Ludovico Einaudi: Underwater – Pianodao

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Ludovico Einaudi’s early solo piano albums, which included Le Onde (1996), I Giorni (2001), and Una Matina (2004), established him as the most well-known contemporary piano composer, his most classic pieces appearing ubiquitously from soundtracks to school concerts.

Over the years, he has consolidated his phenomenal success with a string of albums that have expanded his sound. Eden Rock (1999) introduced this wider instrumentation, and string parts have continued to take a particularly important role on albums such as In a Time Lapse (2013) Elements (2015). Electronic elements and treatments have featured too, notably on Divenire (2006) and Nightbook (2009).

Underwater is Einaudi’s first full album of new solo piano music for 20 years. The music was composed while the composer was isolated at his home in Italy; working without any distractions or the usual commitments that come with his busy schedule, we are told that it is his manifesto for life, and a statement on this time during which the world around him was quiet and silent.

“I felt a sense of freedom to abandon myself and to let the music flow in a different way. I didn’t have a filter between me and what came out of the piano, it felt very pure.”

As a sometime fan of Einaudi’s work, I found Underwater strikingly different to listen to, as have others, and have been looking forward to considering the sheet music folio, which has recently been published by Chester Music / Hal Leonardand is the subject of this review…

A New Sound

Listening to Underwater, one of the most striking differences is the sound of the piano itself. Following in the vein of Nils Frahm and others, Einaudi has opted for the sound of the felt piano, a muffled, intimate tone that some listeners have even confused for a recording or CD pressing error.

Personally I love this sound, which as it was draws the listener into Einaudi’s confidential cocoon. But after a couple of listens it becomes clearer that there are more significant differences to Einaudi’s sound on this album…

He suggests that this music is,

“songwriting, not composing. A fresh approach… a song is like a breath, it needs nothing more. The album is a place to freely reflect, a place without boundaries.”

Certainly the repetitions and mounting intensity of his most famous tracks don’t appear here with the same predictability. Instead, the music clings to its initial amity, and is composed, performed and presented with remarkable simplicity throughout.

The twelve new pieces are:

  • luminous
  • rolling like a ball
  • indian yellow
  • flora
  • natural light
  • almost june
  • swordfish
  • wind song
  • atoms
  • temple white
  • nobody knows
  • underwater

Given the plain lucidity of these pieces, it is appropriate for them to be played with apparent forceless restraint; in most cases they are easier to manage, and shorter on paper, than their most lionised predecessors in the Einaudi canon.

A player at late intermediate level (around Grades 4-5) would be able to attempt much of this music, while the early advanced player (at around Grades 6-7) would be able to communicate them with a full range of expression.

The Publication

Chester Music’s exclusive folio of these twelve pieces is printed on 64 white pages, and housed in a gloss card cover bearing the same moody photography as the Decca CD recording.

A composer’s handwritten scores are always of interest, adding texture to our understanding of their music, and happily in this instance the publishers have interpolated facsimiles of Einaudi’s manuscripts between most of the printed pieces.

The printed note is generously spaced, which can only help the performer play the music with the spaciousness it in turn deserves. As ever, Einaudi gives few performance directions, allowing the player considerable freedom to reimagine the music.

No fingerings have been added, but in this collection Einaudi has largely avoided the sizeable hand stretches that populate several of his earlier pieces.

Listening to his recording while following the score, I noticed that he often includes pauses for effect, which aren’t specified in the notation here. There are also passages where the publisher has retained patterns that in performance Einaudi himself truncates. I mention this not as a criticism per sebut to remind the reader of the importance of using any sheet music in conjunction with appropriate performance practices, understanding, and in this case the artist’s original recordings.

To summarise then, this is a beautiful score, and one which any late intermediate player (or above) who has enjoyed the album is bound to find genuinely rewarding.

Closing Thoughts

The musical credibility of Ludovico Einaudi’s work is often dismissed by musical snobs and gatekeepers. Seemingly spurred on by a bristling sense that his success is unmerited, they bemoan its supposed lack of sophistication, virtuosity, and repetitive post-minimalism (tellingly, a charge not used to denigrate Philip Glass in the same breath).

But since when we did use inaccessibility or artistic complexity as the sole measures of quality in music? Isn’t such a viewpoint merely dying the echoes of that intellectual superiority that so withered and damaged classical music in the mid-twentieth century?

Seasoned listeners and more advanced players will always enjoy music that delights in more detail, but it is the simplicity, approachable intimacy, effortless nostalgia, melancholic reflection and crystalline purity of Einaudi’s work which has so captured the aion of listeners around the world in these times , and understandably so.

Einaudi’s raw materials may indeed be “base elements”, but he is no less that rare miracle: a true musical alchemist.

And Underwater is the purest gold. It may not ultimately prove to be his best or most universally enduring work, but I have no qualms in declaring it my personal favor of his albums for many years.

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