Jóhann Jóhannsson (1969-2018) was an award-winning Icelandic composer, musician, and producer, who wrote music for a wide array of media including film, television, theatre and dance. With his passing in 2018, aged just 48, the world of music lost one of its brightest stars, still in the ascendent.
Faber Music celebrate this extraordinary talent with the publication of a new cloth-bound book, Jóhann Jóhannsson Piano Works, the subject of this review, in which they tell us,
“Jóhannsson’s work is characterised by a fusion of classical instrumentation and contemporary electronic elements and encompasses the diverse influences of Baroque, Minimalism, avant-garde and ambient music, as well as drone-based and electro-acoustic music.”
The book is undoubtedly a beautiful and important tribute, so let’s take a look…
Jóhannsson’s Piano Works
While Jóhannsson’s music often embraced a variety of instruments, orchestrations, voices and electronics, the piano lay at the heart of his musical personality and was the central focus in his live performances.
With no shortage of music to select from his impressive body of work, this deluxe volume includes best-known pieces from his Golden Globe winning score for the movie The Theory of Everything, choice tracks from some of his many other film scores, and deep cuts from his early and more recent albums.
Here is the list:
- Odi et Amo / Krókódíll
- Jói & Karen
- Lugeldar II
- Já, Hemmi Minn
- The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned Black
- Melodia (iii)
- Theme (from Varmints)
- Dressing Up (from Personal Effects)
- Linda & Walter (from Personal Effects)
- Indian Wedding (from Personal Effects)
- He Says it’s the Future (from Copenhagen Dreams)
- Eleven Thousand Six Hundred and Sixty-Nine Died of Natural Causes (from Copenhagen Dreams)
- Flight from the City
- Innocence (from Free the Mind)
- Will’s Story (from Free the Mind)
- Time to Say Goodbye (from White Black Boy)
- Payphone (from McCanick)
- A Game of Croquet (from The Theory of Everything)
- A Model of the Universe (from The Theory of Everything)
- The Theory of Everything
- Beauty (from Blind Massage)
- A Sparrow Alighted Upon our Shoulder
- By the Roses, and by the Hinds of the Field
- Good Morning, Midnight
- The Drowned World
- The Radiant City
- Be Over (from The Shadow Play)
These are immensely atmospheric pieces, and in most cases their solo piano realisations would suit a late intermediate player (around UK Grades 5-6).
The scores themselves are spaciously presented, with generously sized and superbly engraved music notation. Edited by Lucy Holliday with support from Sam Lung, and transcribed by Ed Sanderson, these are commendable scores indeed. Fingering suggestions are not included, however.
The Limited Edition
It would be impossible to overstate how sumptuous and essentially superb this publication is. The book design by Dominic Brookman is outstanding.
The stiff binding opens to ten initial pages of colour, photography, a biographical sketch of the composer, and an intimate introduction by his friend, the American composer and pianist Dustin O’Halloran, who writes,
The scores which follow are interspersed with full page and double page black-and-white photographs of Jóhannsson, ranging from concert pictures to moody landscape portraits. These not only add to the sense that this is a respectful and lovingly-crafted tribute publication, but also beautifully underline the ambience of the music itself.
There is, unfortunately, just one fly in the otherwise exceptional ointment. I sometimes hear from readers telling me that Faber’s larger volumes don’t stay open easily on the piano stand, and while I usually find that with a little persuasion they are fine, I experienced genuine difficulty on this occasion.
Perhaps overcoming this minor irritation will be an important step on my own pathway towards enlightenment; nevertheless, the sublime music of Jóhann Jóhannsson assuredly provides the most fitting soundtrack for the journey!
Jóhann Jóhannsson Piano Works offers a superb tribute and testament to the musical achievement of this much-missed composer. Designated a “limited edition”, fans of Jóhannsson’s work, and those keen to explore further, will undoubtedly treasure this publication.
A part of me certainly hopes, though, that once the print run comes up for renewal Faber Music might consider producing a soft-cover version, so that the players of the near and more distant future can continue to investigate Jóhannsson’s work.
A more affordable and practical performing edition for students and all who are curious would undoubtedly be a very welcome addition to the pianist’s library, and would ensure that the legacy of this brilliant musical voice endures, not only in our memories, but under our fingers.
In the meantime, I encourage all to listen to Jóhannsson’s music; discover for yourself what a stunning body of work this is. And if you purchase this unique edition, you will own one of the most truly stunning publications of the year.
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