Listening to and reading about this cycle of piano miniatures titled “Children’s Songs”, written and performed by Australian composer Mark Isaacs, you can’t help but be mindful of a similar and much loved cycle from Robert Schumann, his Scenes from Childhood. The association is apt. Schumann’s Kinderszenen was conceived to express an adult’s reminiscences of childhood, and was written for adults, not children. Isaacs cycle too has a sophistication that indicates its intended audience is recalling childhood, not living it. Listening to each cycle leaves me with similar feelings. I suppose that as much as music has changed during the last two centuries, children have not.
Composer Mark Isaacs (b.1958) is an award winning musician who is highly successful and respected for his work in both the classical and jazz idioms. Often, the music of classical composers with extensive jazz backgrounds can sound as though the composer has forced distinctive jazz characteristics into the music. That’s not the case here. Mr. Isaacs brings his deep understanding of the jazz and classical genres together transparently to form a unique and enjoyable voice; the only “jazzy” aspect I hear comes from a wonderful improvisatory quality to the music.
These short pieces, averaging about two minutes each, have titles like “Reedy Pond”, “Dreamtime” and “Games”. Each gentle little character piece captures in music a few precious moments from the world of a child. The pieces explore quiet, every day moods and experiences – a somersault, a pause for a small discovery, a squint in the sunshine, then a twirl and a turn on the swing. The music is delicate and pensive, sometimes tentative, but far from simple. Isaacs draws on many techniques to form his lyrical miniatures: chromatic harmonies, tone clusters and polyrhythms are employed, often in classical forms such as a gavotte, minuet or canon. The music is very interesting.
No less a luminary than Vladimir Ashkenzy described this cycle as “highly inventive and inspiring, accessible to children and adults alike. Very enjoyable and touching!” There are two brief samples for you to listen to where you can experience the unpretentious charm of Isaacs’ music yourself, Minuet in G and In Your Own Backyard. Beautifully performed, Mr. Isaacs seems to take to heart Robert Schumann’s advice to Clara before she was to perform his Scenes from Childhood, “you must forget your virtuoso self”.
Mark Isaacs premiered Children’s Songs in 2012 at the Adelaide Festival in South Australia. The suite is one more highlight in the career of a musician whom the Los Angeles Times praised for his “splendid musical mind.” In this pensive suite of short piano works, Isaacs, one of Australia’s most accomplished composers and pianists, plunges us into a part of ourselves that we may have thought we’d lost forever. His Children’s Songs depict a delicate place, marked by tentative steps but endless imagination.
This delicate and delicious series of piano pieces was recorded at Eugene Goossens Hall in Sydney this past August with the composer at the piano, and the results are stunning. We can’t wait to share this music with you in May 2013.
Mark Isaacs, composer & pianist
Mark Isaacs (b. 1958) has achieved widespread recognition as a composer and pianist working in both classical music and jazz. As a classical concert hall composer and composer for screen and theatre he has composed around 100 major works. His compositions have been performed and/or commissioned by numerous prominent Australian and international ensembles/performers and he has recorded as a classcial pianist and conducted orchestras. As a jazz pianist and composer he has toured extensively in Europe, Russia, Asia, the USA, Australasia and the Pacific performing at major festivals including the Tokyo Jazz Festival and Pori Jazz, Finland.