[REVIEW] ABRSM Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music 2023 & 2024 Piano Exam Pieces: Initial–Grade 8

ABRSM Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music 2023 & 2024 Piano Exam Pieces:
Initial–Grade 8
Review by Nadia Lasserson for EPTA © 2022

Every two years, the Examination Boards bring out new syllabuses and all teachers and students await the selections with avid interest and curiosity. The new syllabus offers a far wider range of repertoire than ever before with a total of thirty-nine pieces in each Grade. Once again, every student is catered for with all conceivable musical styles on offer at every level. 

The old “Prep Test”, which was never marked but just offered a Certificate with comments, was joined for the first time in 2021 by “In” or Initial Grade with just two scales and arpeggios with 5 notes. It is clearly here to stay and is opening new doors for contemporary composers to cater for this level of performance. As in all the AB Grades, there are three lists of 9 pieces in total, requiring a selection of one from each list. A further 33 pieces are also offered as Alternatives thus opening an enormous range of repertoire all within a five finger hand position and small chords of seconds or thirds. There are some classics by Gurlit, Kabalevsky, Reinagle, Carl Orff & Diabelli; and the contemporary pieces are by well-known pedagogues of the day such as Walter Carroll, Pam Wedgwood, Joan Last, Peter Gritton, Mark Tanner, Karen Marshall & June Armstrong to name a few.   

Grades 1–3 are accepted as Level 1, Grades 4–5 Level 2 and Grades 6–8 Level 3.  

The repertoire in Grades 1–3 have no surprises on the Classical side with Bach, Beethoven, Diabelli, Dussek and Löschhorn. Once again contemporary composers, all of them EPTA UK members with pedagogical expertise, have been invited to contribute: Elissa Milne, David Blackwell, Nancy Litten and Andrew Eales alongside well-established composers such as William Gillock, Florence Price and Martha Meir.  

Level 2, Grades 4 and 5 include many old favourites by Pescetti, Handel, Cimarosa, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Chaminade, Bartok and Kabalevsky with Chaminade, Florence Price, Dorothy Pilling, Mike Cornick and David Önaç.

Level 3 includes the three final Grades 6–8 with another wonderful mix of repertoire to select. A Study by Stephen Heller is an unusual choice in the “A” list of Grade 6, although it might be a good idea for every candidate at every level to begin their programme with a compulsory study? Elisabetta de Gambarini and Kuhlau complete the first List of this Grade. Granados and Mendelssohn are represented in the B list while the C List is represented with Richard Rodney Bennett, Elissa Milne and Oscar Peterson. Grades 7 and 8 are slightly more conventional in choice of repertoire with works by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Debussy, Albéniz, Moszkowski, Martinů, Louise Farrenc, Marianne Martinez and Christopher Norton. There are also pieces by J.P. Johnson, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Param Vir and the Armenian born composer, Dianne Rahbee. 

This new syllabus is most interesting in that it has included many more women composers than in previous years—in fact this year’s total amounts to 77 pieces by women composers in the Mainstream and Alternative lists. It’s wonderful that so many are now internationally recognised, and even more exciting is the fact that several of them are EPTA members. Dianne Rahbee was actually one of EPTA’s first members in 1978 and her music is renowned all over the world. Some of the Historic Repertoire from Colin Hazel’s New Horizons For Piano (https://cjhazel.co.uk/sheetmusic/newhorizonsforpianoearlygrades/), is included in this new syllabus and EPTA UK members were fortunate enough to hear these charming pieces in a recent webinar offered to members. 

The lengthy Alternative Lists are also a novelty in their sheer volume and wide variety of musical styles.

It is always exciting to begin working with the new Associated Board Syllabus and this 2023–2024 is set to keep millions of candidates happily occupied and absorbed with a plethora of wonderful music. As usual, candidates will be hard pushed to select only three pieces for examination out of a possible 39, and many may well be tempted to prepare several programmes at each Grade as it will be impossible to make decisions. The Associated Board never fail to appeal to a huge cross-section of the musical community in their care to represent the greatest possible variety of musical idioms and styles for everyone to enjoy.