Ola Gjeilo: Dawn

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Ola Gjeilo’s Night was not just one of the most comforting CD releases of 2020, but in its sheet music form (reviewed here) became one to the most poplar contemporary piano collections that I have taught to my students, rivalling and generally besting the music of Einaudi and the other best-selling artists dominating the new classical space.

Now, Norwegian composer Gjeilo is back with an equally superb sequel, and it is appropriately titled Dawn. The CD version appeared back in the autumn. The sheet music publication arrived today, and having played through the pieces I want to waste no time before bringing you my recommendation…

Darkness to… Dawn

Publishers Chester Music / Hal Leonard tell us:

Dawn is the follow-up to Ola Gjeilo’s 2020 piano album Night, which was inspired by the twilight hours in New York, his adopted hometown, and has amassed over 50 million streams to date. Released in 2022, the sequel was inspired by the peaceful light and stillness at dawn in Oregon and California.”

Those familiar with Night will be immediately at home with Gjeilo’s sequel. Even the cover artwork channels the image of the previous collection:

The new album contains 17 miniatures, all with suitably evocative titles:

  • Daybreak
  • New Moon
  • Eternity
  • Sun Prelude
  • Manhattan Sunrise
  • Blue
  • Homebound
  • Clarity
  • Montana
  • Orange Sound
  • Stasis
  • Chronicles
  • Origin
  • Silver Lining
  • Dawn Sky
  • First Light
  • Shine

Carefully eschewing the corny, the kitsch and the saccharine, Gjeilo weaves a remarkable spell in each of these 17 short and immediately lovable compositions. The finished impact is truly a balm, which is especially impressive given the ubiquity of new ambient piano classics.

Gjeilo brings to his art an awareness of the composer’s craft that many seem to lack. How can the course of a piece of music seem so inevitably obvious, and yet remain so unpredictable?

Gjeilo certainly has a remarkable gift for combining simplicity and originality of expression, and this music reaffirms him as, in my view, a frontrunner in the field of accessible contemporary composers.

If there is an evolution in Gjeilo’s style, it is perhaps in the overall vibe the pieces evoke: where Night seemed to me to take comfort in silence and solitude, Dawn offers a more open-hearted optimism.

The Publication

Writing about the sheet music publication, I am bound to echo the points I made in my previous review of Night: once again the collection is published in a simple but classy book with a glossy soft cover, durable high quality white paper and staple binding.

This time, Gjeilo would seem to have passed the music editing duties to Dan Rollinson and James Welland, who have done a superb job of transcribing his pieces. Having listened to the original recordings with the score in my hand, and having played through the whole folio, I found no errors or deviations.

Overall, the technical demands made by these pieces would suit a late intermediate to more advanced player (around UK Grade 5-7), but the emotional subtlety of the music is best suited to more reflective adult players.

When it comes to performance directions, aside from metronome marks few are given. As before, again, each piece includes the opening invitation con ped, but then leaves it to the player to use their ears and determine the desirable amount of pedalling for themselves.

In my review of Night I noted that many of the pieces require a stretch of a tenth in order to maintain the composer’s voicing of chords: this remains true of Dawn, and we must assume that Gjeilo himself has large hands!

He also enjoys ninth chords, and here the thumb can often play two notes simultaneously. There are several examples of this in the following approved excerpt:

I do have something of an ongoing gripe that fingering suggestions are not included. Such a pity, as this music is so often enjoyed by teenage and adult players with little or no teacher support.

Regardless of this minor quibble, Chester Music remain the leaders in producing sheet music collections in this popular genre, and they can as ever be commended for a superb printed score.

Closing Thoughts

I have been looking forward to the arrival of this publication since first hearing advance tracks last summer, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Vampires aside, those who enjoyed Night will likewise find Dawn inviting and rewarding; I can only echo my point that personally I find Gjeilo’s piano pieces deeply satisfying.

And those who have yet to discover his wonderful music could equally start with Gjeilo’s earlier collection or with this superb sequel: either way, I hope you find his music as genuinely enriching as I have!

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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.