Piano Teams

Piano teams. Performers on one piano, four hands (piano duettists); on two pianos (duo-pianists); or on more (eg, the Ten-Piano Ensemble). Most duo-pianists play also as piano duettists, but the larger repertoire has grown around the former for several reasons.

Performers on one piano, four hands (piano duettists); on two pianos (duo-pianists); or on more (eg, the Ten-Piano Ensemble). Most duo-pianists play also as piano duettists, but the larger repertoire has grown around the former for several reasons. The duo-pianist does not share a keyboard or bench; compositions designed for two pianos distribute responsibility and opportunity for display more evenly between the players because neither is limited to the upper or the lower half of the keyboard; and two grand pianos, with the pianists facing one another across them, are more effective visually.

Farnaby, Bach, Clementi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel all wrote duos or concertos for two (or more) keyboards and orchestra or made duo piano arrangements of other works. The genre remained popular and was employed by Saint-Saëns, Parry, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Reger, Stravinsky, Bax, Milhaud, and others. Piano duet arrangements of major symphonies were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not so much for public performance as for exploration and study. Many solo-piano concertos have had their orchestral parts arranged for a second piano, and though the prime purpose of this is to permit a teacher or coach to rehearse with a soloist preparing for a performance with orchestra, the two-piano versions often are played in public as well.

Piano Duos and Duettists

19th Century
There are at least two notable records of duo piano playing in 19th-century Canada. In June 1861, at Montreal's Convent of the Sacred Heart, the young Emma Lajeunesse (Albani) performed her composition, Grand Duo for two pianos, with Gustave Smith. Waugh Lauder, together with visiting pianist Teresa Carreño, performed Schumann's Andante and Variations, Opus 46 for two pianos in Toronto in May 1883.

Larger Ensembles

Early Multi-Piano Concerts
At an 1850s Toronto concert the overtures to Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Rossini's La Gazza ladra were performed by eight hands and twelve hands respectively. The Five Piano Ensemble - Alberto Guerrero, Viggo Kihl, Ernest Seitz, Norah de Kresz, and Reginald Stewart - flourished in Toronto ca 1926. The Ten-Piano Ensemble was founded by Mona Bates in Toronto in 1931 to raise funds for the needy. Its changing personnel comprised the leading Bates pupils; it survived for a number of years and gave many performances during World War II to raise money for the war effort. Evelyn Eby, Millicent Lusk, Alma Sheasgreen (Brock-Smith), and Reginald Bedford were presented by the Lyell Gustin Piano Studios in Saskatoon, 9 May 1928, in a four-piano recital of works by Bach, Chopin, Saint-Saëns, and Tchaikovsky.

Canadian Composers of Multiple-Piano Works and Duets

Grant L. Maxwell wrote in Music for Three or More Pianists (1993): "The Canadian multiple-piano repertoire composed since the early 1960s is astonishingly rich and multifarious."

Among Canadians (besides those previously mentioned) who have written keyboard duos and duets are Jean Anderson, Raynald Arseneault, Edward Arteaga, Maya Badian, Michael Conway Baker, Milton Barnes, Lorne Betts, Wolfgang Bottenberg, Rémi Bouchard, Alexander Brott, Glenn Buhr, John Burge, John Burke, Lloyd Burritt, Christopher Butterfield, Stephen Chatman, Frederick R. Clarke, Michael Colgrass, Clifford Crawley, David Dahlgren, Robert Daigneault, Richard Désilets, Quenten Doolittle, S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté, Jean Ethridge, Douglas Finch, Robert Fleming, Clifford Ford, Daniel Friedman, Steven Gellman, Graham Elias George, Bengt Hambraeus, John Hawkins, Jacques Hétu, Derek Holman, Pierick Houdy, Richard Hunt, Richard Johnston, Udo Kasemets, David Keane, Henry Kucharzyk, Mieczyslaw Kolinski, Gary Kulesha, Alexina Louie, Boyd McDonald, Diana McIntosh, Lubomyr Melnyk, John Metcalf, Michael R. Miller, Barbara Monk Feldman, José-Manuel Montanés, Jean Papineau-Couture, Leon Miodrag Lazarov Pashu, Alex Pauk, Clermont Pépin, Anita D. Perry, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Deirdre Piper, André Prévost, Elizabeth Raum, Dale Reubart, François Rose, Robert Rosen, Petros Shoujounian, Ann Southam, Timothy Sullivan, Keith Tedman, James Tenney, André Villeneuve, Ruth Watson Henderson, and Gerhard Wuensch.

In 1954 Gilles Tremblay premiered his Mouvement for two pianos with Serge Garant, and in 1959 Barbara Pentland premiered her Three Duets after Pictures by Paul Klee (piano four-hands) with Robert Rogers. In 1983 two works for piano four-hands by George W. Strathy were published in volume 1 of Canadian Musical Heritage Society. Also in 1983 François Couture, Paul Helmer, and Louis-Philippe Pelletier premiered Bruce Mather's Poème du délire. Christina Petrowska-Quilico and Casey Sokol gave the premiere of John Weinzweig's Duologue for two pianos at the Music Gallery in 1991. Anne Lauber's Mini Cirque was written in 2001 for solo piano and piano four-hands.

Among Canadians (besides those previously mentioned) who have composed works for three or more pianos are Jack Behrens, Jacques Desjardins, Anthony Genge, Lubomyr Melnyk, Antoine Ouellette, and Juliet Kiri Palmer. Works for two pianos eight-hands were written by Steve Tittle, William Wallace, and Barrie Cabena.

Duet pieces for young pianists were composed by Violet Archer (Ten Folk Songs for Four Hands, 2 volumes, 1969), Linda Niamath (Outer Limits, 1986), Gerhard Wuensch (Canaduets, 1987), and Clifford Crawley (Four Uneasy Pieces, 1994).

Musical Theatre

In 1994, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt formed the company Talking Fingers. They wrote, produced, and acted in the musical drama 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which premiered in 1996 and features two actor-pianists and two grand pianos. The comedy-drama won two awards in its opening year: a Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding production and a Chalmers Award for playwriting. In 1997 2 Pianos 4 Hands was presented off-Broadway and at the Kennedy Centre in Washington. It has toured more than 150 theatres throughout North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Early to Mid-20th Century

Wilfrid Pelletier formed a team with Arthur Loesser to make a series of piano rolls for Ampico, mainly of orchestral reductions for piano duet. One of the earliest Canadian piano teams was that of Reginald Godden and Scott Malcolm, formed ca 1929 and heard in North America and England during the 1930s; their many transcriptions for piano duo added considerably to the repertoire. Etta Coles and Naomi Yanova Adaskin, who formed a team in 1929, made their New York debut in 1934 and continued to perform until 1938 with orchestras such as the Montreal Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, the Promenade Symphony Concerts, and the Rochester Civic Symphony Orchestra.

Winifred MacMillan and Kathleen Irwin performed as a two-piano team in Toronto and nearby cities in the 1930s. In Winnipeg during the 1930s Gwendda Owen Davies performed duos with Mary Scarlett Wood, Cécile Henderson, and Marjorie Dillabough. Possibly the longest-lived of Canadian two-piano teams was the husband and wife Reginald Bedford and Evelyn Eby (Bedford and Eby), who appeared together first in 1938 in Chicago and later in London, New York, and Toronto. They gave their last duo recital in Hamilton, Ont, in 1979. Other teams formed during the 1930s were Gordon Hallett and Clifford Poole, who gave concerts 1936-42 in Toronto and Montreal and were heard over CBC radio; Stanley Gardner and Rose Goldblatt, who performed in recital 1936-45 on CBC Montreal; Alma Brock-Smith and Virginia Johnson, who performed widely and were heard often on radio in the Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco areas; Georgina Russell and Olga Guilaroff, who played in Montreal in the 1930s and 1940s; and Madeline Bone and Elsie Bennett (Mona Bates's pupils), who joined forces ca 1937 and made their New York debut in 1950.

Thelma Johannes O'Neill performed 1943-50 and again during the early 1950s in the Saskatoon area with Edmund Assaly, frequently playing his Suite for two pianos. In British Columbia Phyllis Schuldt and Mary Munn formed a team which flourished 1940-52. Schuldt played 1958-66 with Boris Roubakine, giving the premieres (both ca 1965) of Jack Behrens's Four Pieces for Three Hands and Three Pieces for Four Hands. (Behrens continued to compose works in this genre in the 1980s.) The composer Kelsey Jones and his wife Rosabelle began to play piano duos during the early 1940s and harpsichord duos in the mid-1960s, and included in their repertoire Jones' Theme and Variations (1961) for piano four-hands.

Teams Emerging 1950-69

Several teams emerged during the 1950s. Jeanne Landry performed with Jean-Marie Beaudet and also with Josephte Dufresne, with whom she premiered and recorded Matton's Concerto for two pianos and percussion (RCI 145/5-ACM 29). The duettists Pierre Beaudet and Guy Bourassa began to give public and radio recitals ca 1950 and recorded works by Violet Archer (RCI 113/7-ACM 17) and John Beckwith (RCI 113). Dorothy Morton and Esther Master of Montreal began their partnership in 1955. They were heard live and in radio broadcasts, and recorded Matton's Concerto (RCI 442), as well as works of Chopin, Infante, Schumann (CBC SM-207), and Saint-Saëns (CBC SM-242). They premiered Fiala's Concerto Breve in 1982. Harry Heap and his sister, Margaret Heap Sangster, became known as duo-pianists about that time, appearing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras and playing on the CBC and the BBC.

Husband and wife teams originating in the 1950s or 1960s included Robin Wood and Winifred Scott Wood, who played on radio and TV in Canada and England, and whose repertoire included Wood's two-piano work Pieces; and Margaret Parsons and Clifford Poole, who performed together 1954-65, made a recording (Cap 6088), and edited the Parsons-Poole Duo Piano Series (published by Harris). The internationally renowned duo-pianists Victor Bouchard and Renée Morisset made their debut as a team in 1952 and appeared in Europe, Canada, and the US. Bouchard and Morisset recorded together and in 1964 won a joint Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée. Jacques Hétu's Sonata, Opus 6 (1962) and Fiala's Sonata (1970) were dedicated to them, and they premiered works for orchestra and two pianos by Matton and by Clermont Pépin.

Jocelyn Pritchard and Patricia Kirkpatrick Elliott (b Saskatoon 20 Nov 1919, d Toronto Aug 1977) performed together 1960-8, mostly in western Canada. Their repertoire included Archer's Three Sketches for Piano (1957), Talivaldis Kenins' Folk Dance, Variations and Fugue (1968), an arrangement of Morel's Ronde Enfantine, and their own Fantasy on Earth Tunes.

Teams Emerging 1970-89

Garth Beckett and Boyd McDonald, pupils of Lyell Gustin and Alma Brock-Smith, appeared in concert in Canada, the US, and Europe 1966-79, and infrequently in the 1980s. They premiered Mather's Sonata for two pianos in 1970 (and recorded it on RCI 354/4-ACM 9) and Turner's Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in 1972, as well as works by Jack Behrens and Owen Underhill. Brock-Smith also coached the team of Pauline Price and Claudette Caron.

In the late 1970s several other Canadian two-piano teams were active. Vancouver-based Joyce Rawlings and Don Stagg formed a team in 1973. Both were pianists and harpsichordists, and they arranged and transcribed many works as duos, which they performed in Canada and the US, and on CBC radio. In 1975 they took part in the New York Harpsichord Festival. In Quebec Lorraine Vaillancourt and her brother Jean-Eudes Vaillancourt performed live and on radio and TV; they began as a team in 1965 and continued for more than 20 years. The brother and sister team, the Zuk Duo, was formed in 1977. The composer Bruce Mather and his wife Pierrette LePage specialized in new music and recorded several works on the McGill University Records label. Mather also conducted for the recording Music for Three Pianos in Sixths of Tones, performed by François Couture, Paul Helmer, and Louis-Philippe Pelletier (McGill University Records 83017). Another husband and wife team, the Camerata members Kathryn Root and Elyakim Taussig, appeared as duo-pianists with the Toronto Symphony and made a Wigmore Hall debut in London in 1973.

The Anagnoson Kinton Piano Duo, established in 1976 by Leslie Kinton and US-born James Anagnoson (both teachers at the Royal Conservatory of Music) gave concerts in North America and Europe, toured China in 2006, and have played on CBC radio and TV, the BBC, Hilversum Radio (Netherlands), and Radio Suisse Romande. In 1989 the duo performed with the Toronto Pops Orchestra. In the 1990s, they recorded works by Gershwin (Pro Arte CDD-367), Arensky (CBC Musica Viva MVCD-1036), Bartók (The Miraculous Mandarin, the first recording of this two-piano arrangement), Dolin (Concerto for Four, Melbourne SMLP-4044), Klein (Canadiana Suite), Debussy, Satie, and Von Weber (Jubal 5002). The Anagnoson-Kinton team commissioned new works and introduced the two-piano version of Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks. They were described as a team with "formidable precision and panache" (New York Times) with "energetic performances, combined with a deep understanding of the repertoire" (Bravo).

The Toronto pianists Jane Coop and Adrienne Shannon were awarded the 1976 Floyd S. Chalmers Foundation prize for their duo recital at the St Lawrence Centre, Toronto. Shannon joined with Joy Innis in 1982 to form the Palenai Piano Duo. Ottawa pianists Elaine Keillor and Christina Petrowska-Quilico premiered Patrick Cardy's Outremer: The Land Beyond the Sea in 1986 and commissioned Elma Miller's Syneidesis XII in 1987. The Montreal-based Morel-Nemish Duo won the first annual Murray Dranoff Two-Piano Competition in Miami, Fla in 1987. That same year Roslyn Frantz and Dale Reubart formed a piano duet, the Rosdal Duo. Guy Campion and Mario Vachon Havr recorded duos by Satie, Ravel, Casella, Stravinsky, and Fauré (Adda 590020 CD). Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier recorded music by Ravel on the CD Music for Four Hands (Chandos CHAN-8905).

Teams Emerging in the 1990s and 21st Century

Marnie Giesbrecht and her husband, Joachim Segger, known together as Duo Majoya, began performing piano duets and organ duets in 1993 and duos for organ and piano in 1995. In 1996, the Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann duo recorded a CD with works by Kurt Graunke; and the husband-wife team Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow gave performances in support of young musicians. The same year the duo team Arnold Draper and Gloria Saarinen produced a seven-CD set of Schubert's work. Other important duo teams at this time were Bernadene Blaha and her husband, Kevin Fitz-Gerald; Suzanne Fournier and Mélisande Chauveau; and Duo Turgeon, the husband-wife team of Anne Louise-Turgeon and Edward Turgeon.

The husband-wife team of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung began their partnership in 2003 and recorded the complete works of György Ligeti for two pianos and piano four-hands. Elaine Lau and Joseph Ferretti joined forces the same year and subsequently premiered Linda Catlin Smith's Velvet for two pianos and released a recording of music by Jack Behrens. Andrée-Anne Perras-Fortin and her husband Jean-François Latour made their debut in 2006 as part of the Université de Sherbrooke concert series. Other duos active at this time were Janelle Fung and Philip Chiu, and Henri-Paul and Nancy Sicsic.

Canadian and Internationally Mixed Teams

A number of Canadian pianists have formed teams with non-Canadians. Bradford Tracey and Rolf Junghanns formed a keyboard partnership at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in 1973. The Canadian pianist Ralph Markham (b 1949, Vancouver) and the US pianist Kenneth Broadway, both pupils of Vronsky and Babin, toured in Europe and North America. Also noteworthy were the long-established and internationally known duo-pianists Arthur Gold (b Toronto 1917, d New York City 1990) and Robert Fizdale. In 1981 the Canadian pianist Joan Rowland (a teacher at the Manhattan School of Music) became the partner of Karl Ulrich Schnabel in the long-established Piano Duo Schnabel. This duo performed piano four-hands repertoire in the US and Europe and issued recordings including Schubert's Variations, Opus 82 and Grand Duo Sonata, Opus 140 (Town Hall S-37). Canadian Michael Kim and his wife, South Korean-born Kyung Kim, formed the Kim Duo in 1998 and have performed music for one piano, four hands throughout Canada, the US, and Korea.

Multi-Piano Concerts After 1980

The Royal Conservatory of Music revived the "monster concert" tradition in 1980 when 24 members of the keyboard faculty performed in Massey Hall with guest Eugene List. A second multi-piano extravaganza took place in 1990. At both concerts, music from the 19th and 20th centuries was presented in arrangements for varying combinations: solos, duos, and ensembles of up to 10 pianos and 20 pianists. In 1987 Linda Lee Thomas, Terrence Dawson, Robert Rogers, and Rena Sharon (replaced from 1990 by Arlie Thompson) formed Piano Power, which specialized in works for one or two pianos (four- and six-hand pieces). Piano Power was preceded by Masterpiece Music, formed by Thomas in 1974. It appeared on the Masterpiece series in Vancouver and other locations in British Columbia until the late 1990s. Six-piano, 12-hands performances continued to occur, eg, in 1995 and 1999. The 1995 performance at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto and the Grande Théâtre de Québec included members of Piano Six: Angela Cheng, Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Jon Kimura Parker, Janina Fialkowska and André Laplante. This concert featured Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, both arranged for six pianos. The 1999 performance, for the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, included Piano Six (with Bernadene Blaha substituting for Laplante). This performance included duets by Ravel, Busoni and Lutoslawski, as well as the Rachmaninoff work, and six-piano arrangements of Wagner's Meistersinger overture and Milhaud's Scaramouche.

Also in the 1990s, the Donna Fishwick Piano Ensemble, which included 16-18 student pianists ages 13-20 from BC, the US and Europe, made its mark on multi-piano performance. Under Vancouver teacher Fishwick, the group performed widely in Europe (1995 and 1998) as well as in Canada and the US. In 1995, Rogers Cable presented Young Artists in Europe, which included performances from the ensemble's European tour. In 1996, the group produced its first CD, Donna Fishwick Piano Ensemble - Forty Flying Fingers (ABACA Records).

In 1999, the RJK Sisters (R.J. Kruisselbrink sisters Rebecca, Richelle, Renée, Raelyn, Reanne and Radine) of Tara, Ont, made their debut performance. They performed in solo and multiple piano arrangements with the Georgian Bay Symphony (2003), the Wilfrid Laurier University Orchestra (2003) and the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra (2004). They toured Michigan and Florida 2003-4 and recorded a piano duet CD, Two Pianos - Four Hands. The Vancouver Piano Ensemble (Amanda Chan, Chin Yen Lee, Winfried Rompf, Tatiana Tyuleneva, and Susan Wong Lim) formed in 2000. They performed in Canada, Europe, and China, and released two recordings (Music for Four Pianos in 2003 and Encore: Music for Four Pianos in 2005). The Ferretti-Lau Piano Duo joined forces with Stephanie Chua as junctQín in 2009 to explore contemporary repertoire.

Minimalist and Microtonal Techniques

Multiple-piano compositions in Canada in the latter part of the 20th century displayed interest in minimalist music and East Indian influences. Bruce Mather's Poème du délire (1982) for three pianos in 6ths of tones used the Wyschnegradsky system of non-octaviant spaces modified to produce a scale of 3rds and 6ths. Jack Behrens's Aspects (1983), for three pianos, also used microtonal sounds with the pianos tuned in 6ths of tones.

In 1994, the CD Hommage à Ivan Wyschnegradsky (SNE-589-CD) included the Pierrette LePage-Bruce Mather team along with Marc Couroux, François Couture and Paul Helmer in Mather's Yquem, a composition for four pianos plus ensemble. This work won the 1993 Prix Jules-Léger. The 1994 CD Another Byte of McIntosh (Aurum Records), featuring the compositions of Diana McIntosh, included her work Go Between for three pianos, widely spaced on the stage, and tape. In 1995 Terra Nova (CD 951), a John Winiarz recording, included Winiarz's Le Parcours du Jour (1983) for three pianos tuned to create 36 notes to the octave. This microtonal work has North Indian classical sounds. It was performed by François Couture, Paul Helmer and Louis-Philippe Pelletier.


Further Reading

  • "Anagnoson & Kinton," Bravo, May-Jun 1989

    "James Anagnoson," New Brunswick Registered Music Teachers' Association Newsletter, Feb 1992

    Maxwell, Grant L. Music for Three or More Pianists: A Historical Survey and Catalogue (London 1993)

    Charest, Rémy. "Douze mains, 6 pianos, même combat," Le Devoir, 22 Feb 1995

    Brennan, Maev. "Keyboard chemistry leads to Schubert CD," Kelowna Daily Courier, 10 Oct 1996

    Charles, John. "Husband-wife team to support young musicians: Christmas at the keyboards," Edmonton Sun, 15 Dec 1996

    Stubbs, Angela J. "Making beautiful music together around the world," Medicine Hat News, 2 Apr 1996

    "The Donna Fishwick Piano Ensemble," Playboard, May 1996

    Dykk, Lloyd. "Masterpiece music to move house: Piano Power souvenirs," Vancouver Sun, 18 Mar 1997

    "The Donna Fishwick Piano Ensemble," Playboard, Jun 1997

    Anson, Philip. "Six pianos, 12 hands at Ottawa gala," Globe and Mail, 24 Jul 1999

    Mazey, Steven. "Steinway grand aspirations," Ottawa Citizen, 29 Jul 1999

    Baker, D.T. "Palenai duo adds another dimension to piano duets: Artists combine music with visual images," Edmonton Journal, 26 May 2001

    Michibata, Tom. "Three pianist sisters open MSO season," Mississauga News, 15 Oct 2004

    Terauds, John. "4 hands, 2 pianos, 1 deer: Duo celebrates 30 years together," Toronto Star, 9 Feb 2006