The next installment in my exploration of the new ABRSM syllabus features some of the main pieces in the Grade 8 list, along with some from the alternative syllabus.

In this post I provide an overview with notes on a selection of pieces from the list and a video preview of some highlights and tips for works by Bach, Haydn, Brahms and Bartok (click here for links to previews for other grades):

The complete video walk-throughs for the pieces featured in this video are now available on the Online Academy with further works by Schubert, Schumann and Khachaturian to follow.

Please click here to view the index of available walk-throughs if you are an Online Academy subscriber or click here if you’d like to to subscribe.

Online Workshops

As a complement to my Online Academy resources on the ABRSM syllabus, I am also running a series of online workshops. These workshops will cover repertoire in addition to topics such as scales, sight-reading and preparation. 

Next workshops

  • Part 4 (Grade 7) – Thurs 12th Nov @ 15:00 – 16:30 GMT (includes 4 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets
  • Part 5 (Grade 8) – Tues 17th Nov @ 19:00 – 20:30 GMT (includes 7 videos) – Click here to purchase tickets

Tickets can be purchased for individual sessions using the links provided above or you can save 20% by purchasing a combined ticket here!

If you’ve missed a session then you can still purchase tickets for a past session (or a combined ticket) to obtain access to the event recording and included resources.

Grade 8 Repertoire Overview

LIST A1

J. S. Bach: Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906 

This highly chromatic and brilliant piece featuring hand crossings and running triplets shows Bach trying his hand at the new galant and expressive styles of composition that his sons were writing in. The contrasting second theme in the relative major returns in the home key after a development of the main themes, predicting Classical sonata form. Do not be intimidated by the array of ornaments, these can be organised rhythmically based on the realisations presented in the edition. Click here to view the full video walk-through on the Online Academy.

LIST A2

Haydn: Allegro moderato (1st movt from Sonata in Ab, Hob. XVI:46) 

This sonata movement offers plenty of scope for the player to explore different dynamics, touches and expressive characterisation in the wide variety of ideas Haydn presents. There are delicate ornaments and sighing appoggiaturas in the outer sections, along with shapely scale patterns. The development section, featuring exhilarating toccata-like figuration, takes us through an unusually adventurous range of keys. Light, judicious pedalling will enhance the performance. Click here to view the full video walk-through on the Online Academy.

LIST B1

Brahms: Intermezzo in E (No. 6 from Fantasies, Op.116) 

Brahms’ late piano pieces are among his most personal and intimate music. This bittersweet, nostalgic Intermezzo is from the set of Fantasies, op. 116, completed in 1892. 

Within the progression of harmonies in the outer sections we discover interweaving melodic lines; imagine a dialogue between a violin and a viola and the different tone colours this implies. Even though the texture changes in the middle section and in the coda, this conversation continues throughout.  Click here to view the full video walk-through on the Online Academy.

LIST B (Alternative)

Chopin: Mazurka in A minor, Op.17 No. 4 

A ravishing melody floats in the air above the left hand’s meandering harmonies, creating a haunting, melancholy atmosphere. The second section invites us to a rustic dance but even though the music has now moved to the major key the colour remains dark, the bass drone keeping us grounded. The piece finishes with the same progression of chords that we heard at the start, and because Chopin does not resolve it onto the tonic chord we are left hanging in the air. Click here to view the full video walk-through on the Online Academy.

LIST B (Alternative)

Schubert: Impromptu in Ab (No. 2 from Four Impromptus, Op.142, D. 935) 

The Ab Impromptu, written the year before Schubert’s death, contrasts outer sections where we find a simple chordal texture and a gentle melody on the top with a central trio of flowing arpeggiated triplets over a rocking bass. The music explores the colour possibilities of the different registers of the piano, the stately mood of the A section leading to an impassioned climax in the trio. Chord balance and voicing, as well as control of the pedal, are necessary ingredients of a beautiful performance. 

LIST B (Alternative)

Schumann: Romanze in F# (No. 2 from Drei Romanzen, Op. 28) 

Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp major, op 28 no 2remains one of the composer’s best-loved short pieces for the piano. In ternary form, the mood is contemplative, serene and tender in the outer sections, somewhat turbulent and dark in the middle section. It is an ideal repertoire piece for the intermediate student. 

LIST C1

Bartók: Rondo (No.1 from Three Rondos on Folk Tunes

With his compatriot Kodály, Bartók collected folksongs from his native Hungary as well as surrounding east-European countries, introducing them into his compositions. The first Rondo contains three Slovak folksongs, the first acting as the rondo theme and the other two as episodes. This vibrant piece is full of contrasts in texture and mood, singing wistfully one moment and dancing wildly the next. Do not be a slave to the strict-looking metronome marks (Bartók was not in his own performances). Click here to view the full video walk-through on the Online Academy.

LIST C (Alternative)

Khachaturian: Toccata

Aram Khachaturian’s Toccata is surely one of the most effective showpieces for the advancing pianist. Although it looks and sounds very difficult it is actually much more approachable than you might think, with patterns that are always highly pianistic and often surprisingly simple to memorise. There is plenty of scope for narrative and imagery in this piece, the pedal bringing textures together to create a soundscape that is at times savage and barbaric, then scintillating and brooding. 

Further resources

  • Click here for more information on our ABRSM project and for links to preview videos for other grades
  • Click here for an index of available resources for the 2021 & 2022 ABRSM syllabus
  • Click here for a listing of resources for other examination boards and previous syllabi on the Online Academy