What was the first piece of classical music that you were aware of? For people of a certain age, perhaps it was the theme music for ‘Listen with Mother’ – the Berceuse from Fauré’s ‘Dolly Suite’ for piano duet. I think that’s what it was for me, and, in that way that you can’t forget things that you grew up with, it’s probably been at the back of my mind ever since – that soaring melody in octaves, growing from two repeated notes into something quite magical, expanding over the upper half of the keyboard, supported by a simple but memorable broken chord pattern.
Unwittingly, I think that childhood memory was in my mind when I was asked to write some piano duets (four hands at one piano) for a series called ‘I Love Piano Duets’, published by the now-defunct Spartan Press. Mine was Book 3 of the series (other composers wrote the first two) and it was published as Grades 3-5 ABRSM, though some of it might perhaps be a little more of a challenge. I had forgotten about these pieces until someone, very recently, asked me if they could buy a copy, so I found the original files and prepared a new edition – now re-named Six Dances for Four Hands.
It was a very pleasant rediscovery for me, and the six movements cover a range of moods and styles. Looking back now, always in the background is that French tradition of piano duet writing – Bizet, Fauré, Debussy – though possibly with some more upbeat rhythms at times. In fact, the music seems to flow so naturally that I wonder if I veered quite close to these models – if it were too near a mirroring, it certainly wasn’t intentional, and I hope that these light-hearted miniatures might be seen as a kind of homage to those composers, and perhaps to those days when piano duets were more popular than they are today.