“Peaceful” is an increasingly common word in the music world these days, with every proper physical playlist or compilation being released with this moniker. Increasingly, too, the music occupying this space has been explored scientifically – by composers such as Max Richter in his day making eight hours Sleep. Morgan Smallbone reflects on the notion of peace as it applies to classical music when organizing the Peaceful Piano Moods 4 CD set and its extended 11 hour digital cousin. But first, all music had to pass the ‘Sleep Test’…
Peaceful Piano Moods
When I was first approached to compile a sequel to Decca’s peaceful piano, the work began as a top-down list of peaceful works that helped decompress and relax. Soon, the titles of songs like Ola Gjeilo’s before dawn and Max Richter dream solo, planted the seed of an idea to link music to time. Before long, I was putting songs on the “sleep test”, playing them on repeat all night and crossing them off the list if they woke me up!
I started to expand my idea of what “peaceful” meant
And then I heard Liszt’s “Pastorale”, from the first (Swiss) set of his Pilgrimage years (years of pilgrimage). It immediately transported me on a hike through the alpine meadows of Switzerland and, despite the good acceleration of the work, I immediately felt at peace. Knowing it wouldn’t pass the ‘sleep test’, I began to expand my idea of what ‘peaceful’ meant – dawn and dreams were now woven into a soundscape with lilacs and butterflies, Venetian gondolas and afternoons of fauns. It’s no surprise that it was a piece by Liszt that opened my imagination to what was to come when I read the following words from him about his inspiring years of pilgrimage and wandering:
“Having recently traveled to many new lands, through different settings and places enshrined in history and poetry; having felt that the phenomena of nature and their processions did not parade before my eyes like useless images but awakened deep emotions in my soul, and that between us a vague but immediate relationship had been established, an indefinite but real relationship , an inexplicable relationship but undeniable communication, I tried to translate into music some of my strongest feelings and my most vivid impressions.
Now, with an understanding of peace that was simply beyond the sleeping pill, I immersed myself in hundreds of works to reach Liszt’s “real report”, and the Peaceful Piano Moods anthology began to take shape.
The careful unfolding of time and space through music
Key signatures, time signatures – ‘Afternoon’ hosts a fine array of waltzes – phrase endings and phrase beginnings, musical forms or music with a certain feel – all played a part in the careful timing and space through music. d’Albeniz Tango (Godowsky’s arrangement instilled with Shura Cherkassky’s magician-like pianism)…
connects beautifully with Benny Andersson’s opening descending trill The day before your arrival …
through an arrangement of Yiruma River flows in You …
via a posthumous Chopin waltz…
to happiness song of a secret garden.
Where else would Albéniz team up with ABBA, a Korean celebrity, a Polish giant and one half of a Norwegian duo, whose path to fame was heralded by Eurovision?
The piano is such a timeless sound
Víkingur Ólafsson’s tribute to JS Bach, For John and …And at the hour of deathwere naturally followed by the work that inspired them, the ‘Prelude in C major‘ from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier. This merging of present and past is effortlessly pervasive throughout. Peaceful Piano Moods. The piano is such a timeless sound, even when used to perform works that predate its existence, be it Rameau, Bach or Scarlatti.
Then I had a problem – too much material for one conventional CD. Thinking once more about dawns and dreams, I decided to forget the lists and organize a cycle – and what better illustrates a cycle than the face of a clock? Morning, afternoon, evening and night were defined as quadrants of the circle, having no beginning or end but constantly moving on to the next, ready to be picked up and dropped off at any time. Chad Lawson has composed a brand new work, Twilight Skiesespecially for Peaceful Piano Moods which perfectly came full circle, beautifully capturing the fleeting moment between night and morning.
Find peace and quiet depending on the time of day
However… still too much material! Four CDs were packed with around 80 minutes of music each and 100 very satisfying tracks. But just like Vivian Roost’s ethereal reworking of Eric Satie’s Gymnopedia n°2 brought the piece into the 21st century, so streaming gave us the opportunity to create a compilation based on time but unconstrained by time itself. Five expanded eAlbums – “Morning”, “Afternoon”, “Evening”, “Night”, a fifth combining all 185 tracks into one continuous 11-hour listening experience – have been carefully selected to provide a musical watch of the hours of the day and night, allowing the listener to find peace and quiet depending on the time of day.
Physical CDs and digital playlists for Peaceful Piano Moods offer two very different listening experiences. Physical CDs, as mentioned, create a cycle with no beginning or end. The digital playlists are a longer journey through each time of day, culminating in the union of piano and full orchestra, with a movement from one of four piano concertos – two by Mozart, Ravel in G major and the sublime slow movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto. Apart from these movements, the works are largely for solo piano.
It is impossible to create a compilation that includes works from the 20th century without considering the composers of film soundtracks. The incredibly gifted Van-Anh Nguyen has been hired to reinvent favorite movie melodies and songs to fit seamlessly into our curated soundscape, with moments of The sound of music, The English Patient, Faded away and Sense and sensitivity.
They are joined by masterpieces of blade runner and chariots of fire (both interpreted by their composer Vangelis), as well as darkest hour, The deer hunter, Hostile, my lovely lady, Titanic, The greatest showman, The piano (of cours!), Amelie, lady be good, Personal effects and Schindler’s list. And in this golden age of high-end television series, Max Richter’s hauntingly beautiful theme “The Departure” from Leftoversinterpreted here by Lang Lang, was a “must have”.
Music doesn’t need to be labeled to be enjoyed
And it takes the genius of Stephan Moccio to translate his own pop hits wrecking ball (Miley Cyrus) and Won (The Weeknd), both making their first appearance in physical format, in solo arrangements perfect for Peaceful Piano Moods. From Bach and Rameau to Lawson and Moccio – dissolving time, bending genres, classically informed, but proving once again that music doesn’t need to be labeled to be enjoyed.
Buy or stream Peaceful Piano Moods now.