Friday Review: Characteristic Etudes by Jan Koetsier

This Friday we’ll look at a great collection of etudes by the Dutch composer Jan Koetsier (1911-2006). Like most of his other works, the 13 Etudes Caractéristiques, Op. 117 are published in Switzerland by Editions Marc Reift (cover image linked from their website). I first became acquainted with Koetsier’s music in high school, when a friend of mine performed his  Romanza, Op. 59/2 on a recital we shared at a local church. I went on to discover in college that Koetsier has a substantial number of solo and chamber works for horn.  Many of them have never been recorded, and over the past several months I’ve been working on a CD project which will feature his horn and piano works, his Sonata for Horn and Harp, and a selection of these characteristic etudes. Recording is scheduled for August, 2012, and I’m very excited about it!

I haven’t decided for sure which of the thirteen etudes I want to include on the recording, but I’ve been practicing six or seven which seemed like they would work best.  The collection is organized into three sets of four etudes, with one “bonus” etude at the end. Each set is designed to focus on a particular area of horn playing; the first set is melodic, the second set rhythmic, and the third set technical. The final etude, subtitled Drolatique or “Humorous,” is really an unaccompanied solo which combines challenges from all three of the previous sets. The etudes are somewhat progressive in difficulty, and I would rate their general difficulty somewhere around Maxime-Alphonse Book 4. The etudes tend to be shorter than those found in the later Maxime-Alphonse books, and for the most part are tonal with a good bit of chromaticism. They  emphasize the middle and high range, with a few excursions into the low register. The overall range is G to c”’.  Koetsier’s music can be quite challenging, and he does a good job of systematically challenging the player with these etudes. One of my favorites – which I plan to record – is based on rhythms from the “Sacrificial Dance” found in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Radek Baborák has recorded this one on the album Baborák Plays Etudes, but to my knowledge this is the only etude from the collection that’s been recorded thus far. The melodic etudes are quite beautiful, with long phrases and some large leaps. The rhythmic etudes include dotted rhythms, meter changes, and hemiolas, and the technical etudes have really pushed my technique to get them up to the indicated tempos. Overall this is a very fine collection of studies, well worth adding to your library.

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