Wiener Urtext in conversation with Nils Franke, author of the Urtext Primo Series

Tell me about the Urtext Primo Series

Urtext Primo is aimed at piano students, teachers and enthusiasts. Each book groups together the works of three composers. This is a thematic link. For example, Volume 2 features the works of Haydn, Mozart and Cimarosa, all of them keyboard players who were active in the second half of the eighteenth century. Volume 4 groups together Schumann, Brahms and Kirchner who were personally, as well as stylistically, connected.

What are Urtext Primo’s unique features?

Each book contains music of diverse technical demands and covers about two to three years of student development. That means that using these books will enable students to return to these collections several times during their studies, ensuring excellent value for money. In terms of the collections themselves, each book contains specific information on performance practice, as well as practice tips. As a series, Urtext Primo offers the combination of standard repertoire with lesser-known works. This gives students access to the most popular works of a composer, as well as the opportunity to play equally deserving but less established pieces.

How would you expect students and teachers to use these anthologies?

This can happen in a number of ways. From the perspective of an ongoing series, I do think that adding one book at a time will soon enable students and teachers to build up a personal library of standard teaching repertoire. Dipping in and out of these books for different purposes can be a useful thing as well. For example, Handel’s Prelude from HWV 437 could be used as a repertoire piece for the development of articulation. It’s an effective piece in performance that and can also double as an opportunity for working on improvisation skills for slightly more advanced players. I think that much of the music selected can serve a variety of purposes, depending on the musical focus of a student’s learning.

What are the repertoire surprises that students and teachers can expect?

There are quite a few! Handel’s keyboard works are fantastic music, yet don’t feature as often in lessons as they should. It’s immensely pianistic writing. Much as Handel as a composer doesn’t need an introduction, quite a few of his keyboard works are yet to be included in the canon of teaching repertoire. Cimarosa’s sonatas in Vol. 2 are quite simply amazing works for students. In fact, if someone had suggested writing music that is short, idiomatic, memorable, and inspired, that would just about summarize these works. And there is more to come. But I don’t want to give it all away now!

Do you have any personal favorites amongst the music published so far?

Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I guess Handel’s Prelude in G HWV 442 for its boldness (yet it is so accessible to young players), Scarlatti’s Sonata K. 95 for its hand crossings, Haydn’s Andante in A Hob. I:53/II for its musical variety, and Cimarosa’s Sonata C. 68 for its immediate appeal. But these are very personal choices. I am sure that many students and teachers would chose different pieces in these books, but for equally valid reasons.

How do you see the series evolve?

As the series progresses it will cover music form the 18th century to 20th century compositions, thereby giving students access to a wide range of music that has been compiled to form the basis of a structured piano curriculum. The idea is not, of course, to do this in a prescriptive way. Instead, I like the idea of giving students and teachers access to music that has been graded, so that players can then construct their own overall curriculum from a range of options instead of following a more rigid approach. As someone who has taught piano for many years, and has worked with piano teachers for fifteen years, I recognize the importance that repertoire knowledge and selection can have in a piano lesson. Finding music that captures a player’s imagination is an immensely powerful tool for learning, and for a student’s success in playing the piano.

What are you working on now?

The content of Vol.5 is already selected and the focus of Vol.6 is defined. I am currently playing through a selection of teaching pieces by a range of mid to late19th century composers. Quite apart from the sheer pleasure of getting to know more music, I am continuously surprised by the diversity of musical invention. And for every 10–15 pieces played, there is one quite exceptional. All good material for the ongoing Urtext Primo database!