A Deep Dive Into The Piano Music Of Samuel Adler

If you’ve spent more than half a century involved with the music of a composer, you don’t think the piano world knows enough about, what might you do to increase pianists’ awareness of it? In my case, I wrote a book. It is the first and only study of the complete (so far) piano music of Samuel Adler. 

His published works for piano began in 1954 with a short, infectious, intermediate-level “Capriccio” and his most recent is a set of ten short pieces composed in 2021, Music for the Young and the Young at Heart. In between have come five other sets of pieces, eight free-standing solos, a sonata for two pianos, three piano concertos, and four volumes of pieces for students.  

The format of A Performer’s Guide to the Piano Music of Samuel Adler is as simple as its premise. After an overview of the stylistic and pianistic traits found throughout Adler’s works, each composition is examined from two standpoints.  

The first is an essay on the work’s style, emotional content, and unique features, and places it in the context of the music of composers past and present. The second is an informal, detailed, and practical “lesson” on the work. Here, for any pianist wanting to explore this music, are specific suggestions for practicing and interpretation, and many solutions to technical challenges. 

That guidance comes from my many years of playing, teaching, and recording a good portion of Adler’s piano music and even being the dedicatee of some of it, most notably the First Piano Concerto. His music that I had not played myself, I studied in-depth to know it as thoroughly as that that I had performed. Additionally, I have been familiar with a wide range of Adler’s non-piano music composed throughout his career. Most importantly, I have known the man since I became his student in 1966. He has been a mentor to me and many musicians, and he remains a close friend to this day. 

Rounding out my survey of this composer and his piano music, an in-depth interview with him and six information-packed appendices. 

It is important to note that Adler’s career has extended far beyond that of a piano composer. He is a legendary teacher whose tenures at Eastman and then Juilliard totaled fifty years. He is the author of four books, his best-known being The Study of Orchestration which now, in its fourth edition, is used in schools around the world. 

Adler’s orchestral, choral, and chamber works and many solos for all western instruments number in the hundreds. They include seven symphonies, seventeen concerti, ten string quartets, many songs, and five oratorios. 

Oratorios? Yes. Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1928 and brought to the US as a child, Adler was the son of the Chief Cantor of Mannheim’s Central Synagogue at the time of the infamous Kristallnacht. Since then, he has become probably the foremost American composer of Jewish service and concert music. 

If you’d like to sample some of the piano music, I recommend listening to the suite The Road to Terpsichore, the Sonata Breve, the Sonatina, and the one-movement “Canto VIII” which can be found on YouTube. 

I hope very much that you will accept my invitation to investigate, play, teach and, above all, enjoy Adler’s music.  

– Bradford Gowen 

BRADFORD GOWEN is the author of A Performer’s Guide to the Piano Music of Samuel Adler, a comprehensive study of the piano music of award-winning American composer Samuel Adler. His book will interest pianists, teachers, and anyone interested in the musical art of our day. 

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