Yann Tiersen is best known for his brilliant and suitably quirky soundtrack to the movie Amélie, which yielded such contemporary classics as the Waltz from Amélie and of course Comptine d’un autre été.
Tiersen’s varied career has taken in further soundtrack work as well as solo instrumental recording projects, the latest of which is the album Kerber, released last month. Kerber maintains the signature sound that his fans have come to love so much, mixing lush piano lines with a gorgeous bed of electronic musical elements, ranging from the subtle to retro kitsch sci-fi.
Comprising 7 tracks which combined last around 46 minutes, Kerber is one of those albums within the new classical space which I think deserves repeated listens, and which I believe will stand the test of time.
Whether this is music that solo piano players will find themselves performing is another matter, but to help satiate the enthusiasm of Tiersen’s fans, Hal Leonard have just published the music book. So do these pieces work without the album’s other musical trappings? Let’s find out…
The Music Book
The music book predictably and rightly comes clothed in a cover that reproduces Katy Ann Gilmore’s fabulous artwork from the CD release:
The cover has a sturdy but pliable matt feel, the staple-bound book within comprising 72 pages printed on white paper. The contents and title pages offer generous padding, and there’s an introduction in which we read,
“This new collection is closely connected to Ushant, the Breton island located 30km off the west coast of Brittany in the Celtic Sea that Tiersen calls home… each track is tied to a place mapping out the immediate landscape that surrounds Tiersen’s home. This isn’t a collection about isolation, however, it’s more an expression of being conscious of your own direct environment and you place within it – a sonic encapsulation of the hyper-local.”
The seven pieces, identical to the album, are:
- Ar Maner Kozh
- Ker Yegu
- Ker al Loch
- Poull Bojer
The notation which follows is very spaciously presented, most pieces taking up several pages. It is a clean, minimal score in every sense; Tiersen offers few dynamics, and there are neither pedal marks nor fingering suggestions.
Vast Expansiveness, Intricate Detail
“I think there is a similarity between the infinite big and the infinite smallness of everything…”
So writes the composer, introducing this collection which, in common with so much of his music, draws vast expansiveness and intricate detail together in the same brushstrokes.
Here’s a taste of the album, all of which can be found on YouTube and good music streaming sites:
Listening to this track, it is clear that there’s great beauty in its simplicity; it is clear, too, that the electronic elements contribute significantly to the whole rather than being merely dispensable sonic frills.
The piano solo (which for this piece spans five pages) incorporates or at least hints at some of these added gestures, but for the most part stays true to the piano of the original recording. That not only means that something is lost, but also that other elements of the music (for example the soft opening LH chords) come far more to the fore, allowing us to explore the piece from a new angle.
And so it is throughout the book. In many of the pieces this works well; Ar Maner Kozh has an eloquent simplicity, Ker Yegu reminds me of the Amélie vibe, as in fact does Poull Bojer. Meanwhile, Ker al Loch suffers rather more from the loss of electronica, becoming too repetitive.
It is worth noting that most of the music in this collection requires a large hand stretch and supple, rotational wrist flexibility. The transcriptions are aimed very much at the advanced player.
This is a handsome folio which allows us to get inside Tiersen’s music, and to explore it in ways that the recording alone doesn’t invite. In many ways of course, this is exactly what playing music is all about: digging as deeply as our curiosity and fascination invites us to.
There’s a deliciously idiosyncratic, humane and unmistakably Gallic quality in French music from Couperin to Jean Michel Jarre and from Satie to Air; it’s here in the music of Tiersen too, and the idea that these pieces are somehow “hyper-local” seems to me interestingly apt. I wonder whether that is partly what separates his compositions from the crowd, and imbues his music with such special colour.
Few of these pieces are likely to appear in concerts. But Kerber is a hugely worthwhile and rewarding release, which fans of Tiersen’s music will want to snap up right away.
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