In today’s blog celebrating the piano music of Ludovico Einaudi, I will explore his ground-breaking album “Le Onde” which was released in 1996. Einaudi’s popularity in the UK was mediated by the prevalence of his music on the popular and influential British radio station Classic FM and it immediately drew a huge response from listeners.
Le Onde 1996 (“The Waves”) was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name and was an album comprising 13 tracks. It opens with a short, melodious 16th Century French melody entitled “Canzone Popolare”.
This is followed by the gorgeous title cover song “Le Onde”. Essentially, in this song, Einaudi sets out to explore the ideas behind the waves, time and life. The end result is a highly melodic piece, which successfully captures the rhythm of the waves. The basic melody is constant throughout, but subtly changes at different points, just as one might expect of the waves.
Given the fact that “Le Onde” is one of Einaudi’s early landmark pieces, I leave it to the man himself to play this for you. In my opinion, this is both charming and stylish.
Of the other tracks on the album, my favourite ones are “La Linea Scura” and “Questa Notte”.
“La Linea Scura” (“Dark Line”) refers to the line of the horizon that separates sea and sky. Once again influenced by the writing of Woolf, Einaudi decided to capture in music the description in words by Woolf of the line on the horizon where the clouds meet the sea. I recorded “La Linea Scura” many years ago. I do hope you enjoy it.
“Quests Notte“ (“This Night”) is a celebration of the night and was a great favourite when it was released. It is a piece of some complexity. In my opinion, the phrasing of the piece reminds me that, as a young composer, Einaudi played folk guitar. One certainly sees this influence in the writing of this composition, particularly in the opening sections. One hears resonances of the title track and it is perhaps best to view this composition as a richly textured variation on “Le Onde”. He often played this song as a finale piece in some of his early concerts.
Einaudi attempted to outline his vision of the album with the following words:
“If it were a story it would be set on the seafront of a long beach. A beach without beginning and without end. The story of a man who walks along this shore and perhaps never meets anyone. His gaze lingers occasionally to look at some object or fragment brought from the sea. The footprints of a crab or a solitary seagull. I always take the sand, the sky, some clouds, the sea. Only the waves change, always the same and different, smaller, larger, shorter, longer.”
I’ve always loved Einaudi’s beautifully haunting and lyrical music. What separates it out from other contemporary piano music is that, while the music itself is simple, it has a depth of feeling and emotion that is quite unparalleled. It is both poetic and rich in musicality.
Einaudi was born in Turin, Piedmont, in 1955. His father, Giulio Einaudi, was a publisher working with authors including Itali Calvino. His paternal grandfather, Luigi Einaudi, was President of Italy between 1948 and 1955. His mother, Renata Aldrovandi, a gifted amateur pianist, played the piano to him as a child. His maternal grandfather, Waldo Aldrovandi, was a pianist, opera conductor, and composer who emigrated to Australia after World War II.
Einaudi started composing his own music as a teenager, first writing by playing a folk guitar. He began his musical training at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan, obtaining a diploma in composition in 1982. That same year he took an orchestration class taught by Luciano Berio and was awarded a scholarship to the Tanglewood Music Festival. According to Einaudi, “[Luciano Berio] did some interesting work with African vocal music and did some arrangements of Beatles songs, and he taught me that there is a sort of dignity inside music. I learnt orchestration from him and a very open way of thinking about music.”
He also learned by collaborating with musicians such as Ballaké Sissoko from Malib and Djivan Gasparyan from Armenia. His music is ambient, meditative, and often introspective, drawing on minimalism and contemporary rock.
Ludovico Einaudi’s early compositions in the 1980s used traditional chamber music and orchestral forms, and he created several dance and multimedia pieces which foreshadowed his later work in film and TV soundtracks.
From the mid-Nineties and into the new century, it was his piano-based albums Le Onde (inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves), Eden Roc and I Giorni which began to break him through to a popular audience. The title pieces of each of those discs epitomised Einaudi’s trademark qualities of simple, haunting melodies, lucid harmonies and a vaguely mystical sense of being taken on some kind of inner quest. It was meditative music full of inviting spaces. These works suggested that Einaudi was also a little more radical than his detractors might give him credit for. His willingness to experiment was evident on his second album, Stanze (1992), a group of his compositions performed by Cecilia Chailly (sister of conductor Riccardo Chailly) on the electric harp, creating a startlingly and exhilarating tapestry of sounds.
There is an elitism in the classical music world that rejects Einaudi’s music as repetitive and simplistic. These views are often perpetrated by those who are quick to decry social elitism, while simultaneously displaying a certain academic elitism towards those people who enjoy Einaudi’s music and flock to his concerts.
For example, Philip Clark in a Guardian Review dated 1st August, 2019 provided a scathing attack on Einaudi’s 2019 concert describing his work variously as “unmemorable and humourless”, “soulless”, “unpalatably synthetic” and “cheap” even though Einaudi succeeded in filling the Barbican Hall five nights in a row!
So much traditional music, outstanding and admirable as it is, can suffer from having too many unnecessary passages and an over-concentration of notes. In my humble view, Einaudi’s music, rather than “lacking content”, is in fact rich in content and lacking in clutter. The sayings “less is more” and “simplicity- the key to all good taste” come to mind. It is in this deep sense that I regard his music as Minimalist rather than simplistic.
Ludovico Einaudi’s music regularly tops the classical charts globally and has also proved remarkably adaptable to the era of streaming and downloading. The overlays of electronica on In A Time Lapse (2013) prompted a stampede of download sales, while Einaudi’s Seven Days Walking: Day 1 was the fastest-streamed album ever by a classical composer and exceeded 2 million streams on the day of release.
The evocative clarity of Einaudi’s music has made him a natural choice for advertisers and film makers. Although Einaudi eschews the idea that his music is exclusively classical (e.g. he has repeatedly stated that his music is inspired by “world’, folk song, jazz, rock as well as classical) he is regarded by many as the most successful classical composer of his generation. His music is instantly popular and recognisable.
“I like the idea that something that I hear moves me inside,” says Einaudi, “and sometimes when I play I can feel this happening to the audience. I don’t consider the piano as a job. It’s very connected to my inner feelings.”
Musical taste is subjective and highly personal. Einaudi’s music may be simple, but there is beauty in simplicity, and accessibility in his gentle, inoffensive lyricism, as confirmed by the huge popularity of his music. It may not compete with the complexities and imagination of Messaien, but it is possible to like both. For many, Einaudi’s music provides solace in our uncertain times, and for that reason alone, it has value. Perhaps next time a critic attends a concert where the music says nothing to them, but appeals to a large number of people, they might pause to consider why this is the case.
Chopin was born on 1st March 1810 in Warsaw and was to become one of the world’s best known composers and virtuoso pianists. He has maintained worldwide renown as a composer whose “poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.” (Rosen, 1995).
The following blogs were designed to be read in order but can be enjoyed individually. I will be presenting some history, alongside some professional videos and some of my own recordings of Chopin’s best loved pieces. I do hope that you enjoy this little encounter with one of the world’s greatest ever piano composers.
I have recently filmed performances of my two favourite pieces from my first collection of piano compositions – “Riversongs” (2018).
The first of these is a simple, lyrical melody written for my oldest granddaughter, Aimy. It is a simple expression of loving feelings by a grandfather (or “Papy”, as Aimy calls me) for his beautiful granddaughter.
The second recording is the title song of the album, “Riversong”. This piece written in 2014 is a poignant piece. It describes views of the River Trent in Autumn and early Winter. Following the death of my lovely wife, Michele, in 2010, I often walked the fields by the river very early in the morning and was struck by the peaceful beauty of the scenes – the mists over the water, the stillness of the riverbank and the faint silhouettes of St.Wysten’s steeple across the river in Repton. I would begin to sense the stirrings of the little river “people”, their slumber interrupted by the early morning light. Close by, Willington would be coming to life, its inhabitants ready for another day. The scenes seemed to mirror a sense in me of the beauty and vulnerability of life shared by all living beings.
I dedicated this composition to Jeremy and Debbie, my son and his wife who, like me, lived on the banks of the Trent.
If you enjoyed these recordings, you will find the album on most of the top music streaming services – Spotify, YouTube, Apple, Amazon, Tidal, Deezer etc.
Chopin is, undoubtedly, the pianist’s composer. Although he composed two concertos for piano and orchestra and some ensemble pieces, his best-loved compositions are for piano solo.
His larger scale works such as the sonatas, the four scherzi, the four ballades, the Fantaisie in F minor, opus 49 and the Barcarolle in F sharp major, opus 60 have cemented a solid place within the piano repertoire, as have his shorter works: the polonaises, the mazurkas, the waltzes, the Impromptus and the nocturnes.
Chopin invested all these works with deep feeling and emotion. His distinctive style conveys a musicality and beauty unsurpassed and the range of his work demonstrates versatility and virtuosity.
In order to illustrate this, I have selected three pieces which demonstrate the melodic and emotional depth of his work. I hope my recordings do some justice to these beautiful works.
Piano: John McGuinness
Chopin’s music is still very popular today and has been an inspiration to later pianists, composers and audiences. Indeed, contemporary piano composers are very much influenced by his romantic style and many refer to themselves as the new romantics. Major outlets for this music are to be found in film, theatre and the concert hall. These composers will be the subject of future blogs and include Ludovico Einaudi, Dario Marianelli, Yiruma and many more.
The term “Nocturne” was first applied to musical pieces in the 18th century. It indicated an ensemble piece in several movements, normally played for an evening party and then laid aside.
However, in its more familiar form, as a short piece usually written for solo piano, the nocturne was cultivated primarily in the 19th century. The first nocturnes to be written for piano were by the Irish composer, John Field (26 July 1782–23 January 1837).
Field is generally viewed as the father of the romantic nocturne, being the person who elevated the nocturne to the status later achieved by the great romantic composers, such as Chopin. The nocturne is traditionally associated with the night – a sort of evening serenade. However, it came to be associated more with its musical form. Simply put, it is usually in the form of a pure melody on the right hand with arpeggios on left hand.
Field composed eighteen nocturnes, their mixture of reverie and charming melodic invention providing constant musical delight.
I think one of the best examples of a nocturne in its pure form is Field’s first ever nocturne, Nocturne No. 1 in E FlatMajor. I decided, for better or for worse, to record it a few years back. I do hope you enjoy my rendition of it, warts n’all.
Incidentally, to give some idea of Field’s popularity in Russia – where he lived and worked for many years – he is mentioned in passing in War and Peace. There is a scene in Tolstoy’s novel where Countess Rostova calls on the Rostov household musician to play her favourite nocturne.
However, the most famous exponent of the form was Frederick Chopin who wrote 21 nocturnes. His nocturnes for piano solo are undoubtedly amongst the most glorious in the classical piano repertoire. They cover a broad spectrum of feelings and moods and are rich in musicality.
I am working on two of Chopin’s nocturnes at the moment but I haven’t recorded them yet. Maybe in a future blog when I reach my 300th birthday!
It is one of the curses of being largely self-taught that I fear I have arrived at Chopin a little too late in my life. However, the magic of audio and video recording brings with it immediate access to the genius of Chopin through the beautiful performances of world-renowned pianists.
I recently saw on YouTube a wonderful performance by a young pianist called Tiffany Poon. She is playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major, Opus 9, No.2. I found it rather beautiful and very moving. I hope you enjoy it too.
I hope this little blog and Tiffany’s gorgeous playing might entice you, even if you are not normally into classical piano music, to search out more of Chopin’s beautiful nocturnes. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
I wrote this little piece for my late wife, Michèle, who died just before Christmas in 2010. I found that writing a musical diary was so beneficial to my grieving process. I remember at the time feeling Michèle’s loss as if it were a deep wound in my heart. I found that music gently soothed my aching heart and recalled me to the new life that I had to confront – slowly and painfully. A life without her – a life where she was everywhere, yet nowhere. In fact the original title I gave to the piece was “Everywhere and Nowhere”.
However, with the passing years happiness and joy have gradually come back into my life. I changed the title to “First Light” because this title speaks of new beginnings and the return of a future direction so essential to a refreshed engagement with life and the many loving people who form part of that life.
It is a deeply personal rendition but, after so many years, I feel privileged to share it with you
Chopin wrote a number of preludes for piano solo. His cycle of 24 Preludes, Opus 28 covers all major and minor keys
They are short pieces for the piano, and were originally published in 1839. Whereas the term “prelude” had up to that time been used to describe an introductory piece, Chopin’s preludes are self-contained units, each conveying a specific idea or emotion.
Chopin wrote some of the preludes whilst staying at Valldemossa, Mallorca, during the winter of 1838–39, where he had fled with George Sand and her children to escape the damp Paris weather.
The following two preludes are my favourites. They each convey a depth of feeling that quite surpasses expectation. They are No. 4 in E Minor and No. 15 in D flat Major.
I do hope you enjoy listening to them. They have proved to be very popular over the years and have found their way into popular culture through film, theatre and drama. A wonderful legacy!
Here are two quite different videos from Youtube about Chopin and Sands stay in Valldemossa!
Étude Op. 10, No. 3, in E Major is a study for solo piano composed by Chopin in 1832. It was first published in 1833 in France, Germany, and England.
This is a slow cantabile created to assist students with their musical expressiveness and smoothness of playing. For me, it is simply one of the nicest wee tunes I’ve ever heard. Even the maestro himself believed the melody of the piece to be the most beautiful he had ever composed.
The melody became famous through numerous popular arrangements. Although this étude is sometimes identified by the names “Tristesse” (Sadness) or “L’ Adieu” (Farewell), neither is a name given by Chopin, but rather his critics. For me, it is rich in all sorts of feelings and, as such, irresistibly romantic.
I hope you enjoy my recording of this piece which I made some time ago for the “Wedding Album”
The dominant feeling that comes across from the music is a deep sense of nostalgia. This is actually confirmed by some of Chopin’s students. One reported that, on hearing his student play the Etude, Chopin wept and said out loud “ My homeland!”.
It is claimed that Chopin altered parts of the Etude so that a poem by Marian Jozefovicz would fit better to the music. For this reason, I find the following performance of the song derived from the Etude and sung in Polish, very touching. You might also like the version sung by Janus Popławski, a tenor from 1934 which can be found here.
My Polish sister-in-law played the Etude beautifully. My French mother-in-law used to refer to it as Tino Rossi‘s “Tristesse”. I’ve always loved the French version because it reminds me of beautiful summer days in France so many years ago.
There have been many English versions of the song “So Deep is the Night”, heavily based on the Etude. These range from beautiful to mediocre to appalling. One version which is rather delightful sung by David Chittick, is presented below with clips from the film “A Song to Remember” a 1945 musical drama in which Chopin sacrifices everything, even love, for his native Poland.
Many films have used the Etude as background, one notable example being near the beginning of “Testament of Youth”, a highly acclaimed film based on the life of Vera Britten, the late Shirley Williams’ mother.
This blog is the first in a series focusing on my favourite piano composers. I will be presenting some recordings of Chopin’s best loved pieces and I do hope that you enjoy this little encounter with one of the world’s greatest ever piano composers.
Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was born on 1st March 1810 in Warsaw and was to become one of the world’s best known composers and virtuoso pianists. He has maintained worldwide renown as a composer whose “poetic genius was based on a professional technique that was without equal in his generation.” (Rosen, 1995).
Chopin was a musical prodigy and he had completed many glorious early works by the time he was 20 years old. This first blog focuses on an extremely popular waltz composed by Chopin in the year 1829 at the age of 19. Waltz Op. 69, No. 2. from Deux Valses (“Two Waltzes”) was only published posthumously in 1852. The main theme is in the key of B Minor and is marked with an overall tempo of Moderato.
Chopin’s music has had a broad appeal and many of his melodies are instantly recognisable today. When I was a young psychology student at Glasgow University in the early 1970’s a lovely friend, Anne, gave me a book of Chopin Waltzes. I have always felt daunted by the prospect of playing Chopin but my love of and respect for his music has led me to “try” one or two of his pieces and, now that I am retired, I have even managed to record my efforts.
The piece for me conveys a strong sense of underlying melancholia. There are three different sections. The waltz opens with a beautiful melody that is very popular. For right or wrong, I like to play the opening a bit slower than a lot of players because I genuinely feel that the slightly slower tempo conveys more of the underlying pathos of the piece. Soon the melody changes. It is quicker, lighter, smoother as if the load is lifted a little and is a little bit cheerier in tone. The change to a major key assists this. Then the melancholia returns with the opening theme reestablished toward the end. I suspect my fondness for this piece is due to the way the music seems to mirror perfectly the switches in mood Chopin is purported to have experienced throughout his life.
Although it has achieved great popularity, ironically, it is one of several works that the composer hoped would be burnt upon his death. Thankfully, it wasn’t!