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Short

Guide to Writing Program Notes


Programme Notes, including the Title (or Programme) page, must be presented in a neat and
tidy manner, preferably using word processing software. Please remember to put your
candidate number and the date of the exam on the Title page.
The first thing is to present on the title sheet of your programme the full list of music you are
going to perform; composers, titles, movements and timings. Give the composers with their
full names and dates in brackets, followed by full titles of works with opus/catalogue
numbers; the convention is to place such numbers after the title separated by a comma, but
putting them in brackets is also acceptable. If the work has a nickname, place this after the
title, separated by a dash, and then give the total playing time for the complete work in
brackets. Then, under the title, give the list of movements (if any). For example;
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Violin Sonata No.1 in G, Op.78 Regenlied (2700)
i.Vivace ma non troppo
ii.Adagio
iii.Allegro molto moderato
It is essential to present the pieces in your programme in the order in which they will be
played.
Content:
1. Biography. This is to introduce the composer to your audience, to assess his place in
musical history and to give some outline of his major achievements as a composer. It would
typically include details of his nationality, his training, his position in society, his output and
his current reputation.
2. Background. This puts the work you are playing into its historic context, explaining why it
was written, for whom, when it was written, when and where (and by whom) it was first
performed, and where it stands in the output of the composer and the repertoire of the
instrument.
3. Analysis. This describes in some detail the major points to listen out for in the work. In the
context of a programme note, an analysis is more in the nature of a basic road-map rather
than a detailed breakdown of technical structure. Think of it more as a listeners guide than
an academic presentation of form and structure.
Remember, to write 400-700 words for a program of 4 pieces, means a total of approx. 150
words per piece. These 150 words will include your biography, background and analysis. It is
quite short! So please avoid highly technical terms, and details.
In the case of examination diplomas, for example, you would probably have very little
biography, devoting most of the space to background and, to a lesser extent, analysis.
So Biography (Small), Background (Big), Analysis (Medium).
Most of the time you will find your information from other sources, but you MUST re-write
them into your own words. If you are unable to, you MUST ALWAYS put it in quotation
marks and acknowledge the author ie. The movements main theme has been described by
Dr Ewald Kooiman in his biography of the composer as not a melody which will linger long
in the memory once heard
Biography: You do not need to waste time by giving the composer dates again (they are on
the Title page) and do NOT say things like Mozart is a Classical composer, which actually
means nothing at all in this context, but for the biography, simply give some information
about the composer which is relevant to the work you are playing and also shows your
knowledge of the composer beyond his piano music ie. Mozart wrote his first piano sonata
in 1775 when he was 19. At the time he was in Munich to handle the final preparations for

the ninth of his 20 operas, La finta giardiniera. Basic biographical material is easily found at
http://www.naxos.com (click on composers).
Background. A lot of the information you need here will be found in the music you use in the
examination room. Often publishers introduce the work with some interesting essay, and at
the very least a date of publication (sometimes even of composition) is given at the bottom of
the first page or at the end of the work. Look at the dedication; who was it written for?
Otherwise, you need to dig quite deep to find material for this.
Analysis. You have to do this yourself! What you must do at DipABRSM/ATCL level is
listen to the music and recognise what its main features are. Try to write a guide for the
listener so that they know what to expect, but avoid technical language or overly-precise
references; programme notes should not refer to bar-numbers, nor should they attempt to
show how clever the writer is in using specialist technical terms.

FOR EXAMPLE:
PROGRAMME:
Csar Juillet (1899-1977); Preludio Danse (400)
Domenico Giulio (1825-1867); Fantasia in D minor, Op.4 No.2 (700)
Ludwig Amadeus Schicht (1799-1860) ; Sonata No.10 in G (1600)
i.Allegro
ii.Adagio espressivo
iii.Prestissimo
Peter Vaskin (b.1967); A Familiar Creature, Op.566 (600)

Programme Notes
A pupil of Theodore Dubois at the Paris Conservatoire, Csar Juillet had to abandon his
studies when his father was killed on active service in the First World War and he was
obliged to take a job with the French railways. From then on he composed only intermittently
when his duties permitted, his Preludio Danse being just his third work for piano and was
published in 1960. It was first performed by Marie Cleste in the Grand Hall of the Paris
Conservatoire on 4th August 1959 and makes much use of loud and heavy chords as well as
strong and repetitive rhythms which gives the work its dancing character. I also think that this
driving rhythm was probably inspired by the sound of a moving train, something which
would have been very familiar to Juillet from his career as a train driver.
Domenico Giulio was well-known for his operas, of which he wrote around 50, most of
which were first performed at the opera house in his native Rome. He also wrote several
purely instrumental works, but the set of Six Fantasias for piano published by Ricordi in
1930 are actually arrangements of numbers from his operas made by the Italian pianist Lucia
Stillini. The Second Sonata in D minor opens with a meditative theme from the opera Molto
Tristessa and builds to a dramatic climax, at which point the famous chorus from La Travolta
appears before the music subsides to its quite conclusion with a sad melody from Di San
Marco.
Schichts 37 published piano sonatas were all written during the last 20 years of his life,
during which time he was Director of Music at the Court of King Leopold XVI of Sweden.
No.10 was published in 1842 with a dedication to the composer and pianist Olga Schmidt,
who possibly gave the first performance but, as Peter Wink writes in the introduction to the
published Urtext edition, There is no concrete evidence of a performance before 1918 when
the one surviving copy of the work re-emerged following the reconstruction of the University
library in Gttingen and was played by Emil Leen in the celebrations to mark the ending of
war in Sweden. While its first movement follows the customary Sonata Form outline with

two contrasting themes one fast in the major key and a slower one in the relative minor
the second movement is an expressive Adagio which shows, in the words of Brian Williams,
Schichts unfulfilled interest in writing for the human voice. In keeping with the famous
recording of the work by Laurens Loopie, I have chosen to observe all the repeats in the short
but lively concluding Rondo.
My recital closes with a humorous piece by the English composer and jazz pianist Peter
Vaskin, who spent much of his early career as a session musician with such notable bands as
BoyzBinz and GIrlzGrinz. A highly prolific composer for the piano he wrote his Op.700
when he was still in his early 30s this piece was inspired by a passage from Shakespeares
Othello Good wine is a good familiar creature and cleverly portrays the uneasy
progress of a person befuddled by alcohol as he attempts to perform Offenbachs famous
Can-Can. It was written for the Edinburgh Festival in 1992 when he performed it in the open
air on an electric piano.