites Ltanies de Jésus’. 

Grade 8

LCME Piano Handbook Grade 8

Headlines for Grade 8

  • Most impressive comprehensive scales/arpeggio list with alternative option of performing two substantial concert studies. 
  • Viva Voce requirement to understand about the historical development of the piano
  • Some challenging repertoire that is more familiar in diploma syllabuses
  • Parity with ABRSM and contrasted nature of lists A, B and C
  • Tried and tested Grade 8 favourites included alongside the unfamiliar

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

There is no doubt that, in terms of quantity of material, LCM currently has the most demanding grade 8 piano scales/arpeggio requirements of all the mainstream exam boards.  The list of keys and permutations is formidable but once mastered, it will surely stand many a candidate in good stead. Having said that, it is disappointing that candidates can offer to totally miss these challenges by playing the well-known concert piece (hardly a technical study) that is Scriabin’s Etude in C sharp minor, op 2 no. 1 along with Louise Farrenc’s rarely aired C minor study, op. 26 no. 25. This latter is a challenge for the left hand, with relentless triplet scale and arpeggio figurations pasted up and down the lower half of the keyboard in particular. It seems rather narrow-sighted to offer only two studies when there are literally dozens of others that could have easily been chosen instead. Perhaps at grade 8 it would have been better to offer a selection of studies from which candidates could choose two of their own choice? In any case, choosing studies such as these instead of scales inevitably transforms the exam into something more in keeping with the character of a performance assessment than a traditional grade eight challenge. Perhaps that in itself will be appealing to many candidates today.  As in grade 7, sight reading is afforded a whole minute of pre-play preparation. Exercises are never more than two lines long.  There is certainly no question about lack of parity here with the other boards- grade 8 LCM sight reading is significantly easier.  The Viva Voce section is inspirational and extends the challenges of grade 7’s innovative requirements effectively. Candidates for ABRSM diplomas are expected to know about the historical development of the piano- and so are LCME grade 8 pianists. They are also asked to ‘describe how to produce singing tone on the piano with reference to your performance pieces’. Most certainly worthy and beneficial questions for grade 8 students to ponder and prepare for!

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious 

List A: Beethoven Allegro from Sonata in F op. 10 no. 2 

List A: Mozart Allegro (first mvt.) from Sonata in B flat, K333 

List B: Rachmaninov Mélodie in E  Alternative List C: Alberga If the Silver bird Could Spea

Safe Choice 

List A: Sibelius Allegro Moderato from Sonatina in F sharp minor op 67 no. 1 

List B: Ned Rorem Barcarolle no. 1 

Alternative List B: Ravel Menuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin  Anthology List C: Arnold (arr York) Scottish Dance no.

Recital, festival, or Concert 

List A: Scarlatti Sonata in C minor K 84 

List B: Bowen: Prelude in E flat List C: Kats-Chernin Alexander Rag  List C: Turina Sacro-Monte from Dances Gitanes

List A: Prelude and Fugue formed on an Indian Scale William Alwyn 

When this work was set for ABRSM grade 8 several years ago it caused quite a stir: Here was an unknown pedagogical gem which combines attractive, memorable figurations with contrapuntal textures that are eminently approachable (with patience and hard work!) by players at this level. The ‘Indian scale’ gives a wistful quasi pentatonic colouring. There is ample scope for expressive expansion in the Prelude, and the fugue is cunningly constructed so that non legato figurations prevent confusion in the busiest three-part passages.  Strongly recommended for rewarding, if intense, lessons and practising.  

List A: Allegro: First movement from Sonata in F, op 10 no. 2 Beethoven  

This has long been a favourite grade 8 examination work- and with good reason.  The opening movement is substantial, written in quasi-string quartet style, with tremendous potential for characterisation, drama and musical engagement. Alfred Brendel famously used the ‘false reprise’ that starts the recapitulation of this movement in the ‘wrong key’ as an illustration of how humour can manifest itself in music, and at this level the wit, energy and sparkle of the figurations can be captured and celebrated within the rock solid structural foundations. 

 List A: Sonata in C minor K 84 Scarlatti 

If Bach’s ‘forty-eight’ forms the musical foundation of keyboard playing, then Scarlatti’s sonatas (over 550) form the technical core of what we do. This is essential music for grade 8 players to tackle- but they must be technically confident and fluent if examination success is to be achieved here. This particular sonata is well known, with exciting arpeggiated figures, double sixths and rapid alternating hand passagework. It evokes organ-like as well as orchestral colours and sonatas and is typical of its author in the way it concentrates a huge range of characterisation and mechanical challenges into an extremely concentrated time frame.   But is it an appropriate choice for your pupil to make in their grade 8 programme? In Scarlatti there is nowhere to hide. If inexperience means it is unlikely that a candidate would feel at ease executing such digital hurdles in the examination room on an unfamiliar instrument, then perhaps this celebrated piece- fantastic as it is- would be best avoided. 

List A: Allegro Moderato from Sonatina in F sharp minor op. 67 no. 1 Sibelius 

Perhaps it would be safer in list A to move away from Scarlatti and tackle something much more exoteric with the rarity that is Sibelius Sonatina in F sharp minor, op. 67 no. 1(first movement). Though Sibelius has had many evangelists in performers (including Glenn Gould and Leslie Howard) who have tried repeatedly to secure the music a firm footing in the standard recital repertoire, the music remains something of an enigma to most pianists. This is a great shame, as there is much here of great interest (over five full CD’s of character pieces).  The F sharp minor sonata opening movement is beguilingly expressive, though spartan fare.  The lean textures allow for use of the sustaining pedal, and though the sound world that results is post romantic, even bleak in overall impression, the musical rewards are considerable.  If the notes are assimilated with secure fingerings and built up from a slow tempo, the music should not let the candidate down on the day! Intriguing fare indeed… 

List B Arabesque, op. 61 Chaminade 

The enormous oeuvre of Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) contains so many charming gems that could prove inspirational and user-friendly for many a budding young pianist to tackle. The G minor Arabesque certainly requires a degree of flair and confidence with sweeping arpeggiated figurations, as well as the ability to control the sustaining pedal with ease and harmonic awareness, but this could prove a very rewarding choice for many candidates in search of melodically persuasive repertoire evocative of the Victorian salon room era.  Though players with small hands may struggle with some of the chordal sequences and left hand octave doublings, the music is extremely user-friendly- typical fare from a composer who clearly had an instinctive understanding and innate awareness of how to layout figurations in order to offer the maximum tactile pleasure to performers.  

Barcarolle No. 1 Ned Rorem  

This is a real find which could prove invaluable as a meaty, memorable yet highly accessible list B piece for many grade 8 candidates. The figurations are approachable for pianists with smaller hands. Musically the harmonies are intriguingly surprising- even though the basic musical language is far from atonal. Pulitzer Prize winning American composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923) writes with a sense of free spirit and originality that embraces tender lyricism as well as musical discovery. Voicing and control of pedal will prove exciting to explore and develop in this charming miniature, a work that seems to reveal more beauties and surprises each time you return to practise it. Highly recommended  

Mélodie in E Rachmaninov op. 3 

This beautifully sculpted morceau brings quasi orchestral sonorities to the keyboard and requires precision, intensity of tone, sensitive voicing, skilful pedalling and awareness of how to project musical shape and structure through the phrasing of the poetic melodic line.  Though it is absolutely correct to set the more approachable Rachmaninov miniatures at grade 8 (other boards have put the E flat minor Elegy into the grade 8 list) care should be taken before candidates opt for what is clearly a considerable musical and technical challenge. The confidence and facility necessary in order to project the requisite flare in this repertoire is not inconsiderable.  This piece may be relatively simple when compared to other works by Rachmaninov, but it still needs energy and confidence in delivery. Projection and a sense of performance are essential prerequisites, so candidates who have smaller tonal palettes and lack projection would perhaps be well-advised not to opt for this particular option in an exam.  

Prelude in E flat op 102 no. 7 Bowen 

York Bowen (1884-1961) has been referred to as ‘the English Rachmaninov’ and his continued neglect remains a great loss to the general music-loving public. Wonderful though it is to see his charming filigree-saturated E flat Prelude on the LCM grade 8 list, I do worry that this is a challenge too much in a graded context. The gloriously glittering bravura and charming élan of Bowen’s figurations (always so elegantly and pianistically constructed) seem much more comfortable when placed at diploma level. Why tax grade 8 players with such technical hurdles as those present in bars 18-26? The relentless left hand arpeggiation needs an effortless sense of control- the likes of which cannot yet be expected from a grade 8 candidate.  Beautiful, searchingly visionary late romantic fare that is surely best reserved for the most talented of candidates.  

List C: Alexander Rag Elena Kats-Chernin 

Here is a really vibrant option.  Candidates in swatch of a truly exciting ‘showstopper’ need look no further.   I was extremely excited and thrilled to become familiar with this quirkily persuasive encore number from Elena Kats-Chernin (b. 1957). This is educational music at its finest- pedagogically nutritious fare, exquisitely crafted pianistically, with lots of musical wrong-footing.  The evocative musical characterisation seems crafted in a post Prokofievian idiom.  Though quick wits and immediate reflexes are prerequisites.   from the would-be executant, the efforts of preparation will be well-rewarded. Colourful, witty and persuasive music that many will enjoy.  

Bar(tik)tok Homages Frances-Hoad 

This is a highly exciting atonal bravura essay with rapidly changing time signatures and exciting opportunities for tonal contrast and characterisation. It moves at a rapid pace and would seem ideal for confident, searching and hard-working candidates in search of strong material not only for examination use, but for inclusion in recital and competition repertoire. Not for the faint-hearted.

Humoresque Shchedrin

Rodion Shchedrin (b 1932) is one of the most distinguished composers of the latter half of the twentieth century. He wrote many short encore pieces for virtuoso pianists in the 1950s and 1960s, including this short, witty and neo-Stravinskian Quasi Polka/March/Romp. It seems close to the neo classical Stravinsky Tango and is most certainly not a natural grade 8 selection. To realise its demands requires control of rubato, touch, rhythm and tonal balance at an advanced level. Though it is admirable to see Shchedrin’s name on the grade syllabus at all, I do worry that this piece is too challenging for anyone below diploma standard to tackle with conviction.

Sacro-Monte Turina

Joaquin Turina’s ‘Sacro-Monte’ from Dances Gitanes,once a favourite option for many ABRSM grade 8 candidates in years gone by, is dramatic, bold, proud and quintessentially Spanish in flavour. It is also mercifully devoid of outsized technical challenges, and its repetitive structure makes the learning process pleasurable and relatively stress-free.  If the music is conceived with flamenco and the world of the guitar is evoked in the imagination, then the process of preparation will be as inspirational as it is pleasurable.  This could be a most effective option for many candidates to choose.

In the Alternatives

In list A, the first movement of Mozart’s B flat Sonata K333 could prove useful. This has frequently appeared on grade 8 syllabuses from various boards over the years. Its characterisation and colours often imply wind instrumentation, and this can be heard at the opening.  Rock solid rhythmic control is vital throughout this music, which also requires precision and delicacy of articulation in equal measure. Discipline and control alongside stylistic understanding are vital. Candidates also need to be aware of how to balance the two hands with sensitivity so that textures remain translucent throughout.  

 In list B Ravel Menuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin is standard concert pianist fare- beautiful, elegantly stylish music that requires tonal sensitivity, rhythmic control, attention to detail and carefully clear pedalling. This piece has appeared in many a past grade 8 syllabus, and candidates today may well also opt to choose this as a piece: Once assimilated and prepared, it can in all likelihood be realised successfully with relative comfort and ease on an unfamiliar instrument during the rigours of an extended exam.  

Especially rewarding educationally from alternative list C is Eleanor Alberga’s ‘If the Silver Bird Could Speak’, a work that first became widely known through its inclusion in the ABRSM ‘Spectrum’ anthology of new pieces (volume 1) back in the 1990s.  This is substantial, rhythmically challenging material that requires considerable patience in the initial learning stages, but which has tremendous pulsating energy and highly persuasive, evocative colouring.  Definitely a work worth preparing carefully.

In the Anthology

It is good to see Granados’ ‘Andaluza’ as an option in list B. This has always been popular with students, and is approachable, evocative and not overly challenging technically.  A safe option for many candidates. The anthology also offers a persuasive alternative in list C with John York’s convincing arrangement of the third of Malcom Arnold’s Scottish Dances. This is lyrical, beguilingly poetic and expansively leisurely fare that poses few technical problems as such. A wonderful choice for sensitive, caring and thoughtful candidates in search of material to show how beautifully they can sing through their fingers.

Perhaps even easier than the Sibelius is John York’s charmingly quaint arrangement of Malcom Arnold’s third Scottish Dance (from the Alternative anthology). Though there are some extended arpeggiated patterns, this is music that charms and enchants without too much technical pressure at all! Players do need to be able to balance chords and use the sustaining pedal with intelligence and sensitivity, but overall, the option of performing this adorable four page miniature would seem most attractive for many indeed.

Christopher Norton ‘Sturdy Build’ from the anthology is guaranteed to get audiences clapping/stamping en masse. As with many a Norton number, confidence with syncopation and a firm sustained control of pulse is essential if this music is to come alive off the printed page.

By Katrina Fox, Amy Wakefield, Karen Marshall, and Murray McLachlan


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