Love songs can be found in music across the world and across the centuries
– William Howard, pianist
Love in its infinite variety has been a major preoccupation for British pianist William Howard whose Love Songs project began in June 2016 with the release of Sixteen Love Songs, a selection of hauntingly beautiful 19th and early 20th-century song-like romantic works scored for solo piano. Sixteen Contemporary Love Songs is the companion disc to the original recording, and features new music for solo piano specially commissioned by William Howard by some of the leading composers active today, including Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Piers Hellawell, Nico Muhly, David Matthews, Judith Weir and Howard Skempton.
Having commissioned and performed music by living composer throughout my professional life, I was not far into this project before I started wondering what the contemporary equivalents to these romantic works would sound like.
– William Howard
In addition to the new commissions, a major part of the Love Songs project was an international competition for writing piano love songs. Running from June to October 2016, it received over 500 entrants aged between 13 and 90, from 61 different countries. The album features the two winning pieces from the competition – Chanson Perpétuelle by Chia-Ying Lin and Herz an Herz by Frederick Viner – and represents an important new contribution to the pianist’s repertoire.
Love is a universal theme and the aim of the album is to present contemporary piano music which will appeal to a wide range of listeners. The music reflects the myriad facets of love: tender pieces written for babies or children (‘Camille’ by Joby Talbot) or a partner (‘For Teresa’ by Robert Saxton, which quotes Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, another love song for piano). Other works focus on more abstract aspects of love, or love other than the human kind. Each composer has contributed a brief programme note illuminating the inspiration or creative impulse for their piece.
It’s a rewarding disc of contrasting piano miniatures, from the simple Scottish folk idioms in Howard Skempton’s Solitary Highland Song to the poignant lyricism of Roses in a Box by Elena Kats-Chernin, the delicate Lisztian filigree of Joby Talbot’s Camille or the spareness of Judith Weir’s Fragile. The disc closes with Love Song for Dusty by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, a homage to Dusty Springfield, which combines jazz and pop-inspired harmonies with sweepingly romantic gestures redolent of Mendelssohn. The entire album reveals a wonderful variety of compositional languages, imagination, moods and character, and many of the works are very meaningful, or highly personal. All are easy to relate to and travel beyond the confines of the strictly defined genre of “classical music”. William Howard brings clarity, warmth, sensitivity and gracefulness to each piece and demonstrates his acute ability to shift between changing moods and styles to highlight the individual character of each piece.
Sixteen Contemporary Love Songs is available on the Orchid Classics label