Ludovico Einaudi

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.

Notte Part 1 performed by Cecilia Chailly from Einaudi’s Stanze (2011)

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.

Frederick Chopin 01.03.1810

Frederick Chopin

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.

Chopin’s Legacy

Chopin at 25, by Maria Wodzinska, 1835

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.

Chopin Waltz in A flat major, opus 69, No.1
Chopin Polonaise in G minor, opus.posthum
Chopin Waltz in A minor, opus 34, No.2

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.

Chopin, Field and the Nocturne

Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2

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 Flat Major. 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.

Field’s first ever nocturne, Nocturne No. 1 in E Flat Major

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!

Where?

Over the past six months I have written some new piano pieces. These “Songs Without Words” are relatively short and are unashamedly romantic in style.

Each track is a composition in its own right. However, they are connected to each other emotionally and intellectually. They are sincere expressions of my inner world, my “inscape” as it interacts with the “landscape” around me.

As I write this, we are still experiencing the demands of lockdown but, at least, there is a semblance of a return to some kind of normality in the not too distant future.

Music is a wonderful gift of communication and I have been touched throughout the pandemic by the way so many people have danced, sung and played music in order to keep everyone’s spirits high, bring us socially together and provide us with dreams of a better tomorrow.

I rather suspect it will take many years for people to absorb the enormity of the pandemic and its effects on our lives. Slowly but surely we will become less “anaesthetised” to the full social, psychological, cultural and economic damage and gradually awaken to the full horror of the death toll and of a world changed utterly. As with all change, however, it will bring positive outcomes as well. One thing for sure is that we will awaken gradually to a fuller awareness of the fragility of our existence.

I have always believed that communication through music can help us to come to terms with loss and bereavement and begin to dream again. It is in this spirit that I wrote these little pieces of piano music.

The songs have a different feel to my last album “Requiem” (2020). Whereas “Requiem” was about a world of loss and sorrow, hurt and anger, my latest set of songs is about a world of conciliation, new beginnings and tenderness.

“Where?” is a little melody that I found myself whistling. I wrote the melody down and then added a simple chord progression. I don’t do words – I’m useless with lyrics. This annoys me intensely because sometimes my little tunes suggest words and I hear little phrases in my head as I hum the song. As is characteristic of me, I select one of these little phrases as the basis for a title. Funnily enough, “Where?” seems to fit perfectly the sense of searching which I often experience as I walk in the woods.

If you are interested in my little piece “Where?”, it is available on most channels – Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, Apple and many more… click HERE

Audio

My Musical Diary

When Will I See You Again?

Following the death of my wife, Michèle, in December 2010, I found that music and walking helped me greatly during the long hours of sustained grief. I felt I was in a bubble far from the world of people and events. Within this place, I found myself composing little pieces of music, my “rien du touts” (“nothing at alls”)

These piano pieces were inspired by lengthy walks along the River Trent. Despite the sadness, I usually found myself humming little melodies in my head. The minute I got home, I would rush to the piano and scribble down each melody in my notepad. I would then work for hours, transcribing the music using a notation app before recording it on the piano. I would lose myself in these little compositions and they soon became my emotional connection to the world, describing the places I visited, the characters I met and the people I love – a kind of musical diary.

In time, these little tunes became an intrinsic part of my life and I began to realise that they expressed who I was as a person, sometimes in emotionally charged ways, sometimes in quite subtle ways! When someone suggested to me that I should share my work with others, I became aware that sharing my music would be akin to exposing parts of myself to external scrutiny. I found this difficult to contemplate because, by nature, I am a very private person.

I had found in the past – largely through my professional work as a psychology lecturer – that it is damned difficult to expose even a little bit of yourself to public evaluation and criticism. I believe this to be a fundamental fear in everyone and pertains heavily to individuals who share their creative works with other people, whether they are in education, business or the creative arts. Nevertheless, in November 2018 I released my first Album, “Riversongs”.

Depite my initial reticence, I have received many kind words about my music from people all over the world. I have found this both pleasing and deeply moving. My only disappointment is that a few of my little “rien du touts” have remained just that, “nothing at alls” because they haven’t been played a great deal. However, they are still very special to me!

Some of my earliest compositions are featured in my first two albums Riversongs and Reflections. These include Riversong, Snowdrops, Song for Michèle, When Will I See You Again, First Light and Amour; which can be found by clicking the album cover images below.

Autumn Dreams

Barrow on Trent , Autumn 2018
Autumn Dreams from the album ‘Papy Cool’

Today had a beautiful autumnal feel, the vivid colours and the light, the trees slowly turning orange and yellow and the cold moist air. The music reflects my attempt to keep snuggled up in coat and scarf, sniffing the mushroom odours of the dying foliage.

How about catching some more chilled out music on my album: