It’s difficult for a Brit to think of any film more typically French than that of Amélie, directed by the even more fantastically French name of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. However this is a name overshadowed by that of the soundtrack’s composer; Yann Tiersen, who clarified during a concert at the Edinburgh Festival, that although listed as French, he is in fact from Brittany. Tiersen’s distinctive approach to composition on the piano sets him apart from the usual archaic composers, and renders his music infinitely more accessible to a modern audience.
Tiersen makes for an unusual figure onstage. Dressed in a T-Shirt and jeans, he appears almost reluctant to acknowledge the audience’s enthusiasm, settling himself down briskly at the piano after fiddling briefly with the electronics of his backing CD. His attitude is an entirely professional one, bordering only on rude owing to the audience’s expectation for a performance of personality. Tiersen however is not here to satisfy the audience’s craving for his celebrity persona, rather to share his music. Entertainment for the ears, not the eyes.
Amélie is an undeniably quirky film, to the point that without Tiersen’s soundtrack to meld it together the film is at risk of only being accessible to cult groups. Instead however, every language pupil studying French is familiar with it’s exhaustive description and outrageous personalities, and every piano player worth their contemporary music salt is a scholar of the theme.
His music is unique, in that he clashes beautiful sweeping piano phrases with earthy background sounds; in his new album, Eusa, crows can be heard cawing plaintively in the background. This description does not do his music justice; it cannot help but make it sound somewhat bizarre and a little too “artsy”, but this is not the case at all. Flowing melodies repeat and lend the music a dreamy quality which ultimately manifests in the listener drifting away into a drown of daydreams, and it is this quality which esteems his music that portion more relatable than the classical concert genre.
Although classical music has its die-hard fans, few of these are fans are young, and the reason for this is that it takes a lot of effort to analyse excitement into most classical music. Talented trumpet solos can sadly not compete with the strums of an electric bass in the ears of many, and whilst there are obviously exceptions it tends to only be those who have trained on an instrument for years and Chopined up the grades who really take pleasure in listening to classical music.
Contemporary music, like that of Tiersen’s, is altogether more engaging – it has the lyrical background found in classical but the catchier repetition of more modern genres, meaning it is arguably more interesting to listen to but not so far dissociated from the classical genre as to put off regular concert-goers.
This is the way to encourage young people to the piano; teach pieces not so technically difficult as the repertoires of the usual classic composers but still equally as beautiful. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, hankering after a time where everyone knows how to play and enjoy the piano, but anyone who enjoys music will understand there really are few objects which can brighten a room as much as piano – excepting possibly a biscuit cupboard – and Tiersen’s music, although not necessarily bright and cheery, does undoubtedly stir up an atmosphere.
A man of few words and a passionate player who appears to perform only out of the necessity to promote his album, Tiersen knows how to intrigue his audience, and leave them longing for more.
Tiersen is touring now with his new album Eusa.
Image credit: Amanda Franco
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