I don’t listen to a lot of pop music, but when I first heard Paddy Kelly’s Pray, Pray, Pray almost 10 years ago, I was very moved. His songs are fantastic and Paddy’s voice is beautiful. But most of all I was touched by his search for truth and his courage to share the answers he had found through his songs. I bought his solo album In Exile, which soon became one of my favourite CD’s.
Being a classical concert pianist and composer, it never occurred to me that our paths would cross one day. But sometimes “coincidences” are meant to happen, and we met from time to time over the last five years.
Paraphrasing music by other composers has a long and fruitful tradition in the history of classical music, just think of Schubert/Liszt or Bach/Busoni. Since I had already arranged – or recomposed – Gregorian chants for the last two Chant albums with the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, I thought: why not try to make a classical piano piece based on one of Paddy’s songs? I immediately knew that it had to be Thanking Blessed Mary, an ingenious song that means a lot to me and my family.
The process of recomposing an existing song and transcribing it into a different musical style is quite tricky. You have to connect your spirit to the composer’s source of inspiration and somehow feel the piece as if you had written it yourself. At the same time you have to stay true to your personality and add your own voice to the original composition. When I was writing the piano version of “Thanking Blessed Mary” I quickly discovered a relation to my piece Obsculta which I had composed several months before. That’s why I quote this piece at several points (will you spot them?). I also gave the bass line of the chorus (two descending thirds) a special meaning in my interpretation. You can hear it in almost every measure. This motif of thirds is also present in many of my compositions, a prominent example being my Ballade no. 3 written in 2005. I am also quite fond that I managed to combine three motifs in the final part: the third-motif, the Ave Maria of Lourdes and the main theme of “Thanking Blessed Mary” (plus the accompaniment of course). But in the end, what counts is that the song touches the heart of the listener, whether you hear thirds or not!
Working on “Thanking Blessed Mary” made me appreciate Paddy Kelly’s art even more. His talent and his musical craftsmanship are beyond question. But what makes him truly exceptional as an artist is his unique ability to express the human yearning for truth, beauty and peace through his music.
So I wrote my first soundtrack. Somewhat out of the blue. My friend Vitùc asked me if I would like to compose the music for his new film project, a documentary about homeless people in Luxembourg. After seeing the first scene I knew I could do it. I was lucky enough that Lisa Berg agreed to play the cello part, which allowed me to write for piano and cello, and would give the score a very special touch.
My concept was to write in a very reduced and concentrated way, using only a few themes. Harmonies should be simple, but somewhat surprising and unusual. I wanted my music to add some light, hope and warmth to the sad stories of the people portrayed in the film.
During our work on the project, Vitùc sent me a recording of a composition by his 11-year-old daughter Elena, called “With Hope”. I was so touched by the melody and the harmonies that I decided to include the piece in my soundtrack.
My thanks go to Vitùc and his co-director Marc Hammer for their trust in me (I was given complete artistic freedom in all of my choices!), to Christophe Hubert and Patrick Floener for recording and editing the music, and of course to Lisa Berg for her beautiful cello part.
Working on my first film score.
Wundervolles Geschenk der Jugendchöre, die beim kleinen Gnom mitgemacht haben. Danke euch allen von Herzen!
De klenge Gnom - Dress rehearsal -
Beautiful impressions by Vitùc.
2012 has been one of my most productive years so far. Not everything worked out the way I wished, but all in all, I have many reasons to be thankful for. The last day of the year seems a good opportunity to review my musical year 2012.
I did not want to brag with this post. It is more about motivating myself to go on. There have been discouraging moments too, and sometimes I think that I don’t accomplish enough, or that there is too little progress in my life. But looking back on 2012 (especially through my Instagram timeline), I can say that a lot of good things have happened. I am grateful.
Thank you to:
Interview for "Pianists From the Inside" -
I was kindly invited by Malan Wilkinson to give an interview for her blog Pianists from the Inside. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
What motivates you to play piano?
My love for music has shaped my whole life, and it literally draws me to the piano almost every day. I think about music most of the time, I hear music in my head, even if I am not playing the piano or listening to music. Music is holy to me and I consider it a blessing to be able to play the music by the great masters and to compose my own music.
What motivates you to compose?
Performing classical music is a wonderful thing, and I couldn’t live without it. However, since I started to play the piano, there has also been this strong urge to create my own music. I wanted to play a kind of music that I could not find in piano literature, so I made it up myself.
My music tries to express the deepest and nameless realms of the soul. There is a sacred space of peace inside every person. I suppose that this sphere of the human interior is a common experience to every human being. That’s why people can connect to my music quite easily. There is a sense of yearning and of fulfillment at the same time.
In essence I feel that my music is prayer. If it helps my listener to communicate with God (or whatever they may call their Creator), I will feel myself all the more richly rewarded.
When did you start composing and why?
I learned to play the piano at nine and started to compose at the same time. It came very naturally. I knew that I wanted to be a composer. Improvising was not enough for me: I was fascinated by the architecture of music and I wanted to evolve and refine my musical ideas in a way that is only possible through composition. The marriage between content and form in music is absolutely fascinating. The emotional impact that music has on us, does not only come through melody and harmony, but also through its structure.
The musical ideas that I first hear when I write a new piece, are always part of a bigger architecture, and it is my mission as a composer to “discover” the whole piece. Usually beautiful and perfect proportions will reveal themselves, if I only work and listen long enough.
Are there any issues in the world of music composition that you feel strongly about?
In my early teens I used to be frustrated that contemporary music apparently had to be atonal and cacophonous to be taken seriously. At first I thought that the musicians and critics who seem to enjoy this kind of music are crazy. Or are they fooling the world? Later I assumed that something was wrong with me, since I simply could not understand the “art” of Stockhausen or Boulez for example. But then I realised that it is not my job to “judge” other people’s music or tastes, but to develop my own style and express my musical, emotional and spiritual values through my music, regardless of the styles that are en vogue.
I remember that getting to know the work of Arvo Pärt was a liberating experience for me during that period. His music helped me to understand that a diversity of musical styles is the new reality of contemporary music. There is still a place and a need for tonal beauty in music.
Can you tell us more about your new album “Prayers of Silence” that will be released in 2013?
My new album will include 15 piano pieces that I have composed over the last five years. As the title suggests, these are mostly quiet and meditative compositions, which revolve around the notion that the mother of all music is silence. The opening piece is called “Obsculta”, the Latin word for “listen”. Didn’t you once twitter about Alfred Brendel’s astute observation that “listen” and “silent” contain the same letters? Even if it is a coincidence, I feel that there is a strong connection between listening and silence, and they are the foremost requirements for music to exist.
My music attempts to offer the listener a moment of inner silence and clarity. At its center, my “Prayers of Silence” are a musical reflection of the evanescence and preciousness of life.
Whose work do you admire as a composer and why?
I could name a hundred influential personalities that shaped my musical path, but I will limit myself to three outstanding musicians of our time.
Being a composer-pianist, Leonard Bernstein has been a great inspiration for me. His music is complex, well crafted and accessible at the same time. As a performer and teacher, he brought the gift of music to millions of people.
Then there is John Williams, who even at age eighty draws one immortal melody after the other from the aether as if he were picking cherries from a tree. I have always loved is music.
Third on today’s list is Eric Whitacre. His way to reach out to his audience is quite amazing. Whitacre has done a lot for choral music, one of the purest and most beautiful art forms.
Classical music can and will never be mainstreamed, but it is very important to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It always makes me happy to see young people being moved by beautiful music. Isn’t it wonderful that music can change a life? Every time a musician touches a soul, there must be an angel in heaven rejoicing and praising God’s glory.
The orchestration for my “Klenge Gnom” (Little Gnome) is almost done. Antonio and Raphael are celebrating in advance!