The Pocket Pieces are arranged into three books (61 pieces total) and intended for pianists of all ages. Their various styles come from a mixture of traditions such as classical, jazz, atonal, free improvisations and beyond. There is variety and focus, with each short and concentrated piece having its own ‘personality’. Most of the music was composed at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire during two residencies at the artists' retreat.
US professional magazines
Clavier Companion (May/June 2010) Reviewer's Choice
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “pocket book” as a “book that is small enough to carry in one’s coat pocket.” Think of these three books of Pocket Pieces, by American expatriate composer Jean Hasse, as just that: concise piano solo collections that you could tuck away in your coat pocket, saving them to enjoy during a break in a busy week. Or perhaps you might want to present them in concert as a refreshing program offering.
Simply put, Hasse has a real knack for creating great music out of the everyday things in life. Perhaps her extensive experience as a film composer specializing in scores for silent films has sharpened her ability to see musical possibilities in even the most commonplace things (like scrambled eggs in Book II). These musical essays are nearly perfect embodiments of their sometimes-bizarre titles. They describe visual images, some of which are quite funny (“Txt msg,” “Sideways walking dog,”); various emotional states and situations (“So much to do,” “Wait Here”); nature (“Indian Summer,” “Pine”); and even signposts (“No thru rd”) and food (“Cucumber with Jam”).
One of my favorites is in this last category. I laughed to myself when I read that the final piece in Book II was “Philadelphia Scrapple Dance.” As a native Philadelphian, I can attest that no food could be stranger, and yet more ordinary, than scrapple. It’s precisely these oddly appealing titles that entice the performer to explore this music more thoroughly.
In reading through the music, distinct personalities emerge. They are as diverse as the titles suggest: they are thoughtful, outgoing, lyrical, dissonant, funny, calm, wry, cheerful, and somber. Each volume contains brief “Notes for the performer.” These notes fill in the stories behind the titles just enough to encourage performers to use their own imaginations to provide the details.
The Pocket Pieces title fittingly emphasizes the literary quality of the music. These are finely honed, evocative musical essays. Throughout the three books, Hasse writes with fresh honesty and purposeful clarity, making imaginative and expert musical sense of her ideas - and there are many ideas here to discover (there are sixty-one pieces in all). But the brevity of the pieces makes their number quite practical for study and performance. They are short short stories, compact and condensed. Most of the solos are one or two pages long; the most extended work is only six pages long.
Hasse employs a wide variety of musical styles in each book, and she is equally inclusive about her intended audience. She states in the preface, “The pieces are intended for pianists of all ages and abilities. Their various styles come from a mixture of traditions such as classical, jazz, atonal, free improvisations and beyond.” It is that “beyond” that inspires some of the more fascinating pieces in the series. For example, in the second book, “As seen from the sky” features constant, tremolo broken intervals in both hands. At the beginning of the piece, Hasse instructs the performer to “choose dynamics” and to “Ped. sempre” for a “smooth, continuous sound”; otherwise, the score is devoid of expressive markings. This approach allows the pianist to take a very broad interpretive stance, but Hasse suggests something even more intriguing in her notes at the end of the piece. She writes, “This piece can also be played on two pianos, with each pianist playing the score. The doubling and overlapping of tremolo pitches should create an even smoother sound. Dynamics and tempi can be pre-determined.” Inherent in these directions is that Hasse, like some minimalist composers, seems quite content for her music to be subject to subtle, aleatoric changes in the moment of performance. In the same volume, “The Book of Bees”, a piece for right hand alone, effectively conjures up the sound of frantic, buzzing bees. Rapid, nonstop sixteenth notes move in half-steps in 9/16 meter, occasionally punctuated by a leap to a larger, accented interval. It is a pure sound piece.
Hasse’s musical style and brevity call to mind the piano works of Kabalevsky, Muczynski, and Starer. Further, the ephemeral, sometimes enigmatic, character of some of the works, especially those that explore inner states of mind, is reminiscent of the piano works of Vincent Persichetti. Like that noted composer, Hasse’s music is so personal, so revealing of her inner thoughts, that it seems almost intimate, like reading a journal or diary.
Some practical pedagogical details are in order. The three books in the series are progressive. As stated in its preface, Book I is “… intended for those who already have some basic experience of piano practice and technique.” A quick look at the pieces confirms that an early-intermediate student could master most of them easily; the reading, interpretive, and technical skills needed to perform them well are comparable to skills needed for easier Kabalevsky piano solos. Because of their fairly sophisticated character, intermediate-level adult students would find these pieces very appealing.
The solos in Book II are slightly longer and expand the rhythmic and tonal concepts found in Book I. These pieces are suitable for intermediate to late-intermediate students and are more complicated, rhythmically and musically, than the solos in the previous set. Book III, which contains the longest pieces and the fewest number of them, says this in the preface: “Book III requires an advanced piano technique and a different type of concentration compared to the previous books.” This is a true assessment. The solos in this volume are more challenging, although they are certainly not difficult, and they require ample technical skill, rhythmic acuity, and a confident sense of style.
Hasse’s phrasing and articulations are detailed and thorough: it is very easy to discern the nuances in each piece as well as the composer’s musical intent. The preface includes some general performance suggestions, too: “As a performance guide, rhythms are often sharp and punctuated, with the beginnings of short phrases usually accented. A fair amount of counting - both pulses and sub-pulses - is needed throughout.” Pedal indications are less detailed, but, in some pieces, are clarified with additional text. Unfortunately, no fingering is included, so preparing these solos for student study will require some extra editorial time for teachers.
In the preface, Hasse states, “For performance, any number of pieces can be combined.” A paragraph at the end also directs the reader to a recording of thirty-five of these works by played by the composer.
In sum, this series of piano solos contains highly inventive, creative works that are well worth exploring, performing, and teaching. Professional pianists and students of all ages will find great satisfaction in studying and performing these pieces.
- Peggy Otwell, University of Wisconsin, Copyright 2010 Clavier Companion
American Music Teacher (April/May 2010)
Jean Hasse’s colorful miniatures, Pocket Pieces, Books I-III, will delight pianists of diverse ages and levels. Born in Cleveland in 1958, London-based Jean Hasse enjoys a diverse career as a composer, performer, teacher, editor and music publisher.
Ranging from early-intermediate to advanced levels, Pocket Pieces present an eclectic mixture of musical styles including classical, jazz, folk and free improvisations. Appealing and accessible with evocative titles and brief programmatic descriptions, the pieces are idiomatic and pedagogically sound. Hasse encourages performers "to explore varying interpretations to suit your own musical imagination." Since no fingerings are provided, teachers need to help students choose fingerings that will correspond with their individual physical anatomies and musical objectives.
Book I (27 pieces), appropriate for intermediate students, contains inventive gems depicting bells, puddles and green peas. Many pieces feature a single motivic or gestural idea, making them ideal for quick study. This volume includes pieces with a minimalist bent such as "Puddle-wonderful" and "Walk Up One, Walk Down Two" with their static, meandering qualities. Hasse uses precise articulations paired with mixed meters in the charming "Little Pond" and in "Morsel" for the left hand alone. Only "Right" for the right hand alone with its brusque tempo and declamatory leaps seems too challenging for this volume.
Book II (22 pieces) and Book III (12 pieces) incorporate a wider range of difficulty and sophistication. The amusing "Never Fail Fudge" with its quirky dissonances and jazzy syncopations requires technical dexterity and mature pedaling. "Move Along," "Central Park West," and "Philadelphia Scrapple Dance" recall the character pieces of Robert Starer drawing upon mixed meters, ostinati and evocative titles. Despite the array of musical levels and technical requirements within each volume, Hasse's superb compositional flair will reward those who explore these rich musical treasures.
- Jessica Johnson, NCTM, Madison, Wisconsin, Copyright 2010 Music Teachers National Association, Inc.
UK professional 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 Rhinegold Publishing Ltd.