enjoyed the music of Bernward Koch, and his 2005
Real Music album "Walking Through Clouds" remains a
favourite of mine to this day. I had been trying to
acquire "Montagnola" for quite some time, and was
thrilled when, in April 2008, it received a general
release on the Erdenklang label in Germany.
attraction of this CD was that it featured the
composer playing solo piano (on a Yamaha Grand to be
precise). As much as I enjoyed the tracks on
"Walking Through Clouds", I always felt that the
synthesiser embellishments were an unnecessary
addition- Bernward's music is best appreciated in
its purest form. When I also heard that the pieces
were improvisations, I was mightily intrigued. The
end result is an album that is unquestionably a
‘Piano-Heaven’ Award Winner.
a series of fifteen piano pieces dedicated to the
memory of Hermann Hesse, who was a German / Swiss
poet, novelist and painter. Born in 1877, he went on
to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946 and
with over 100 million books sold, has become the
most widely-read German author. The album is named
after the location of Hermann Hesse's eventual death
in 1962, where he had spent the last 43 years of his
The CD opens
with ‘Thank You for Your Love’ and the title of this
piece confirms the very personal nature of this CD.
Clearly, Hermann Hesse has had a profound effect on
Bernward Koch, and this comes across in the music he
has composed which is heart-felt to say the least.
The first track is reflective at the start, but
grows into what I consider to be a celebration of
longest piece (8:15) comes in the form of ‘Montagnola’.
On the back cover of the CD, Bernward describes the
Swiss location of Hermann Hesse's death as a
"beautiful gem". The music created captures what I
imagine to be the quiet solitude of this place-
certainly the piece is gentle, restful and soothing.
Some of the bars remind me of the style of Ludovico
Einaudi. The picture
shows Hermann Hesse strolling in his garden in
another quite lengthy track, clocking in at over six
minutes. It is one of my favourite pieces. Quite
upbeat, this is uplifting music- perhaps reflecting
on happier moments or envisaging better times in the
future. This track has a delightful melody and there
are tinges of the great George Winston to be heard.
The CD's fourth
track, ‘Little Ark’ is a gorgeous, short composition
which delights from beginning to end. It is followed
by ‘Peace Will Come’. This track might have been
inspired by Hermann Hesse's difficult period during
World War One, which saw him face a major crisis in
his life and forced him to retreat to Montagnola.
The ensuing composition with its low bars suggests
troubled times and yet concludes with a sense of
optimism; I really like the way in which this piece
develops towards its eventual conclusion.
‘Norwegian Memory’ is another short composition. It
has a beautiful opening, suggesting this must have
been a happy time in the writer's life. There is
even a brief nod to jazz (just a hint, but it's
there!) before the piano sparkles into life once
more with a flurry of joyful notes.
by ‘Playing Children’. The CD's seventh track is
just thirty-five seconds long. It has a playful
melody, but is there some significance in its
length? Perhaps these times were few and far
between. It's followed by another fairly short
composition, ‘Longing’. A lovely melody gently
serenades the listener.
‘Waves of Time’
is one of the more lengthy tracks. The style reminds
me a little of Canadian composer Michael Jones (at
least initially), with the repetitive right hand. It
starts off with a distant feel to it, and the
listener is treated to a range of emotions during
the piece. The final part is repetitive and has a
sense of foreboding.
to select a favourite on this excellent CD, but I
think that the tenth track, ‘Maulbronn’, would just
about come out on top. I rather suspect that the
piece is named after the famous monastery close to
the German city of Maulbronn, named Maulbronn Abbey
and built in 1147
2 This exquisite composition is minimalist in form
and reflects the solitude and peace to be found in
this place of sanctuary. The piece showcases
Bernward Koch at his finest. Uncluttered. Pure.
section of the CD is top-notch. Following ‘Maulbronn’,
comes another wonderful track, this time entitled
‘Dark’. It's a slow piece, dramatic in parts and,
once again, very beautiful.
Coming’ is a fun composition. Beginning with a
solitary flake, the weather takes a turn for the
worse, and flurries of snow scatter the ground. The
snowstorm has arrived. Bernward Koch's playing gives
a sense of falling, and the quickening tempo
represents the ever-increasing severity of the snow.
The fun element to the CD continues with ‘Fountain’.
This is an astonishing performance lasting a mere
forty seconds. Great swirls of notes played with
tremendous energy are unleashed- devoid of melody
but highly impressive in their ability to create
visual imagery of the track's title.
Coming in a
close second place is ‘Black and White’, the album's
penultimate track. The opening is stunning, and the
piece is a delight for anyone with an appreciation
for melody. I find myself wishing this track was
longer- it ends quite abruptly and too soon! Still,
a good musician always leaves his audience wanting
more. And that is how I feel after hearing the
closing track, ‘A New Life’ again featuring a lovely
tune, with lots of emotions within its 6:17 length,
and creating a sense of optimism with which to
finish the CD.
This is an
outstanding release from the German composer. I hope
it reaches a wide audience, like Bernward's previous
offering on the USA-based Real Music label. I am
amazed these compositions are improvisations; they
have the feel of a polished performance, and it is a
testament to the undisputed skill of the composer
that these unrehearsed pieces are as close to
perfection as one could wish. Lovers of heart-felt,
deeply personal, reflective and gorgeous piano music
should acquire this release. The accompanying CD
insert is interesting- it contains a poem by the
great man (written in 1941 and entitled ‘Steps’)
along with photographs.
away nearly half a century ago, I cannot help but
feel that Hermann Hesse would be deeply touched by
this most befitting tribute. Close examination of
the photograph on the album's cover showing a
reflective Hesse overlooking his gardens in
Montagnola, almost has the novelist nodding his head
in approval. Bravo, Bernward.
außerordentlich gute Vorstellung!
*2 = Photo from
Bernward Koch taken from his web-site: