Calming Piano Solos

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Hal Leonard recently issued two editions (respectively offering 35 “Piano Solo” pieces and 19 arrangements for “Easy Piano”) of the unambiguously named collection Calming Piano Solos.

I can guess what some readers are thinking, and yes, I Giorni and Una Mattina are present and correct. But before you jump to the wrong conclusion and give up reading further, it’s worth noting that these books are something of a surprise, offering a wealth of fresh and appealing titles.

The first clue that these books would be different was, for me, the front cover promise which reads,

“…beautiful solos including:
The Approaching Night • Butterfly Waltz • Love’s Return • Sea Change • When Morning Comes • Winged Melancholy…”

Hmm, excuse my ignorance, but… say what?

Two Levels of Calm

Let’s begin with a list of the composers and pieces included in these compilations, noting first that of the 35 pieces in the “Piano Solo” collection, only 18 appear in the “Easy Piano” version (the remainder presumably not lending themselves so eloquently to simplification).

The following thus appear in both collections, and it is interesting to note that they all have a different composer, giving the collection a range that is somewhat unusual for such anthologies:

  • The Approaching Night (Philip Wesley)
  • A Beautiful Distraction (Michele McLaughlin)
  • Butterfly Waltz (Brian Crain)
  • Bluebird (Alexis Ffrench)
  • Early Morning Range (George Winston)
  • Fly (Florian Christl)
  • Love (David Foster)
  • Love’s Return (David Lanz)
  • A Moment Lost (David Nevue)
  • Porz Goret (Yann Tiersen)
  • Nocturne In A Minor (Chad Lawson)
  • Romances (Amity Cadet)
  • September Song (Agnes Obel)
  • Sea Change (Stephan Moccio)
  • Una Mattina (Ludovico Einaudi)
  • When Morning Comes (Paul Cardall)
  • Winged Melancholy (Patrick Hamilton)
  • Written On The Sky (Max Richter)

The bumper Piano Solo collection adds the following 17 pieces, mostly but not exclusively reappearances of the same composers:

  • Autumn Comes Winter (David Lanz)
  • Beauty of Life (Gabrielle Aaprie Peterson)
  • A Celtic Dream (Michele McLaughlin)
  • A Catalogue of Afternoons (Max Richter)
  • City Lights (Ola Gjeilo)
  • Fracture (Stephan Moccio)
  • Melancholie (Florian Christl)
  • The Growing Season (Paul Cardall)
  • I Giorni (Ludovico Einaudi)
  • La Plage (Yann Tiersen)
  • Moments (Alexis Ffrench)
  • A New Beginning (Patrick Hamilton)
  • Renaissance Waltz (Stelios Kerasidis)
  • Portuguese Love Theme (from Love Actually) (Craig Armstrong)
  • Song for Sienna (Brian Crain)
  • Serenity (David Foster)
  • Still (Ola Gjeilo)

Unique to the “Easy Piano” edition, the happy bonus of Joe Hisaishi’s One Summer’s Day from Spirited Away brings the total for that book up to 19 pieces.

During the review period, I created a playlist of this music on Apple Music, which users of the service can access here.

Beautiful Selections

Some years ago I was visiting colleagues in the US. Hearing that they had not yet come across the music of Ludovico Einaudi, I played some of his best known pieces to them, to which the immediate response was “oh, this sounds like David Lanz”. Lanz, it turned out, is an easy-listening favourite who was then similarly popular in the US, while largely unknown here in the UK.

It is heartening that around the world, even in this globalised age, tastes differ, exposure varies, and different artists break through. Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Calming Piano Solos books is that they offer a global overview, a more cosmopolitan introduction to leading exponents of the contemporary piano style many still struggle to categorise.

Here, there’s music from Norway’s Ola Gjeilo, Japan’s Joe Hisaishi, established European favourites such as Yann Tiersen, Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter amicably rubbing shoulders with American superstars Chad Lawson, George Winston (who, sadly, passed away last month), Michele McLaughlin and David Nevue.

There’s a strong chance that, unless you are the most avid fan of the style, you will discover new names in these selections, gaining a far broader view of the latest contemporary piano music in the process. And geography aside, space is also given to upcoming names such as Patrick Hamilton (whose Journey to the Unknown I reviewed here) and indie favourite Agnes Obel.

A Softer Approach

Both these books have gorgeous soft-to-the-touch covers with a soothing and tasteful appearance. Within, the printed music is presented on white paper, and there are no extras. The “Easy Piano” book is staple bound and has 96 pages, while the “Piano Solo” edition is more substantial at 136 pages, with glued binding.

As for the difficulty level of the compositions and transcriptions, most of the music in the “Piano Solo” collection would suit players at early advanced level, around UK Grades 6-7.

The “Easy Piano” edition is more appropriate for players at late intermediate level, around UK Grades 4-5. It delivers simpler textures and figurations, also benefitting from larger, more spacious notation engraving. Curiously, George Winston’s Early Morning Range also has added jazz chord notations, though none of the other pieces do.

I am used to the convention that releases of this nature tend not to include the fingering support that one finds in educational publications and classical editions, even though I don’t understand the rationale. It is thus disappointing but hardly surprising to note that the “Piano Solo” collection includes no fingering suggestions.

In the case of the “Easy Piano” version, adding fingering is the most obvious way of helping less advanced players approach this music. Here, a minimal amount is included, but I would advise teachers to go through their own copy and pencil in more detailed fingering solutions for those pieces they anticipate teaching, ready for annotating their students’ copies in lessons when appropriate.

I will be doing that myself, because this is a collection I anticipate using a lot, and one which I have no doubt will become popular with those who learn with me!

Winding Down

The Calming Piano Solos books could take over as my “go-to” recommendation for players who are keen to explore a diverse and cosmopolitan range of relaxing contemporary piano music.

The selection in these two books showcases many of the leading voices composing accessible music for the piano today, and will significantly reward those who want to explore beyond that handful of ubiquitous pieces that have become over-familiar.

And if the music here promotes a sense of calm, that will I am sure be a very welcome bonus!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

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