Review: Piano Music by Women Composers, Books 1 & 2

As awareness has increased in recent years, there have been a growing number of volumes of piano music by women composers published. A while back, I explored Her Story, compiled and edited by Karen Marshall and published by Faber Music. Joining those already on the market are these two volumes of Piano Music by Women Composers, compiled and edited by Immanuela Gruenberg and published by Hal Leonard. Book 1 includes 40 upper-elementary to early-intermediate pieces, and Book 2 includes 30 intermediate to upper-intermediate level pieces. Both books contain brief composer biographies.

Harlequin by Amy Beach
Piano Music by Women Composers back of books

Book 1 of Piano Music by Women Composers is, in my view, the most successful of the two volumes. Works by nine women composers are included from familiar names such as Amy Beach, Mel Bonis, Cecile Chaminade, Louise Farrenc and Clara Schumann, to the lesser-known (to me anyway) Fredrikke Egeberg, Emma Hartmann, Marie Jaell and Anna Stubenberg. The vast majority of pieces are just one or two pages long. I found the pieces in this book to be full of character and offer a really nice variety of styles. It should be noted that both books are heavily weighted towards the classical and romantic periods (more so to the latter), in fact, with minor adjustments, I think that in fairness, these books could have been titled Piano Music by Women Composers of the Classical and Romantic Periods.

I’ve played some Amy Beach before, but I found the pieces from her Children’s Carnival and Children’s Album to be fun and youthful. Of particular note, I felt that the pieces included from Farrenc’s 25 Easy Etudes were particularly useful, and I will be interested to explore these further. Whilst it is unfair to make comparisons, overall, the type of pieces in this book very much reflect volumes such as Schumann’s Album for the Young.

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Book 2 of Piano Music by Women Composers features a greater range of composers, from the familiar names once again of Mel Bonis, Cecile Chaminade, Louise Farrenc, Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, to the less familiar Fredrikke Egeberg, Emma Hartmann, Cecile Hartog, Marie Jaell, Natalia Janotha, Josephine Lang, Kate Loder, Marianna Martines, Emilie Mayer, Adele Aus Der Ohe, Fanny Scholfield Petrie, Delphine von Schauroth, Anna Stubenberg, Marie Szymanowska and Stephanie Vrabely.

I was, perhaps, a little disappointed with the variety of pieces included in Book 2. After a while, they began to sound a bit ‘samey’. I didn’t feel that these had the vitality and character of Book 1, so on balance, this volume felt a little ‘flat’. Don’t get me wrong, there are some perfectly nice pieces, and as a cross-section of works by women composers of these periods, they are important books; however, I wasn’t wowed by the choices here. I think I would need to spend more time exploring these, but when there is so much music out there, it becomes a hard choice.

Etude in G major by Farrenc
Piano Music by Women Composers

Overall, Book 1 was excellent, but for me, Book 2 didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the former. They are nicely-presented and well laid-out. The music is clear and the editorial suggestions seem sensible. In the case of both books, I would like to have seen a broader range of musical periods represented (or to revise the title). There is a slight feeling that the compiler went for pieces inevitably out-of-copyright and royalty-free. I’m not saying that’s the case, but I think the selection could have been more varied, particularly in Book 2.

They retail at around £18.99 each which, in some ways, feels quite pricey; however, at around 100 pages per book, we could argue this is fairly good value. That said, for that price, I would have liked more variety in the selections, and that would have, for me, given these books greater longevity; something I might have expected at this price point.

All that said, these are important volumes which should be explored by pianists and piano teachers alike, and hopefully, the selections included will point towards further exploration of the music of the composers represented.

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Piano Music by Women Composers, Book 1 is compiled and edited by Immanuela Gruenberg, published by Hal Leonard, ISBN 9781705147528, RRP £18.99.

Piano Music by Women Composers, Book 2 is compiled and edited by Immanuela Gruenberg, published by Hal Leonard, ISBN 9781705147535, RRP £18.99.

I was sent a review copy of these books free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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