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Monday, July 25, 2011

Sight-Reading and Rhythm - Intermediate Repertoire

"I have benefited a lot from your suggestions of repertoire. Could you please suggest some SR material (intermediate)that explores diversity in rhythms?"

Upon receiving the e-mail above, the first thing that came to my mind was a rarely performed set of 10 pieces by Villa-Lobos: Francette et Pia. This set was written in 1929 for the piano class of the celebrated Marguerite Long. This suite mixes Brazilian and French songs and tells the story of a little Brazilian Indian boy (Pia)* and a French girl (Francette). I can't help imagining a recital alternating a boy and a girl performing these solo pieces and at the end, the two kids closing the recital with the final piece called "Francette and Pia Play Together Forever" (it is a duet - 4 hands).
Mixed with the Brazilian folk and indigenous melodies, you will recognize the French national anthem (Marseillaise - #8), Au Clair de la Lune (#1), Le Bon Roi Dogobert (#2) and Malbrouk S'en Va-t-en Guerre (#6).
As expected, Villa-Lobos writes challenging rhythms, but the repetitive patterns through the compositions make this set a good source for sight-reading (there are lots of opportunities for self-correction). Each piece is rich in tempo, meter and key signature changes.

1 - Pia Came to France.. (it opens with an Indian theme).
2 - Pia Saw Francette...
3 - Pia Spoke to Francette...
4 - Pia and Francette Play Together...
5 - Francette is Angry... (the edition I have translates this piece as Francette is sorry, however, the right translation is Francette is angry).
6 - Pia Went to War... (the composer writes "to make kids used to syncopation and exaggerated accents").
7 - Francette is Sad... (it opens with a Brazilian March followed by a French theme).
8 - Pia Returns Form the War...
9 - Francette is Happy... (the composer brings back a variation of previous themes).
10- Francette and Pia Play Together Forever... Four-Hand Duet

Villa-Lobos dedicated a lot of time writing pedagogical music exploring Brazilian children's folk tunes. My favorite set is the Cirandinhas (it is extraordinary!). There is also Guia Pratico (11 sets of 6 pieces in each), Carnaval das Criancas Brasileiras, The 3 Marias, Petizada, The Broken Little Music Box, and The Toy Wheel.

* Pia means a little boy of Indian descent. In Tupi-Guarany, it is an expression of affection like "dear boy". Today in Rio Grande do Sul (south Brazil), we call all boys "pia".
Guarany is an indigenous language in South America.


  1. What edition do you suggest?

  2. This work was originally commissioned (1929) by the publisher Eschig. Now you can find the Durand Edition. The fingering is very good. The student can just take it home & trust them.