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Jean Hasse - Pocket Pieces

Press reviews (UK magazines):

Bristol Review of Books (Winter 2009)
American-born, Bristol-based Jean Hasse teaches at the University of Bristol. She composes music for all instruments and ensembles, for film and special events, and she is an accompanist and composer for silent films. At first glance I wasn't sure whether her new work, Pocket Pieces, was meant for children or adults. The simple writing (especially in volume one where many pieces have only two lines– one for each hand) and a certain child-like quality about the titles makes me think they might be for learners. An initial flick through the pages led me to wonder if musically there might be a nod towards something like Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, a well-known six volume set of pieces ordered by difficulty. There are some superficial similarities, modal scales and ostinatos and so on.

But no. On playing them through I realise they aren't written with that kind of specific technical aim.  Nearly all the pieces are short, perhaps two minutes or even less. The styles sit in that vague area of mostly but not always tonal.  Some pieces are based around a modal scale, often with a flattened seventh giving a slight blues-like quality. There's very little use of remote keys and complex key signatures which makes them quite easy to read. Open fifths sometimes give a slight American folky quality and maybe echoes of Copland. Often notable is the rhythmic irregularity and energy that many of the pieces have.
Volume three is the most interesting: the pieces are more substantial and are generally more harmonically complex.

After leaving Pocket Pieces lying around on the piano for a few days, the overall feeling I'm left with is a sort of unpretentious quirky intimacy. It's quite unusual for me warm to contemporary music, but I do like the way each little piece communicates a mood or feeling. Of course, the titles help as do the little biographical snippets at the back of the book.  I don't want to get into the age-old debate about whether the music should speak for itself (Debussy put the titles for his piano Preludes at the end), but maybe Wobble could indeed be me on a slightly hyper working-at-home Thursday afternoon. Edge might be that moment of slight vertigo high in the Pyrenees. Bad Night – well yeah, been there, and certainly more representative of my nocturnal unconscious than say Schumann's Traumerei.

The other thing in their favour is the lack of virtuosity for it's own sake.  To play them effectively all you need is a good degree of attention to detail in terms of phrasing any dynamics, which are all carefully and deliberately marked, and basic rhythmic security.  There is no need for hands that can stretch a tenth and a Rachmaninov-like technique (which suits me down to the ground).

And yet I'm still not sure whether they are for children or grown-ups. There's so much music teaching material around these days, but maybe they would suit adult learners looking for something a bit different. Some could make good fillers in a professional piano recital, or as a brief encore.
It’s exciting to discover some interesting new music and good to have in the piano stool.
- Rod Varty
Copyright Bristol Review of Books

International Piano (September/October 2009)

Jean Hasse’s 61 Pocket Pieces are useful and intriguing on several levels. They form a parallel world to that created by Thalia Myers – with dozens of notable living composers – in her celebrated Spectrum series for the ABRSM. Both are collections of bagatelles in a contemporary idiom, many of which are perfectly approachable for even the youngest and most modest of players.

In Pocket Pieces Book I (approximately Grade 2-4 standard), I enjoyed the floating tone in Bow Bells and the rhythmic oscillation in Random Thought. Book II hovers around the Grade 5-7 mark and includes some stamina-inducing tremolando challenges – As seen from the sky and You said you would call – and more rhythmically sophisticated fare.

In Book III, Grade 8-plus is reached and the technical challenges are more obvious. And at all times there is a real elegance in the pianistic layout, which makes the musical message all the more persuasive. Pieces like Space Pod (rotary movement), Tanec (two-note slurs) and Wobble (changing rhythmic metre) are all invaluable for developing facility.

Hasse’s achievement also brings to mind Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, with each volume progressively more demanding. Like Bartók, Hasse shows many compositional techniques in her miniatures, making them attractive to students of composition and of piano. And that so much is left to the pianist’s own preferences is a great incentive towards imaginative development, a quality all too readily lost when priorities are too strictly linked to success in grade examinations. For this reason Pocket Pieces could be extremely positive for students lacking confidence and facility in sight-reading. Finally, Hasse’s titles are witty and provocative in turn. There are interesting explanations in the performance notes, including ‘from an English translation on a Czech breakfast menu’ for the piece Cucumber with Jam!
- Murray McLachlan
Copyright Rhinehold Publishing Ltd.


Sample audio tracks:

Indian Summer Listen to audio

No thru rd Listen to audio

Never Fail Fudge Listen to audio

Edge Listen to audio

Sample PDF pages:

Little Pine (Bk I) View score

Never Fail Fudge (Bk II) View score

One Month Today (Bk II) View score

Wobble (Bk III) View score

Pocket Pieces Book 1

Pocket Pieces Book 2

Pocket Pieces Book 3

Covers designed by artist
Vera Boele-Keimer