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You’ve surely spotted the rise-and-rise in popularity of so-called ‘new classical’ music, as championed by Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter, Yiruma and others.
Their music seems to travel from TV shows to school concerts, and from adult piano clubs to the studios where those of us who teach students of all ages are routinely asked to help them learn River Flows in You, The Heart Asks Pleasure First, Nuvole Bianche and more.
And why not? These are expressive, melodic and reflective pieces that seem to have struck the perfect chord in our otherwise often turbulent times.
How happy, then, to find a single collection that includes so many of the genre’s top titles in one tastefully presented bumper compendium! Contemporary Piano Masters may just offer a one-stop-solution to your ‘new classical’ needs, bringing together 40 pieces from 20 of “the world’s leading piano composers”.
Let’s take a loser look…
The list of contributing composers here reads like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the genre; readers will no doubt recognise many of the pieces too. Several composers are represented by their biggest hit alone, while others are allowed multiple selections.
Here’s the full list (take a deep breath!)…
- American Beauty (Thomas Newman)
- Ballade Pour Adeline (Richard Clayderman)
- Big My Secret from The Piano (Michael Nyman)
- Comptine d’un autre été, L’après-midi from Amélie (Yann Tiersen)
- Fly (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Dalur (Island Songs V) (Ólafur Arnalds)
- Dawn from Pride & Prejudice (Dario Marianelli)
- Glasgow Love Theme from Love Actually (Craig Armstrong)
- A Game of Badminton from Jane Eyre (Dario Marianelli)
- Grace (Neil Cowley Trio)
- The Heart Asks Pleasure First from The Piano (Michael Nyman)
- Home from The Beauty Inside (Dustin O’Halloran)
- Kiss The Rain (Yiruma)
- If I Could See You Again (Yiruma)
- In The Morning Light (Yanni)
- It’s Your Day (Yiruma)
- Lion Theme from Lion (Hauschka)
- Love Hurts (Yiruma)
- Le Onde (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Love Me (Yiruma)
- Light of the Seven from Game Of Thrones (Ramin Djawadi)
- May Be (Yiruma)
- Merry-Go-Round Of Life from Howl’s Moving Castle (Joe Hisaishi)
- Metamorphosis Two (Philip Glass)
- A Model Of The Universe from The Theory Of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
- Opus 23 (Dustin O’Halloran)
- One Summer’s Day from Spirited Away (Joe Hisaishi)
- Opening (Philip Glass)
- Nuvole Bianche (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Penn Ar Roc’h (Yann Tiersen)
- Prelude No. 2 (Dustin O’Halloran)
- Primavera (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Porz Goret (Yann Tiersen)
- River Flows In You (Yiruma)
- Reprise from Spirited Away (Joe Hisaishi)
- The Shape Of Water Theme from The Shape Of Water (Alexandre Desplat)
- The Tearjerker Returns (Chilly Gonzales)
- Una Mattina (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Vladimir’s Blues (Max Richter)
- Written on the Sky (Max Richter)
There’s no doubt that many will find these contents highly enticing, including as it does so many of the most beloved piano solos of recent years.
I find the list illuminating in other ways. How interesting, for example, to observe that ‘new classical’ has its roots in an amalgam of so many sources and styles.
Here we find music once called ‘New Age’, minimalism, film, TV, anime, computer game and contemporary popular influences converging around what have become the instantly recognisable tropes of the ’new classical’ style: repeated pattern-based fragments, ubiquitous left hand vamps, spartan triadic harmony, an emphasis on mood rather than melody, and so on.
Most interestingly, these qualities are all present and correct in the two pieces by Philip Glass that are included here, Opening (1982) and Metamorphosis Two (1988), suggesting from a musicological perspective that Glass’s 1980’s piano works might be ‘ground zero’ for the whole genre.
This isn’t to suggest that the music in this collection lacks variety, or that the personalities of individual composers have been subsumed by cliché. Rather, what is striking is that the commonality of aesthetic, musical ethos and even specific piano figurations have resulted in so fertile and popular a seam of music.
Some will still bemoan that none of these pieces have quite the melodic charm of Mozart, the dramatic narrative of Beethoven, the psychological insight of Schumann or emotive poetry of Chopin. This point, though accurately and well-observed, seems to me to miss the obvious: here is a music of our time, self-consciously simple, approachable, composed for a universal audience.
These composers surely have no design to supplant the great composers of the classical canon, rather to supplement that repertoire with music that offers a counterpoint to the cacophony of the modern world.
Hal Leonard present this music in a bumper 168-page book with an understated and tasteful cover, given a soft matt finish:
Printed on white paper, the notation is of an ample size, and is clearly engraved and well-spaced throughout.
Performance directions are few, and in particular I must lament the lack of fingering, having been told by so many players that they highly value fingering guidance when exploring new music. Again, a little backdrop information about the music would have been welcome.
The difficulty level of the pieces is described as ‘intermediate’; I would suggest it is late intermediate to early advanced, suitable for players at around UK Grades 4-7. Happily, this is an appropriate level for many who are especially enthusiastic to play these pieces.
In addition to this main publication, and for those who are perhaps less patient, there is a related simplified version:
I am told that this edition includes the exact same 40 pieces, simplified for players at around UK Grades 2-4, elementary to early intermediate. I’ve not seen this version, so cannot comment on whether it includes fingering or whether the arrangements are musically satisfying. If you have seen or used the simplified edition, would you mind leaving a comment to let us know more about it?
Those who already love this music, or are keen to explore it, will be delighted to find such a well-balanced and popular selection of pieces in one tasty volume.
That said, those looking for specific pieces might be disappointed. Some who are enjoying their first discovery of Einaudi, for example, may miss his ever-popular I Giorni if they don’t already have the sheet music elsewhere.
And there’s a few other surprising omissions: there’s neither music here by the early pioneer George Winston, nor any by Jennifer Thomas (whose A Beautiful Storm has been the runaway hit with my students in recent years). Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina would have been welcome too. Online favourite Dirk Maassen, recently signed to Sony Classical is also missing, as are the names Joep Beving, Alexis Ffrench, and Nils Frahm.
Where ‘new classical’ goes next, and indeed how much mileage remains, is a matter of conjecture.
In the meantime, Hal Leonard have done a fine job of charting the story so far. Though inevitably incomplete, Contemporary Piano Masters brings together an indispensable treasury of the finest and freshest music to have defined the genre, and as such it is a collection few piano-lovers will want to be without.
Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music
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