Songs by Rage Against the Machine, Megadeth or The Prodigy are, admittedly, not commonly associated with classical piano concerts. The idea of creating transcriptions, variations or fantasies for the piano on the basis of pop songs – that is, songs originating from a popular culture – is, however, as old as the piano itself. Mozart, probably the most famous child star in the history of music, wrote variations on popular songs of his day, such as French children’s song “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman”, which later, with lyrics by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, became the greatest Christmas hit besides “Last Christmas”. There are also his variations on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding”, which loosely translates to “there is nothing more blissful than a woman”, a thesis that, 250 years later, is still the subject of about half of all rock and pop lyrics. The other half (that written in minor key!) incidentally mostly covers the corresponding antithesis. Arrangements based on songs also play a central role in the piano pieces of Franz Liszt, be it his somber transcriptions drawn from the taverns of Viennese subculture or virtuoso paraphrases on popular Italian bel canto arias, the latter in a way being a mash up of 19th century single hits.
Perhaps this album would therefore be less extraordinary today had Viennese musicians of the beginning of the 20th century not involuntarily started to build an artificial wall between “classical” and popular music that their successors subsequently reinforced with barbed wire and ivory watchtowers. There are, however, numerous young composers and performers now who have made it their musical business to tear down that wall again and leave the frontiers between subculture, pop culture and high culture behind in favor of an egalitarian musical language.
Despite my training as a classical concert pianist, the piano has never been a cultured instrument to me, but rather an adventure playground with almost unlimited possibilities of sound. It was a playground I was never able to explore in its entirety with Bach, Beethoven and Chopin alone. Not only did I transfer musical socialization to 88 keys with this record, I also use the grand piano as a four-square-meter sound monster, mechanical effect machine and also as prepared drums. Some pieces stay very close to the source material, because it posed very appealing pianistic challenges to me to transpose certain songs as true to the original as possible with regard to their structure and harmony (Killing in the Name”, “Symphony of Destruction”). Others, by contrast, rather work as remixes on fully analog equipment, shift the focus to single motives (for example the hypnotizing bass run in “Spiders”, which reminds of Eastern European scales) or completely rebuild a song from its individual components (“Out of Space”). There are also some pieces that I reduced to their musical armature, often being surprised what a lyrical core remained after the testosterone shell was scraped off (“Seasons in the Abyss”).