4 composers who delved into the world of four-handed piano music

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By Alec Coles-Aldridge

18 February 2019

Royal College of Music graduate Alec Coles-Aldridge explores the four-handed works of Schubert, Fauré, Mozart and Brahms.

Google is full of bizarre search suggestions and odd search results. 


Take the piano for instance. Google comes up with the following suggested searches: Can playing the piano make your hands larger? Are my hands too small for the piano? Will I fail at the piano if I have small hands? Naturally, one may add four-handed piano music to this category of bizarre internet suggestions. Ironically, one does not even need a hand to count the number of four-handed people they have met. Four-handed piano music is a serious genre of music. Two musicians sit side by side at a piano and become one complete four-handed musician. Once you start to explore the world of four-handed piano music, the doors are open to a rich pile of music from many of the most highly regarded composers to live. Debussy, Stravinsky, Schubert and Mozart are just a few of the musicians who have composed four-handed piano music.

 

1. Fantasia in F minor - Schubert

To give you an idea of the riches that lay in the vaults of four-handed piano music, one need only turn to Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor. (amazon affiliate link) This powerful five-movement composition begins with a hauntingly beautiful melody. The subsequent movements bring their own special flavours that are worth tasting. The Allegro Vivace (movement no. 3) delivers a frightening blow of energy that drives forward with no let-up. The 1984 recording of Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu playing this piece below is worth exploring.

 

2. Dolly Suite - Fauré

Another piece that must be mentioned is Fauré’s Dolly, which appeared back in issue 38 of Pianist. This piece consists of short movements that mark the life events of the composer’s mistress’s daughter (Dolly). The first movement marks Dolly’s birthday and is well-known for being used in the BBC Radio programme Listen to Mother. The following five movements mark other birthdays, New Years Day and even pets. The final movement is a brisk and lively Spanish dance. It is certainly worth a listen.

 

3. Sonata for Four Hands in C - Mozart

Of course, no account of four-handed piano music would be complete without Mozart’s Sonata for Four Hands in C. The piece was composed by Mozart, age nine, when he visited England during his 1765 tour of London. Mozart allegedly played this piece with his sister Nannerl, with one report stating “the two children will play together on the same harpsichord”. 

Anna and Giorgi Latso give a magnificent performance of the Sonata below.

 

4. Sixteen Waltzes - Brahms

Brahms also added to the genre of four-handed piano music with his Sixteen Waltzes, which he dedicated to the music critic Eduard Hanslick. Each of the waltzes is a short, one-and-a-half minute long treat. Brahms chose the waltz genre after hearing about the popularity of the Waltz in Vienna during the late nineteenth century.

Listen to pianist Antti Siirala's performance of it below.

 

Multi-handed piano music has become more popular in the 21st Century than it ever has been in previous centuries. Want to continue learning? Issue 99 of Pianist features 5 duet scores inside, along with a host of interviews with top duos from around the world. Don't miss out! Get your copy here.