1. Tangata - Astor Piazzolla
2. Solitude - Duke Ellington
3. Prelude to a Kiss - Duke Ellington
4. Luonnotar - Jean Sibelius
5. Drei Kerner Lieder (Frage, Stille Tränen, Wer machte dich so krank) - Robert Schumann
6. Hymne à l'amour - Marguerite Monnot
7. Savage - Aespa
8. One of these nights - Red Velvet
9. The Walking Dead - Heize
10. Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils - Richard Strauss
11. No One is Alone - Stephen Sondheim
"The pandemic began at an interesting time for me, both musically and personally. I was freshly out of school for the first time in living memory, living in rural upstate New York, far away from the bustle of New York City that I had come to know so well. Like so much of the rest of world, I was lost on exactly what my life was supposed to be. I couldn’t see my future, yet felt the pressure to solidify my present. The music on this album all, in some way or another, originates from this period of self discovery during lockdown. It was emotional healing for me as much as it was intellectual curiosity. I was drawn to the piano as a kid because I wanted to play any and everything that I wanted to and, the piano, with its 88 keys, seemed the perfect vessel for this hunger I had. As time went on, I found myself constantly drawn to all types of music: pop, Kpop, jazz, musical theater with some Beethoven thrown in. But, as the years of conservatory education went on, I found it more and more difficult to branch out into other genres. It wasn’t until I was able to be still and make music for myself, alone in upstate New York, thinking the world was at an end, that I realized the joy in simply being myself. This album is a reflection of everything I am. This isn’t just about bridging the music of the past to the music of the present, although my hope is that people can see that Schumann and Red Velvet are not all that different, but it is also to solidify who I am in this moment. “What’s past is prologue”, Shakespeare writes in the Tempest. By this, he means that the past, like a prologue to a book, informs the events that are yet to come. Lockdown showed me what kind of a musician I want to be, and this album is the prologue, written in stone, setting the precedent for the rest of my life."
- Chris Reynolds
NOTES ON THE ALBUM - by Evan L. Snyder
Piazzolla — Tangata (1981)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was an Argentine composer, best known for championing the tango and developing “nuevo tango,” a modern tango style that incorporates influences both from jazz and from the works of baroque classical composers, such as Bach.
Originally written for Piazzolla’s quintet of bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument, on which Piazzolla was a world-renowned virtuoso), guitar, violin, double bass, and piano, Tangata was first arranged for piano in a two piano version by Pablo Ziegler, who served as the regular pianist in Piazzolla’s quintet from 1978 until Piazzolla’s retirement in 1989. Chris Reynolds’s transcription further condenses Tangata into the single-player virtuosic tour de force heard here.
Ellington — Solitude (1934) and Prelude To A Kiss (1938)
Duke Ellington (1899-1974) was a composer, a jazz pianist, and the leader of one of the most widely known big bands of all-time, the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Across his lengthy career, he had a hand in the creation of over a thousand new pieces of music, many of which went on to become standards of the jazz repertoire. Despite being remembered as one of the most important jazz composers of all time, Ellington himself liked to refer to his own music as “beyond category,” thinking of his music as not only jazz, but more broadly as American music.
“In my solitude you haunt me / With reveries of days gone by” — the opening lyrics of Ellington’s beloved standard “(In My) Solitude” took on new meaning in the isolation of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Reynolds’s meditation on “Solitude” begins with a long slow prelude, forcing the listener to wait nearly a minute into the track for the opening melody of the song to appear, creating the solitude that the original lyrics describe. When the melody finally arrives, its treatment is warm, but gentle; a beautiful, nostalgic rendition that conjures a sense of longing for the time before the isolation. As it comes to a close, there’s a moment of return to the harmonic stacked fourths that made up the prelude—an unkind reminder that the “Solitude” is not at an end.
Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss” has been called both “experimental” and “ambitious.” It abandoned many of the stylistic norms for jazz of its day and replaced them with chromaticism and melodic shape that were certainly more common in classical music of the time. This, of course, must have been a purposeful departure on Ellington’s part; with a text that likens love to a musical prelude and compares itself to Schubert and Gershwin, such an approach was only fitting. Similarly, this transcription makes perfect sense—a prelude to the Sibelius and the Schumann to come, rendered in such a way as to honor the original in style, while occasionally lapsing into lush classical romanticism that, without question, serves both the text and the spirit of the piece.
Sibelius — Luonnotar (1913)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) was a Finnish romantic composer, regarded by many as the most successful composer in Finland’s history. While internationally, he is probably most widely-known for his seven symphonies, in his homeland he’s revered for his invaluable contributions to the country’s national identity and for his works’ voice in Finland’s struggle for independence from Russia.
Luonnotar is an orchestral tone-poem, featuring a soprano soloist as the titular character, which tells a creation story drawn from Finnish mythology. Despite being rarely performed (on this point, admirers of the work usually cite the extreme difficulty of the soloist’s part), the work’s stunning orchestration and dramatic storytelling have enthralled audiences for over one hundred years.
The transcription here isn’t quite literal—though some of Sibelius’s textures do translate exactly to the piano (like the compelling hand alternation of the opening music, taking over the strings’ tremolo melody), other aspects of the piece are transformed considerably in Reynolds’s transcription. The a cappella soloist’s melody, for instance, rather than single notes or octaves, is realized with a mixture of octaves and minor 9ths, creating an ethereal, almost eerie sound, which beautifully captures the loneliness of the soprano’s opening text—which describes 700 years of isolation, floating atop the ocean’s waves.
Schumann — Drei Kerner Lieder (1840)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a German romantic composer and pianist. After devoting his young life to pursuing a career as a concert pianist, Schumann infamously suffered from a major hand injury or possibly a naturally-occurring disability (the nature of which is very much disagreed about). Regardless, Schumann turned to composition, where he composed exclusively for the piano until 1839, at which point he began his first forays into lieder (german art song), the genre in which he wrote many of his best remembered and most beloved compositions.
These Drei Kerner Lieder come from a set of twelve songs with text by Justinus Kerner that Schumann set at the very end of 1840, in what has come to be known as his “Liederjahr” (or year of song), in which he wrote 138 lieder. The first of these songs “Frage” (Question) poses a seemingly simple query: If all the beauties of nature, the “star-brightened night” and the “heaven’s song birds,” didn’t exist, where could a troubled soul turn to find joy in times of adversity? After leaving the question open at the end of “Frage,” Schumann begins the following song, “Stille Tränen” (Silent Tears), with a deep, rich C major harmony that begins a glorious exploration of beautiful harmonic colors, which is drawn out across the entirety of the song. With this incredible musical catharsis, it’s hard not to imagine “Still Tränen” as Schumann’s answer to Kerner’s question—that perhaps in the beauty of words and music alone, joy can be found.
The last of these three songs, and the penultimate piece in the original cycle, “Wer machte dich so krank?” (Who made you so ill?), is a brief, but remarkable work of art. First of all, and most peculiarly, it shares a melody with the final song of the original cycle (“Alte Laute”)—meaning Schumann intended two pieces, with totally different text, but the same fundamental melody, to be sung back-to-back. Their accompaniment differs dramatically, including their final cadences, which is one of the other most notable moments of “Wer machte dich so krank?”—the harmonic motion under the final melodic note of the song is a deceptive cadence, a kind of harmonic motion meant to subvert the listener’s expectation. Usually, in a major key, this would mean a minor chord, but here Schumann uses an inverted major chord instead, creating the same effect of surprise, but with a warm, reassuring richness, that shows hope, or perhaps contentment, on the part of the speaker.
Reynolds’s straightforward transcription of these three songs preserves the fantastical-sounding romanticism of Schumann’s originals, but also lends a warmth and color than seems to consciously convey Schumann’s interpretation of Kerner’s poetry.
Monnot — Hymne a l’amour (1950)
Marguerite Monnot (1903-1961) was a french songwriter, best known for her collaborations with Édith Piaf. As successful female composer, in popular music in the early 20th century, Monnot had a groundbreaking career. Initially trained classically, Monnot studied at the Paris Conservatory, under Nadia Boulanger (one of the most important composition teachers of her era, training also Astor Piazzolla, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and many others). After stepping away from a performing career, she turned to composition full-time and, with Piaf, formed the first successful female songwriting team in France.
The story behind “Hymne a l’amour,” is a tragic one. Starting in the summer of 1948, Piaf began an affair with World Champion Boxer, Marcel Cerdan. Their romance continued until the 28th of October 1949, when, on his way to visit her in New York, on Air France Flight 009, his plane crashed, killing him, along with the rest of the passengers and crew. Piaf wrote the lyrics in dedication to their love and recorded the song the following spring. The final verse promises “Si un jour la vie t’arrache à moi…” (If life one day tears you away from me…), “Peu m'importe si tu m’aimes / Car moi je mourrai aussi. / Nous aurons pour nous l’éternité” (it little matters if you love me, because I will die too, [and] we’ll have, for ourselves, eternity”).
Aespa — Savage (2021)
“Savage” is a K-pop title track, recorded by the South Korean girl group, Aespa, and written by Yoo Young-jin (1971-present), which rocketed to popularity after its release in October 2021. The song functions as part of larger lore that Aespa has created for themselves, which creates a narrative arc for the singers (and the digitally-rendered video game avatars that they control in their music videos) from song to song, throughout their output. “Savage,” in particular, displays many of the musical tendencies of EDM and hyperpop, such as the incredible array of synthetic melodic sounds and the otherworldly percussion effects that it utilizes.
Interestingly, the rhythmic nature and the absence of harmony in much of the original track necessitated that the piece transform dramatically in order that it might be performed at the piano. Reynolds’s version of the “Savage,” fills in sparser passages with harmonic ideas from the classical vernacular that align with the song’s ideas of savagery and its original rhythmic elements—harmonies akin to something one would hear in Stravinsky or Bartok. The dance break near the end of the song particularly seems to evoke Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, underscoring the song’s final melodic idea with a densely-voiced and unrelenting rhythmic idea that drives the piece to its conclusion.
Red Velvet — One of these nights (2016)
“One of These Nights” is a ballad/R&B tune recorded and popularized by the K-pop group, Red Velvet. The lyrics of the song tell a story, based on a Korean folktale, of a pair of lovers only able to meet for one day each year, and expresses the heartbreak that they experience through their separation. Musically, the song is harmonically complex and lush, exploring the sweetness and sorrow of the lovers’ relationship.
The transcription for piano here begins simply, the rendition of the voice’s melody adorned with gentle accompanimental gestures. As the ballad continues, the realization grows in complexity across its duration, pushing toward Liszt-ian virtuosity as it drives into the last verse. Only following its cadenza-like double-scalar flourish, does the piece begin to return to its gentle beginnings, fading away from its fervor—perhaps like the lovers, forced once again to go their separate ways.
Heize — The Walking Dead (2021)
Unlike the previous two K-pop tracks on the album, “The Walking Dead” is by no means a mega-hit. Heize has certainly enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist—singing, rapping, composing, and producing—but “The Walking Dead” is a mostly overlooked track from her seventh EP, Happen. The song itself is relatively simple musically, with lyrics that tell a story of two lovers clinging to their relationship, apologizing for their love, but refusing to give it up. Reynolds’s transcription is faithful to the simplicity of the original, allowing the listener to enjoy the simple beauty of the music.
Strauss — Dance of the Seven Veils (1905)
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was German romantic composer, best known for his orchestral works and his operas. Really, the last major holdover of the romantic era in opera, Strauss continued producing operas in that style throughout the first half of the 20th century. Although he was, at one point, a figure of much political debate, because of his position in the Nazi government, he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the war—it came to light that not only did he use his position to protect the works of Jewish composers, such as Mahler and Mendelssohn, but also the life of his daughter-in-law, Alice Grab Strauss.
The “Dance of the Seven Veils” is an extended orchestral passage from Strauss’s Salome—a drawn-out erotic dance, in the midst of a biblical opera. The passage was controversial, to say the least, both at the time of the premiere and in the years that followed, in some part because it required the soprano to strip nude across the its 10 minute duration, but also because of the demand that follows. In exchange for her dance, Salome calls for the head of John the Baptist—which she proceeds to sexualize and then kiss, the climax of the entire opera.
The piano transcription beautifully preserves the sparse nature of Strauss’s orchestration, the exchange between the waltz and march-like textures creating an uncomfortable eroticism in the music. The maximalism that Strauss and Reynolds are capable of is saved for the last 90 seconds of the track, wonderfully keeping the listener on edge until the movement’s peak.
Sondheim - No one is alone (1987)
It’s most likely impossible to be even a casual fan of American Musical Theater and not know of the works of Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021). First rising to fame as a lyricist, in 1957 with West Side Story, he went on to write both music and lyrics for many of the most beloved musicals of the last 60 years: Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Company, and over a dozen more.
“No One Is Alone,” from Into the Woods, for me, is a perfect ending to this album. Although Reynolds’s shared that this was a late edition to the album—unplanned before Sondheim’s passing—the incredible antithesis to the beginning of the album and Ellington’s Solitude, offers an uplifting journey for the listener. Sondheim’s lyrics, and the music that carries them, offer hope: “Sometimes people leave you / Halfway through the wood… But no one is alone.”