Markus Schimpp: Yearning for Silence

Featured publications are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Markus Schimpp’s recording Yearning for Silence, which was released on the NEOS Music label in 2019, is one of the more interesting albums of original piano music from recent years, melding the post-minimal simplicity of Einaudi with the more advanced (and at times dissonant) harmonic language of the 20th century’s modernist classical composers.

Happily, his full transcriptions of these “33 Approximations of Silence” have recently also been published by the ever-wonderful Editions Musica Ferrum, their sheet music book the subject of this review.

Suitable for early advanced players (the easiest pieces here are around UK Grade 3, but most are closer to Grade 6), I believe this collection will be a superb discovery for many readers, and is certainly my pick of the recent bunch of inventive and evocative miniatures for players at this level.

Let’s take a look, and a listen…

Such Fortuitous Beginnings…

Schimpp is a veteran of the cabaret, with a diverse career that includes singing, piano playing and directing as well as composing music for silent films and accompanying them live in theatres.

Yearning for Silence shows a different side of his highly adaptive musical personality. Introducing his collection, Schimpp informs us,

“I began to write short piano pieces, using as little musical material as possible. Simple thoughts that end before they fully manifest, in order to send the listener into another mental direction with the next piece. I consciously avoided fast virtuosic passages to create a contemplative atmosphere – sort of my idea of a changing musical mantra, which ideally results in being ‘lost in thought’ in a positive sense.”

Bearing in mind Schimpp’s unequivocal success in maintaining the contemplative atmosphere he hoped for, the variety of expression and approach found within the cycle is particularly surprising and impressive.

Insofar as all the pieces contribute to an ambience of reflection, some do so through slow tempi and pianissimo dynamic, others through combining concise musical gestures with recurring fermata. In some pieces, a sense of timelessness is generated through the use of multiple and irregular time signatures; in others, the gently shifting harmonic foundations and resolution of dissonance serve as gentle tools for healing.

Why not listen to the full album on YouTube:

Commenting on the organisation of the collection, Schimpp goes on to reveal that they appear “in what I felt was a sensible sequence”, and played as a cycle they deliver around an hour’s music of singular intensity.

But I see no reason for not playing any of these pieces in isolation; indeed, as I played through them myself (over a period of several weeks), I generally found that in performing each piece I then wanted to pause and engage with my own thoughts in response to the mood generated.

Similarly, it would not in my view contradict the composer’s logic or approach for the player to pick their own sequence of a few pieces.

Commenting on the number of pieces overall, Schimpp confides,

“While composing I happened to read a report about Korea’s capital city of Seoul and its local tradition of ringing an enormous bell 33 times, a lucky number in Korea, every New Year. So I decided on the spur of the moment to limit these pieces to the same number. For me it’s comforting to know that Yearning for Silence has such fortuitous beginnings.”

The Publication

Musica Ferrum have delivered a gorgeous sheet music book which arrives with the original album cover reproduced on luxury matt card:

Within, the 56 pages are delivered on high-quality white paper (in contrast to the cream of Musica Ferrum’s traditional house style, but appropriate here to match the cover aesthetic) and the majority of the publication is taken up with the notation.

This in turn is very clearly engraved, and reproduced with commendable spaciousness. A very minor criticism is that too many of the two-page pieces require a page turn; this could have been mitigated with the addition of an occasional “intentionally blank” page to facilitate performance.

On a similar note, I would have liked the edition to have included some fingering suggestions to support independent learning, and it’s worth noting that many of the pieces will particularly favour players with larger hands; those with smaller spans will find some stretches challenging. In any case, a well-developed pedalling technique is essential throughout.

Very minor disclaimers aside, this really is an edition to cherish, and hats off (as ever) to Nikolas Sideris for a brilliantly managed and expertly refined presentation.

Closing Thoughts

It would perhaps be easy to overlook Yearning for Silence as just another collection of compositions by a composer whose name isn’t quite familiar. But that would be to our immense loss, as this truly is an exquisite collection of intelligent, well-crafted and deeply touching music.

Combining both the popular aesthetic of current classical music and the rich heritage of serious classical modernism, these pieces are a sublime source of relief from the often-prosaic and mundane music that fills both the airwaves and piano teaching studios around the world.

In short, Yearning for Silence is exactly the music that I personally yearn for, find nourishing as a player and rewarding as a teacher. Students and piano enthusiasts embracing this music and relishing it on its own terms will be genuinely enriched. Wonderful indeed!

Digital licenses are available from the publisher’s website here, while physical copies are available here:

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.