In a situation where we’re literally flooded by masses of authors who claim to play “modern classical” music but who, in true honesty, propose nothing more than easy listening pop melodies performed on a piano, the arrival of an album like A Different Forest, from Hauschka, may seem something completely revolutionary. And this is because this new work is results definitely closer to the classical music for piano that was composed in the previous century (I have in mind the Etudes by Philip Glass‘ or the Preludes and Fugues by Dmitry Shostakovich) rather than to the commercial successes that have been released in more recent times by world acclaimed authors like Ludovico Einaudi, Daigo Hanada and Joep Beving.
The surprise for me was even greater because the only single that I had the opportunity to enjoy prior the release of the LP was the song named Hike, which is curiously the most (and the only) similar to that genre of contemporary piano songs that I just mentioned, with its basic repeated element which resembles – even too dangerously – the beautiful motif from Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson.
The song Hike, in its original version and in an alternate and longer version (Another Hike), opens and closes the album. In between, the LP offers a sequence of impressive and absolutely original pieces of contemporary classical piano music. Thematically, as the title suggests, the songs are dedicated to the exploration of the world of nature, which for the author is epitomised by the image of a forest.
In A Different Forest, I’m focusing on the forest as a natural environment and contrast to the urban everyday life; to my surroundings. Where do I want to live and work? What surroundings do I need in order to feel fulfilled? By examining these questions I always come back to nature. How often have I gone for a walk and finished on the crest of a hill or mountain top, and found a new perspective on things. It’s quite a moving experience. The experience of the sublime. Realising that everything has been there for such a long time and will continue to exist, yet in contrast, our human existence is reduced to but a fraction of the earth’s history.Haushka, from a commentary on his new LP
But what’s absolutely impressive of this LP, in my opinion. is not the didascalic aspect of the music, but the technical and compositional aspect of the songs. The music composed and played by Volker Bertelmann for Haushka’s new LP is profound and “ricercata” (any fan of György Ligeti here?). In the new pieces, we can appreciate the result of an in-depth study upon the harmonic aspect of modern music, and it’s impressive to hear how articulated sections of counterpoint flow into melodic and poetic moments of absolute beauty. I can cite as an example the song Skating through the Woods: it starts as an elaboration of an hexatonal scale but progressively, and in an extremely natural way, it evolves into a melancholic motif of rare delicacy. We experience in the short time span of 3 minutes and half an entire cultural journey that starts with Arnold Schoenberg and ends with Ólafur Arnalds. Brilliant.
Such an “evolutionary” approach is a mechanism that Haushka exploits many times in the album, it’s a sort of leitmotif of the LP. It’s as if Haushka wanted to underline how the melodies that we like to listen to, and in particular the most catchy ones, should be considered as only some particular cases among the thousand different permutations that are possible starting from the same basic set of sounds. These notes, when combined in an appropriate way, can produce sweet and delicate motifs or, when reorganized according to different sequences, other important aspects of the interaction between man and music, such as the rhythm, the chromatic contrast, or even the memory.
The fact that Volker Bertelmann wanted to deal with a more rigorous and formal approach to music may be deduced also from the fact that, unlike most of his recent works, in A Different Forest he’s not relying on his famous prepared piano, with which in the recent times he has produced some of his most interesting and experimental works. As a matter of fact, Hauschka’s previous LP, 2017’s What If, was reviewed within the electronic music section of this blog!
Hauschka is thus confirmed as one of the most important and authoritative figures of modern classical music. And with its precious combination of formality, research and passion, A Different Forest enters the list of the most important piano records of the last few decades.
My overall rating for the LP is 9/10. All the songs are equally impressive and interesting to hear, and Just for the sake of suggesting some song I can mention: Everyone Sleeps, Ghosts, Curious, Hike and Another Hike.
A Different Forest can be streamed from Spotify, where it’s also featured in the playlist BEAUTIFUL PIANO (with almost six hours with the best music for piano of the last few years).