Thomas, Philip (2010) Toy Pianos, Piano Toy. In: five40five 2010, 22nd September 2010, Sheffield.

The toy piano as a musical instrument in its own right, beyond its originally intended use as a child’s toy, has increased in popularity over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Toy pianos (and toy pianists?) are frequently featured in ‘art-music’ recitals and in contemporary music ensembles, and also have a heritage within popular music. Current groups who have featured toy pianos include Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Vampire Weekend. For me, the toy piano is inextricably associated with the character of Schroeder, in the Peanuts cartoon strip.
The solo toy piano repertoire is surprisingly extensive, and this programme reflects only a small proportion of the available repertoire. Works for multiple toy pianos and toy pianos with electronics also abound. I have selected mainly American and British works, including, after American experimentalist Philip Corner’s recent piece Event (which, incidentally, was premiered in Sheffield in May 2010), the first and most famous of toy piano works, John Cage’s Suite. Also programmed are three works for ‘normal’ piano though transformed in various ways: Cage’s Bacchanale was the very first work he composed for his infamous ‘invention’, the prepared piano, the result of considerable toying with the possibilities of the instrument. Mick Beck’s Not Just A Load Of Balls was composed for me in 2005 for a series of concerts in Sheffield entitled ‘Comprovisation’ and is one of the most playful pieces I know. Helmut Lachenmann’s extraordinary work Ein Kinderspiel doesn’t modify the piano at all but focuses the ear upon sounds often disguised by other musical events, consequently revealing fresh potentialities of the instrument.
Finally, whilst I hope you will laugh with me (and maybe only a little at me) seated at this comical instrument, I trust also that the musical experiences offered by the wonderful composers featured here, who have risen to the challenge of writing for the instrument, will be rich, varied and rewarding.

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