Acclaimed pianist Francesco Tristano released his latest album Piano Circle Songs last week, a 15-track release centred around the theme of circularity.

After a few years of working with electronic music, Piano Circle Songs explores a more gentle side to the Luxembourg musician’s personality. Featuring award-winning Canadian pianist and songwriter Chilly Gonzales on four of the tracks, of which Gonzales composed ‘Tryst’ himself, the album draws inspiration from both the circularity of composition and of life itself.

Here Francesco shares a track-by-track run ahead of a performance of the album at Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall on 20th September. You can buy tickets here, or enter your email for a chance to win.

Circle Song
‘Circle Song’ might have been the first song that I composed for this project. I wanted to translate the idea of the circle, the geometric form, into music and how was I going to do that, I think that the circle is such a beautiful and simple and perfect form and yet it has something mysterious about it. There is something that we can’t quite grasp; maybe it’s the complexity of the number pi.

This Too Shall Go
My idea behind ‘This Too Shall Go’ was to write a simple song, structure following the verse and chorus alternation with the specific thing that the verse is actually the same as the chorus. It is just the harmonisation that changes, it was also one of the only tracks that was recorded multi-track so that I could change the sound of each individual voice.

Grey Light
There is no recipe for composition, I think there are as many ways to go about it. Sometimes I sit by the piano and I play and I write down what I play, sometimes I sit at the desk and I write down and then I play what I wrote and sometimes I just record – that’s what I did for ‘Grey Light’. I just hit record and then I started playing, and if you listen very carefully this is one of the only sounds recorded on the album that is not a piano sound. It was raining in Paris that day, and we recorded the rain, and now of course we filtered it out but I guess it’s a mood song. Grey light is a light that you very often I find in Paris, typical Paris light.

‘Never’ is a song that I wrote in my head on the tarmac as I was boarding a flight to the recording sessions. It was the first song I recorded that day, it is called ‘Never’ because there is no resolve to any of the chords. They’re all parallels, so its as if it’s a discourse that has no logical outcome and the chords always come a little bit too late [and] you’re never quite satisfied.

All I Have
‘All I Have’ is one of the songs that I came up with during the recording session so it started as an improvisation and took its more definite structure after a few takes. [It’s called] ‘All I Have’ because it is a very repetitive, singular motif which is repeated infinitely pretty much, going up in the keyboard and there is again no resolve.

Triangle Song
A triangle is another one of those perfect geometric shapes. I always wanted to compose a waltz…but then when the idea came up to collaborate with Chilly Gonzalez, [and I decided] to write a waltz for the two of us. I came up with a very simple melody which Chilly in the studio played in his way so it sounds quite different on the record, something a little bit more rhythmical.

I would say that the scope of piano circle songs was only possible after I’d gone through a long period of exploring different aspects of electronic music, and also electro-acoustic music so […] although you don’t hear them – synthesiser, effects, processors and drum machines – on Piano Circle Songs, I think they are very present in the way I understand sound and in the way I compose my pieces. One piece is called ‘Pastorale’ on the album and we have kind of a very slow heartbeat, you can call it a groove, or […] a kick drum, but I’m using my foot and I’m tapping the pedal.

Circle Song Two
‘Circle Song Two’ is more of a rock tune. It was originally the first Circle song, in fact all the songs are Circle songs because the observe similar rules of structure and of harmony, and there’s also a kind of light motif which goes through all the compositions. One of the ideas about the circle is it’s perfect shape – you can’t determine where the beginning is and where the end is – and similarly the melody of ‘Circle Song Two’ is one which is kind of repeating itself, but it’s always a little bit different as if you are going inside and outside the circle.

‘Merl’ is another track that I was playing in the studio for the first time, and the inspiration came when I was sent a little video of my kids going down hill on a slide. It was a very snowy day in Luxembourg and it happened to be in the park where I spent many hours, days, during my summers in my hometown Luxembourg. The neighbourhood is called Merl so it’s an homage to my homeland.

Circle Song Three
‘Circle Song Three’ is a direct response to the first Circle song; it takes some of the harmonies and transforms them a little bit. I was very curious to explore a very melodic language for these compositions… I had very interesting conversations about this with Chilly Gonzalez about melodies. Melody is about adjacent pitches and adjacent notes and if you really want to make a difference then you skip a note, so I was playing with these notions as I came up with the melodies for all the Circle songs. ‘Circle Song Three’ is one that has a few more of these little twists, kind of the same but different.

Nuria’s Lament
Nuria is a biblical character. I’m not a specialist of the Bible, but the Lament is a musicologist notion of a very specific baseline, a tetrachord. A descending tetrachord in the baseline, is very much present in baroque music in chaconne in passacaglia. I wanted to write a kind of passacaglia myself and that’s how I took this element of a tetrachord and injected in a dose of groove, so it has a build-up, one of the only songs that has a build-up.

La Franciscana
‘La Franciscana’ is the first, the oldest piece in fact. It’s the piece that I’ve been playing in concerts for quite a while and it is also in a way a circle song because it has the same ideas about structure.  Again here this piece came up at my mother’s house who lives on Rue de Franciscains, the street of the Fransiscanas, so again a little homage to Luxembourg.

Monologue For Two
‘Monologue For Two’ is a humorous touch because two people speaking a monologue is not very interesting unless they have something really interesting to say. That was one of the pieces I prepared for our sessions with Chilly. It has a lot of improvisations so the score is quite open, we are talking about an A B form, with an open C section.

‘Tryst’ is Chilly’s composition, his contribution to my album for which I am very grateful. The definition of tryst is an informal affair [and] of course it’s also a word-game with my own name but we refer to this song as the ‘Zawinul song’ because we are both very inspired by Joe Zawinul, the late pianist and keyboard player, and especially about his harmonies and his voicing. This piece uses some of these left hand voicing which we love so much.

Third Haiku
A haiku is an incredible literary form, very minimal and it doesn’t really have an equivalent in Western Literature, but may have musical parallels. It’s called ‘Third Haiku’, because I had written two haikus before. The idea is to write short sentences according to a specific number of syllables. The second haiku was written for Chilly as well but then we took the third for the album because we thought it was the most beautiful one.