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TOY PIANOS, POOR TOOLS: VIRTUOSITY AND IMAGINATION IN A LIMITED CONTEXT

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Abstract

The toy piano is fast becoming a concert instrument in its own right, with its own (growing) body of repertoire that has moved well beyond John Cage's 1948 classic Suite for Toy Piano. There are dedicated musicians specialising in toy piano performance all over the world, and numerous composers producing new works written specifically for the toy piano. This unusual miniature instrument provides a respite from the traditional implications of the grand piano, breaks the ice with audiences and allows pianists to perform in locations that would otherwise be inaccessible. In this article the author introduces the history and mechanism of the instrument, performance considerations, extended techniques and approaches to working with electronics, recent repertoire and suggestions for performers and composers. Discussion is supplemented with musical examples.

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1 Some of the other toy piano brands include Jaymar (taken over by Schoenhut), Michelsonne (discontinued) and Kawai (rare).

2 See http://toypiano.com (accessed 8 February 2017).

3 Maggie Williams, ‘Child's Play’, in International Piano (March/April 2007). Available at www.isabelettenauer.com/en/reactions/childs-play-international-piano (accessed 8 February 2017).

4 http://essl.at/bibliogr/toypiano-KHE.html (accessed 8 February 2017).

6 The author's performance is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xYrGQ1wiWI (accessed 8 February 2017).

7 For example, pieces such as ‘Snug as a Bug in a Rug’ from Toy With Me for two toy pianos by David Smooke requires the duettists to move very close together to share one toy piano, four hands (www.davidsmooke.com/programnotes/toy.html (accessed 19 February 2017)).

8 www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-pfDHzWfts (accessed 8 February 2017).

9 Karlheinz Essl, Sequitur V (available from the composer, 2008); Monica Pearce, Damask (available from the composer, 2016); Yfat Soul Zisso, Recollection (available from the composer, 2016).

10 Karlheinz Essl, Pachinko, 2013, and Miles to Go, 2012 (available from the composer); Perales Carlos D., Baby Squirrel (Barcelona: Brotons & Mercadal, 2014).

11 Pearce has a number of toy piano works in her oeuvre and is the co-founder of the Toronto-based Toy Piano Composers collective. www.monicapearce.com/the-toy-piano-composers.html, accessed 19 February 2017.

12 Timothy Roy, Wunderkind (available from the composer, 2012).

13 While it is impossible to list the full range of available repertoire, other imaginative recent solo pieces for toy piano to explore from the author's repertoire include works by Sean Clancy, Alvin Curran, Christopher Fox, Andrew Lewis, Clio Montrey, Lauren Redhead, Howard Skempton, Ken Ueno, Errollyn Wallen and Michael Wolters.

14 Stravinsky Igor, Poetics of Music (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 36 .

15 David Smooke, ‘Extended Toy Piano’, in New Music Box (15 November 2011), available from www.newmusicbox.org/articles/extended-toy-piano/ (accessed 27 February 2017).

16 Joe Cutler, La maison de Fred (Contemporary Voices, BMIC, 2001) and Andrew Hamilton, More (available from the composer, 2015).

17 Email correspondence with the author, 19 February 2017.

18 For example, see Karlheinz Essl, Miles to Go (available from the composer, 2012).

19 Smooke, ‘Extended Toy Piano’.

20 Pestova Xenia, ‘Approaches to Notation in Music for Piano and Live Electronics: the Performer's Perspective’, in Live-Electronic Music: Composition, Performance and Study, ed. Sallis Friedemann, Bertolani Valentina, Burle Jan, Zattra Laura (New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2017).

21 Patricia Alessandrini and Xenia Pestova, ‘Creating Music for Bodies, Instruments, and Objects: Live-Generated Scoring for Inclusive Interactive Performance’. Presented at Notation in Contemporary Music: Composition, Performance, Improvisation, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2014.

22 http://essl.at/works/kalimba.html#analysis (accessed 18 February 2017).

23 http://essl.at/bibliogr/ettenauer.html (accessed 19 February 2017).

24 http://essl.at/bibliogr/toypiano-KHE.html#seq (accessed 8 February 2017).

25 http://littlebits.cc (accessed 15 February 2017).

26 Other notable pieces for toy piano and electronics include works by Derek Hurst and Lou Bunk recorded by the author on Shadow Piano (Innova Recordings, INNOVA874, 2014).

28 Examples include the music of Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman, who frequently employs the toy piano in ensemble and orchestral contexts; specialist ensembles using toy instruments such as Male Instrumenty in Poland founded by Pawel Romanczuk; concerti for toy piano by Matthew McConnell and David Smoke.

29 www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5jEcOvzZys (accessed 8 February 2017).

30 Bret McCabe, ‘Peabody's Smooke Debuts Toy Piano Concerto Inspired by Dollhouses, Murder’, in Hub (23 April 2014), available from http://hub.jhu.edu/2014/04/23/smooke-nutshell-peabody/ (accessed 19 February 2017).

31 www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06sgxjp (accessed 8 February 2017).

32 www.margaretlengtan.com (accessed 8 February 2017).

34 Roberts Paul, Images: the Piano Music of Claude Debussy (Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1996), p. 8 .

35 Maggie Williams, ‘Child's Play’.

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Tempo
  • ISSN: 0040-2982
  • EISSN: 1478-2286
  • URL: /core/journals/tempo
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