A String of Pearls

Image: Pianist Magazine

It’s always a happy experience when one’s work is published, irrespective of the publication or publisher. But this new volume (pictured to the left) is a really exciting one for me.

In 2017, pianists and teachers Alla Levit and Antonina Lax invited me to write a piano duet for one of their forthcoming UK tours. Alla, who is Russian, and Antonina, from Bulgaria, are the Darina Piano Duo. They had previously enjoyed using my four- and six- hand music (Snapchats Duets & Trios) with their students, and both had commented on the fact that these short pieces were like little ‘jewels’. This observation provided the catalyst for the title of their new piece, A String of Pearls. Antonina describes how our collaboration transpired:

‘I first came across Melanie through one of her articles published by Pianist magazine about 5 years ago. I was impressed by her articulation of the different challenges in piano teaching – it was obvious that the author was an experienced, knowledgeable and competent piano player. I also found out that Melanie had just published the first edition of her book ”So You Want to Play the Piano” (2013). I ordered the book immediately and I must admit that I still think this is one of the best modern guides written in English.

I later found out that Melanie is also a composer when I met her at a concert in London showcasing modern composers’ piano repertoire. Melanie presented her newly published (at that time) selection of piano duets called ”Snapchats”. The music was so fresh and accessible that it became one of my favourite duet selections. I still teach it to my students in one-to-one sessions and even masterclasses.

I asked Melanie to write some music for me and my piano partner Alla Levit (Darina Piano Duo), as we are currently collecting 4-hand piano pieces by modern composers. Melanie was extremely generous and wrote not just one but five pieces which she joined in a wonderful suite called ”A String of Pearls”. This is programme music depicting different pearls, such as the famous Pearl Maxima, Pearl of Lao Tzu and La Peregrina. Melanie’s pieces are story-driven, picturesque musical descriptions of pearls that are also full of character. Darina Piano Duo has now performed the “String of Pearls” suite many times and in different venues across the UK and this music has always been very well received.

It has been a stroke of luck to meet Melanie and we hope to continue our creative collaboration with her so we can perform many more of her beautiful pieces.’


A String of Pearls consists of five movements, each one depicting a different pearl, reflecting the jewel’s characteristics as well as its corresponding symbolism. The movements are fairly short and could be played by a late intermediate or advanced level student. The music is intended for pianists who particularly enjoy playing expressive and evocative music with a hint of minimalism.

1. Pearl Maxima: One of the largest, most majestic pearls in the world, its captivating colours glimmer and sparkle from cream to gold, with a variety of hues in between.

2. Black Pearls: These beautiful serene jewels originate from the black lip oyster, and are tinged with green, pink, blue,silver and yellow.

3. Cave Pearls: Rushing water dances around limestone caves, polishing each glossy pearl.

4. Pearl of Lao Tzu: Sacred connotations have been linked to this large legendary clam pearl.

5. La Peregrina Pearl: Known as the ‘pilgrim’ or ‘wanderer’, this renowned gem has adorned many a colourful character, from royalty to actors, during its reputed 500-year history.

I was delighted when Schott decided to publish this piece in their renowned Edition Schott series. This series has featured some of the world’s greatest composers, many of whom currently publish or have published exclusively with Schott, including Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith, Carl Orff, György Ligeti, Michael Tippett, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Mark-Anthony Turnage. However, there are few female composers featured in the series, and therefore I feel it’s an honour to be amongst such illustrious company. There has been much discussion recently about the lack of female composers, conductors, and, to some degree, writers (and piano professors) too, in the classical music profession. But as this issue is gradually highlighted, so we can hopefully look forward to a future of equality and inclusion.

A String of Pearls was performed beautifully in a series of four concerts over the Summer given by my friends and colleagues pianists Samantha Ward and Maciej Raginia at the International Piano Festival and Summer School PIANO WEEK. They kindly made the following recordings at Rugby School in August. I hope you enjoy them.
‘Having performed ‘A String of Pearls’ by Melanie Spanswick four times over the summer at our festival PIANO WEEK, Maciej and I found these pieces energetic, contrasting and very rewarding to perform. Each movement evokes a different mood and as a result, they were interesting to learn, proving very popular with audiences both in the UK and Italy.’ Concert pianist and Artistic Director of PIANO WEEK, Samantha Ward

You can purchase the score in a digital download or print version, here or here.

10 Women Composers You Have to Know About




My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.

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