Ludovico Einaudi – Le Onde

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”.

Canzone Popolare: Composed by Ludovico Einaudi and played by John McGuinness

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.

La Linea Scura: Composed by Ludovico Einaudi and played by John McGuinness

“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.

Questa Notte: Composed by Ludovico Einaudi and played by John McGuinness

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.”

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.


Riversongs (2018)

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.

Listen to John’s Music on your favourite Streaming Service

First Light

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

Photo by Quentin Bounias on Unsplash

Chopin’s Preludes

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.

Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 4 in E Flat Minor
Chopin Prelude Opus 28 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!

This is a short film about Valldemossa, where Chopin used to spend few months of his life working. Maciej Puczynski.
María Márquez: Pianist and Narrator. Guillem Durán: Edition Camera operator and resources Gabriel Quetglas: The charterhouse keeper and guide. Lara Wong: Camera operator and resources Esteban Márquez: Graphics Fundacja Talenty Muzyczne Europy. Musical Talents of Europe.

Chopin’s Etude, Opus 10, No.3

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”

Frederick Chopin Etude Opus 10 No 3

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.

Spring 2020

Above is a link to the first single in my “Run for Cover” Lockdown 2020 series . It is a beautiful melody called “Hurt”, written by Christine Aguilera, Linda Perry and Mark Ronson . I hope it resonates with you.

I get the impression that things will never quite be the same again. Each of us, in hIs or her own way, will have been touched in some way by this pandemic. Many people will have lost loved ones, many their livelihoods and others their health and way of life. My heart goes out particularly to those who, for one reason or another, had very little to lose before the pandemic and have even less to lose now. All has changed utterly.

As for me, I will gradually return to some semblance of “normality” over the next few months. I feel humbled by the experiences of the last few weeks and sense more deeply than ever before my own vulnerability in the face of forces outside my control. I hope, however, that this deeply rooted sense will make me, in some lasting way, a better and more considerate person.

I have become aware of my changing perspective on life and of the things I should not take for granted: family, friends, the interconnectedness of people and the beauty of the world . Of course these changes did not begin with the pandemic – I’ve always seen myself as a pretty reflective kind of a guy – but somehow things have been brought into sharper focus.

Something I have always believed is that an awareness of my own vulnerability and fragility can provoke compassion in me for others. By being in touch with my own vulnerability, I can be more intensely aware of the vulnerability of others, making me, hopefully a little more attentive, empathic and compassionate towards them. Compassion has been much in evidence recently as many people put their lives on the line to nurture, care for and protect those more vulnerable than themselves. To me this is where hope and courage spring from and it is this, more than anything else, that restores my faith in the sheer “goodness” of humankind.

I try to express some of these feelings, thoughts and experiences through my musical compositions and to do this with immediacy. By this I mean that I do not spend endless hours creating a piece of music and crafting it to perfection or adding twiddly wee bits to make it sound clever. I simply compose directly from the heart with honesty and hope that there other hearts out there that not only listen but hear something of themselves reflected in the patterns of sound. It is in this deep sense that I consider music to be one of the profoundest forms of human communication and why I am, at rock bottom, unashamedly romantic.

Over spring I have been involved in a number of projects. Firstly, I have recorded a series of piano covers of popular contemporary music. They will be released over the next few weeks. Each reflects a mood of the times we live in and they have grown in meaning for me. I hope this is reflected in my interpretations of them.

Secondly, I have compiled two new albums, “Towards the Other Side of Nowhere” (Solo Piano) and “Pastoral” ( Piano with Orchestration) and these will be released later in the year.

Finally, I am in the process of writing a modern requiem in memory of two lovely friends who died recently due to Covid-19. This is still in process.

Run for Cover – a series of piano covers of popular contemporary music:

The Trove Cambridge

Delighted to support The Trove Cambridge with their Crowdfunding campaign and Treasures Box Launch! Love the video and the fact that Steph used my music – Yiruma’s ‘River Flows in You’ from ‘The Wedding Album’.

You can find out more about the Trove Cambridge and the Crowdfunding page HERE . Please donate if you can and take a look at the Rewards!

Click the image to listen to
The Wedding Album by John McGuinness

Home is Where the Heart is

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that “home” is not a physical place. Rather, “home” is a state of being – a felt sense of love and belonging. It resides internally, a part of my own personal “inscape”. In other words “Home is where my Heart is”.

The music I have selected below forms part of this “inscape”, this sense of home in all its guises.

“Home” is a pretty little melody and is essentially my “English home“.

“Nostalgia” represents my feelings of longing for Scotland.

“Irish Hero” is dedicated to all those Irish Scots who have contributed so much to Scotland’s way of life.

Finally, “Irish Dances” recalls memories of a happy childhood with my family where Irish and Scottish music (plus a wee bit of Sinatra and Tchaikovsky) cohabited sweetly in my heart. Enjoy!

I was born in Glasgow. Most of my forebears, however, were Irish immigrants who had come to Scotland due to the potato famines.

I am proud to be Irish-Scots. The Irish worked in the mines, steelworks and factories in the late 19th and 20th centuries and, despite considerable poverty and hardship, contributed greatly to the economic, cultural and social expansion of Scotland.

As children growing up in the mid-20th century, my siblings and I were exposed to both Scottish and Irish traditions in music, art and literature. This rich Celtic heritage is one I have come to value more and more as I grow older.

I have lived in England most of my adult life but still feel that sense of home which is Glasgow. Indeed, I often experience a strong sense of nostalgia when I recall my life and my family in Scotland.

However, I have strong roots in England too. All my children are Anglo-French (Michèle was French) and all my grandchildren are English-born. I feel at home here in England and have developed a close affinity with its people and culture. So where is home?

John sharing a piano moment with his cousin, Michelle. Note his sisters’ Irish dancing cups on the piano and the ‘Sacred Heart’ picture which was a feature of many Scottish and Irish Catholic homes.

A Beautiful Sunrise

Sunrise from ‘Wedding Album’

Got up to get a drink this morning and watched dawn break. Such a magnificent sunrise, calm and peaceful, heralding another glorious morning. This little piece which I wrote for David and Steph’s Wedding Album pretty much sums up my feelings about the first light of day. I do hope you like it.