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William Howard (piano)


Sixteen Contemporary Love Songs

About this recording

In 2016 a long-standing ambition of mine was fulfilled when my album Sixteen Love Songs was released on Orchid Classics. For years I had been planning to put together a collection of piano pieces, mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, that all had a timeless appeal and reflected different aspects of love. As well as being hauntingly beautiful, many of them have had interesting afterlives as TV or film music, or even as popular songs.

Having commissioned and performed music by living composers 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. Love songs can be found in music across the world and across the centuries, and today’s composers do, of course, write about love. But I was not sure how composers would react to the invitation to write, specifically, a love song for solo piano, given the strong association of ‘songs without words’ with piano music of the romantic era. As it happened, all those that I approached were very enthusiastic about the idea; so much so, in fact, that I also decided, with Judith Weir’s encouragement, to launch an international competition for writing piano love songs. Running from June to October 2016, it had an astonishing response, attracting 526 entrants aged 13 to 90 from 61 different countries.

This album features the two winners of that competition, Chia-Ying Lin (over-25 category) and Frederick Viner (under-25) alongside 14 pieces that I have commissioned. For the commissions, I deliberately approached composers who represent a broad range of different musical styles. The pieces are varied not just in the way they are written, but also in the aspects of love that the composers have chosen, which range from dedications to spouses and an eight-month old child, to a quotation from St. Paul, a Wagnerian love-duet and tributes to Gabriel Fauré and Dusty Springfield. What they have in common is that they are all quite short and all expressions of something very personal, which I
feel offers the listener a very special way into the musical world of each individual composer.

I would be delighted if anyone likes all 16 pieces equally. It is more likely that different people will like different pieces. Some of these love songs may require repeated listening in order to yield all their secrets, others are more immediately seductive. Whatever your response, I hope this brief journey through different contemporary approaches to writing music appeals to your curiosity and gives some idea of the wealth of individual talent among today’s composers. My professional life has been enriched by the imagination, diversity and creativity of the composers with whom I have worked over the years; I hope this recording contributes to seeing their skill and commitment more widely recognised.

William Howard