It is extraordinary in what grooves pianists allow their repertoires to run. Any musical evening will show every player ready with the same Chopin waltz, the same Schumann Noveletten, the same Rubinstein, Grieg, and Liszt.
One has had the Bridal March ad nauseam, the Melody in F, too; while Tchaikowsky's Chant sans Paroles, like the poor, seems always with us.
What have we not endured likewise from epidemics of Rachmaninov's Prelude and Sinding's Marche Grotesque? And what of the reigning epidemic of Wagner extracts, and Offenbach's Barcarolle?
Such grooves are dispiriting, but there are ways of getting off these beaten tracks, tracks unworthy of our age and the modern spirit of enterprise.
As a first move let the Scandinavian composers be sought out. At present their names are practically unknown out of their own country, for players have a way of thinking that Scandinavian music begins and ends with Norwegian compositions.
The first handling of a Swedish catalogue is a little puzzling perhaps, for it would seem to err on the side of too many polkas. A necessary explanation is that the word "polka" has very little in common with the dance beloved of early Victorian days. In Sweden it is a covering name for dancing themes of very varied character. One such polka, for instance, might be a slow, sweeping composition with majestic chords; whilst another will bring a piano out as a two-voiced instrument - itself and a violin - so dexterously is the melody carried out in the treble, while the bass provides an accompaniment. In nearly every instance there is a plaintiveness in these melodious polkas that has at the same time strength, and marks them out as different to those languid strains that make the present waltz.
In change to both these given types of polka there is yet another. In this last, one finds a first movement light and tripping for the treble, which is supported by a droning kind of bass. As a second idea, there is a theme of quick, inspiriting phrases in which bass and treble take equal parts. To sum up, there is music enough in these polkas alone for many moods of the player, each and all, distinct from one another and full of spontaneity.
A curious thing to notice in this subject of musical grooves is the little trouble taken by average players to ascertain if the composers of orchestral music devote any of their genius to pianoforte solos such as amateurs could play. In this way Dvorak's delightful waltzes get overlooked, each one of which is a gem. They are suited to any drawing-room audience for the reason that they compel the attention of everybody.
Yet another oversight on the part of the pianist is a minuet in G by Felix Borowski. Its melodic value is of the most alluring kind, and though it calls for delicacy of touch there are no difficulties demanding lengthy practice.
Raff as a piano composer has in certain directions been overdone, but his Tambourin is all too seldom heard. Why not this, and why not Tchaikowsky's charming little series, "Les Mois de l'annee"? Away from his orchestral works, how the creative power of Sibellius flashes out too! His "Romance" literally breathes a new spirit into the piano, and draws from it powers hitherto unrevealed.
Turning now to Brahms, how few really make acquaintance with all his simpler works, it being taken for granted that his compositions can only be approached by those who practise all the day and half the night! It is this false view that deprives a musical evening of his entrancing waltzes, and the Hungarian dances that give out such weird airs and showers of lovely chords. Liszt, too, might be known by his "Consolation" in E major, a delightful little composition which has the emotional rush of the sonnet, and is rarely, if ever, heard in this country.
In approaching the end of these remarks there is yet space to suggest that Chopin's E minor waltz might be played oftener, also his fantasia in F minor; other polonaises than the Grand, too, and the hackneyed C sharp minor one. Of his preludes players cling unnecessarily to the one supposed to imitate raindrops, forgetting the beautiful C major one, first in the book. The noc- turnes are treated in similar fashion, that in E flat being played as though no others existed. Surely the G major masterpiece might sometimes be remembered.
A word to Schumann players yet remains to be said, for verily these should delight their listeners with the brisk little scherzo in B flat. With that incomparable piano solo, too, whose whole character is in its name, "Aufschwung," or, as the English translation gives it, "soaring."
Czardas from Poland and Hungary come often enough into the publishers' lists, but for all that these rippling and stirring compositions are all too rarely heard. They are never difficult, and have that rare quality of pleasing every listener who cares for music at all.