Broadening Your Repertoire Horizons

By: Edna Landau

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

I am extremely grateful to the following individuals whose input was of great assistance in preparing this week’s column: Nadine Asin, Emanuel Ax, Bärli Nugent, Jay Campbell, David Finckel, Ani Kavafian, Jennifer Koh and Lucy Shelton.

Dear Edna:

I have read a number of your blog posts in which you encourage young musicians to incorporate into their programs commissioned works by their contemporaries and unusual repertoire that is deserving of more frequent exposure. With everything I have to do to meet the requirements of my Master’s degree in piano, it is hard to set aside time for researching this. I actually don’t even know where to start. Can you help? —Robin S.

Dear Robin:

Thanks for writing with a question that I expect will be of interest to many of our readers. Since you are still in school, you have considerable resources at your disposal. First and foremost are your teachers. Be sure to share your curiosity about repertoire with them as they will undoubtedly have ideas about works that will suit your musical temperament. If your school has a composition department, that should be your next port of call. Composers are eager to have their music performed and if they haven’t written anything for piano, consider commissioning them. While still at school, they may charge a nominal fee or nothing at all in exchange for getting their music heard. They might also tell you about their friends who may have written for your instrument.  You have also probably seen me write about the importance of going to concerts of music with which you are not familiar. You might hear a ravishing song cycle and discover that the composer also wrote solo piano works or chamber works with piano that you’d love to explore.

Here are some additional suggestions and resources which you might find helpful, both with regard to new and older music:


  • All music publishers list their catalogues online. Some give you the opportunity to listen to sound clips of particular works (for example, and  The Schott Music Corporation’s Project Schott New York features more than seventy new works by over thirty composers, with listening samples and videos embedded in the blog section of the website.
  • School libraries are a great resource. If you can’t physically get to them, many offer a wealth of information online. One example is Yale University’s Irving S. Gilmore Music Library ( whose website offers a broad variety of useful information.
  • Cellist Jay Campbell finds useful when seeking the comprehensive works of a particular composer, especially for 20th century music and music of today.
  • The website is primarily a source for purchasing recordings but it contains a great deal of information about a large variety of composers and their works, as well as listening samples.
  • Emanuel Ax told me about the Petrucci Music Library, a source for a huge amount of work that is in the public domain and can be accessed on computer for free. (I am told it can even be downloaded to your iPad.) He also told me about Music for the Piano: a Handbook of Concert and Teaching Material from 1580 to 1952 by James Friskin and Irwin Freundlich (Courier Dover Publications, 1973).
  • David Finckel called my attention to Classical Archives which offers a broad scope of works that can be listened to in full. A subscription costs $7.99 a month.


  • Look at catalogues of great composers to whose music you are drawn to see what they wrote for your instrument.
  • Explore the recordings of great artists of the past on your instrument. They often reveal neglected gems that were frequently played in times gone by.
  • If you have heard of a composer who you think might be of interest to you, they are in all likelihood represented by performances of their works on YouTube.
  • The ASCAP Foundation and BMI both give awards to young composers and have an impressive track record of having recognized gifted young composers before they became famous. The names can be found on their websites.
  • Look at programs from broad ranging and innovative concert series and festivals to be introduced to new works and composers. Don’t limit yourself to solo works. A chamber piece can be very refreshing on an otherwise solo recital program. Take a look, also, at works being performed by artists and ensembles who you admire.
  • Acquainting yourself with composer anniversaries (births and deaths) may draw you to works that you may not know and that may prove interesting to both presenters and audiences alike. A good source for such information is Classical Composers Database.

All of the artists I spoke to in preparing this column weighed in strongly about the responsibility of today’s musician to explore the great heritage of repertoire for their instrument and to become part of the exciting community of new composers writing for it. They emphasized how much easier it is today than it was thirty or more years ago when research could only be done by physically going to a library. Ultimately, an artist should only play repertoire that truly appeals to them and that demonstrates their strengths to the fullest advantage. However, a musician who expends energy in meeting composers and is generally curious about repertoire  is someone who is likely to connect most successfully with fellow musicians, presenters and even record companies, and enjoy the richest and most meaningful experiences throughout their career.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2013

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