Piano Literature Corner

Welcome to the University of Michigan Piano Literature Corner, curated by Associate Professor Matthew Bengtson. These materials are intended both for SMTD use and as public educational outreach. We hope they will be of interest to both students and teachers, and to amateurs and professionals alike. Various projects for this website continue to be developed, including presentations on Beethoven, Mozart, Scriabin, Bartók, the 20th century mazurka, and various other topics.

Browse our projects using the menu. You can browse through the video playlists by scrolling vertically on them.

Funding to support the creation of these materials has been provided by an SMTD Block Grant, the CRLT Instructional Development Fund (IDF), the SMTD Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the Robert Glasgow Keyboard Faculty & Keyboard Caretakers Fund.

Professor Bengtson’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Series entitled “Exploring Piano Literature: the Piano Sonata” is available on Coursera.

Frédéric Chopin – Mazurkas

Solo recital programs of the world’s most renowned pianists frequently used to offer mazurkas, especially Chopin’s mazurkas, as standard fare. However, these wonderful works are rarely performed nowadays. The mazurka tends to be considered one of the most elusive of genres to understand, and a difficult one to perform idiomatically. The entire genre seems to have been shrouded in a cloak of mystery. There is a long-standing myth that one needs to be born Polish to be capable of feeling the natural flow of the rhythm of a mazurka, or of understanding its deeper psychological meaning.

The video conversations in this section will consider the mazurka genre from the standpoint of its folk and dance origins, while considering the significance of Polish nationalism. They will show that mazurkas were not always better understood in their own time than they are now. A selection of recorded performances by UM faculty will suggest that these works remain vibrant recital repertoire for the audiences of today.

We hope these materials will help to demystify the mazurka, and to encourage more pianists to take them on. Thanks to Associate Professor and Chair Christian Matijas Mecca and Slavka Jelinkova from the Department of Dance and to Professor Arthur Greene of the Department of Piano for their insights, research, and collaboration in this project.

Claude Debussy

Among composers of solo piano music, there are none more cross-disciplinary or contextually rich than Claude Debussy (1862-1918). English-speaking performers and listeners can make their experience of this music much more vivid by studying the literature on this subject, especially by Roy Howat, Paul Roberts, Jane Fulcher, Catherine Kautsky, and Leon Botstein, and also by Marguerite Long in translation.

This section of the website presents insights gleaned from these authors in the form of pre-concert talks and performances held in the centennial year 2018. They are presented in coordination with a variety of visuals that can help to illustrate Debussy’s imaginative world. We hope they will bring you a fuller understanding of this extraordinary repertoire, which forms one of the most important stylistic foundations of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Karol Szymanowski

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was not just a giant of Polish music, but one of the most impressive composers of his era, one of the richest in the whole history of music. Nevertheless, his piano works remain quite little-known to music lovers. Together with the video “Karol Szymanowski and the Rebirth of the Piano Mazurka,” this video will serve as a broad introduction to this repertoire, to Szymanowski’s rapidly-evolving style, and to the wide range of cultural inspirations behind his creations.

This project was made possible by an SMTD Block Grant and a Faculty Research Grant.

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An Introduction to the Piano Works of Karol Szymanowski (56:18)

Karol Szymanowski’s 22 splendid mazurkas are among the essential works written in the genre. These short pieces also represent an ideal entry point for music lovers who wish to play Szymanowski’s music, or who simply want to listen and get to know his style. Please see also the videos on Chopin’s mazurkas and “An Introduction to the Piano Works of Karol Szymanowski,” also on the Piano Literature Corner.

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Karol Szymanowski and the Rebirth of the Piano Mazurka (49:56)

George Walker

George Theophilus Walker (1922-2018) was among the most important trailblazers among African-American musicians of the twentieth century. At a time when blacks were not represented on concert stages as either performers or composers, Walker excelled in both fields, earning international management as a pianist and carving out a successful career as a composer that culminated in a Pulitzer Prize. Walker’s career is a model of excellence worthy of the aspiration of musicians of any race, gender, or creed.

Walker’s five piano sonatas, which range from the 1950s to 2003, rank among the important works in the genre during that period. They form an excellent introduction to this composer’s musical world.

This project was supported by a grant from the SMTD Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

George T. Walker: An Introduction to the Piano Sonatas // Presented by Matthew Bengtson (14:36)

George T. Walker: Piano Sonata no. 5 (2003) // Performed by Matthew Bengtson (5:44)