Michael Nyman

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

Virgin Venture CDVE 919
1992

Members of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

Members of the Michael Nyman Band
John Harle: soprano, alto saxophone
David Roach: soprano, alto saxophone
Andrew Findon: tenor, baritone saxophone, flute, alto flute
Michael Nyman: piano

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I had to establish not only the usual repertoire of music for a film, but a specific repertoire of piano music that would have been Ada’s repertoire as a pianist. I began creating her a folio of material that I imagined she had in her head, that her fingers carried around with her, almost as if she had been the composer of it. It had to be a ‘possible’ mid-nineteenth century music but not pastiche and obviously written in 1992.
Initially I was unsure as to how precisely to pitch the style. But once I had the perception tyhat since Ada was from Scotland, it was logical to use Scottish folk and popular songs as the basis or our music. Once I hit on that idea everything fell into place.
It’s as though I had to write the music of another composer who happened to live in Scotland, then New Zealand in the mid-eighteen fifties. Someone who was obviously not a professional composer or pianist, so there had to be a modesty to it. Except that Holly Hunter played Ada playing the piano wirth enormous dedication and intensity.
Since Ada doesn’t speak the piano music doesn’t simply have the usual expressive role, but becomes a substitute for her voice. The sound of the piano becomes her character, her mood, her expressions, her unspoken dialogue, her body language. It has to conveyn the messages she is putting across about her feelings toward Baines during the piano lessons, and these differ from lesson to lesson as the relationship, the state of sexual bargaining and passion, develop. I’ve had to create a kind of aural scenography which is as important as the costumes. Ada’s music is described by one of the characters in the film as “like a mood that passes through you… a sound that creeps into you”.
The piano music came first, and helped to define the orchestral score.

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