Having just reviewed a music collection written for a young girl, I now turn to an album written by one.
Based on her SONY Classical recording of the same name, From My Book of Melodies brings together the original compositions of Alma Deutscher, and includes 11 pieces based on melodies that she composed from the age of four to fourteen, one for each of those years.
The music book is published by G.Schirmer / Hal Leonard, and the pieces would suit advanced players (UK Grade 6-8).
In case your initial thought is to wonder why you would purchase a collection of compositions written by so young a child, it is worth knowing that the great conductor Zubin Mehta has called Deutscher “one of the greatest musical talents today”, while Sir Simon Rattle has declared that “Alma is a force of nature”.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Deutscher’s YouTube channel has approaching 14 million views, while her 2019 Carnegie Hall debut, performing her own music, was a sell-out.
Hadn’t we better find out what the fuss is about?
Alma Deutscher was born in 2005 in Basingstoke, England, the daughter of literature professor Janie Deutscher and Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher, both amateur musicians.
Deutscher started playing the piano when she was just two, the violin when three, and by the age of six she had composed her first piano sonata.
Her early musical education reportedly focused on creative improvisation, including lessons over Skype from the Swiss musician Tobias Cramm and instruction from Robert Gjerdingen, both using the pedagogical method of the eighteenth-century Italian partimenti.
Fame arrived overnight at the age of seven when the writer and comedian Stephen Fry promoted her YouTube channel, declaring it,
“Simply mind-blowing: Alma Deutscher playing her own compositions. A new Mozart?”
Within hours, the television crews had descended on the Deutscher family home, much to the astonishment of her parents.
More works flowed from her: a violin concerto at the age of nine, soon followed by a piano concerto…
…and numerous shorter orchestral pieces, chamber works, songs and piano pieces. Her opera Cinderella has been performed on three continents to sold-out houses.
Alongside these extraordinary musical activities, Deutscher has continued home schooling, her parents dedicating themselves to ensuring her activities are balanced with a happy childhood. Since 2018 they have lived in Vienna.
But there can be no doubt that Deutscher’s childhood has been an extraordinary one; nor should we question the seriousness of her musical intent or integrity towards her art. Speaking to German newspaper Die Zeit when she was just 10, she confided,
“I want my music to be taken seriously … and sometimes it’s a little bit difficult for people to take me seriously because I’m just a little girl.”
From My Book …
G.Schirmer / Hal Leonard’s publication is an 80-page book, printed on white paper, staple bound, and appearing in a glossy card cover reproducing the SONY album artwork:
Introducing the publication, Deutscher tells us,
“I started hearing melodies in my head when I was four years old. I pretended that they were songs from my imaginary country…
As soon as I learnt to write music, I started writing my melodies down in a notebook so that I wouldn’t forget them.
Very often, I would note down a melody, and then use it only later, sometimes years later, when I was composing a piece in which this melody would fit.”
As she does in person when performing, Deutscher gives an extensive introduction to each piece, with three pages of background information at the start of the book.
Here’s a clip of her performing I Think of You from 2019:
Thereafter, the book is taken up exclusively with the scores of the eleven included works. The notation is cleanly presented, well spaced and easy on the eye, although awkward page turns in places are unavoidable due to the length and complexity of some pieces.
Deutscher gives few performance directions; pedalling is also discretionary, and no fingering suggestions have been added. Bearing in mind the provenance of the music, it is likely that in any case players will want to use these scores in conjunction with Deutscher’s (superb) recordings.
The titles of the included compositions are:
- For Antonia
- The Lonely Pine-Tree
- Summer in Mondsee
- Up in the sky
- When the day falls into darkness
- The Star of Hope
- In Memoriam
- The Chase
- Sixty Minutes Polka
- I Think of You
- Siren Sounds Waltz
Several of these pieces are solo piano adaptations of music that has appeared in other compositions; Up in the Sky and The Star of Hope have their origins in her opera Cinderella, while In Memoriam has been developed from the Adagio movement of the Piano Concerto she wrote aged ten.
The order here, as on the recorded album, is chronological, meaning that For Antonia is a set of variations on a melody Deutscher wrote at the tender age of just four, while Siren Sounds Waltz is the most recent work, reflecting her impressions of Vienna.
And Vienna looms large in the stylistic influences too, with strong echoes of the youthful Schubert, and of the Strauss family in several pieces. Elsewhere, we can discern hints of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin (notably in the gorgeous piano textures of In Memoriam).
But alongside these precursors, Deutscher’s own voice is clearly heard, her grace, vivacity and humour, such that despite such iconic influences the music has its own 21st-century energy and tone.
Overall, this is music of effortless charm and effervescent optimism. Deutscher has an acute gift for melody, intuitive textural clarity, and has delivered a superb body of neo-classical music that will have wide appeal.
The composer’s extreme youth is perhaps irrelevant to any evaluation of this music, which comfortably holds its own as accomplished, mature concert repertoire. And were the music of her later teens to convey more angst, that will in no way negate the validity of the insouciant charm so vividly displayed in these tremendous, youthful pieces.
Such unusual and frankly astonishing talent has been well served both by SONY’s recording and, the subject of this review, this handsome publication from Hal Leonard.
Stand back and marvel!
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