Pianist and soundtrack composer Yann Tiersen (Amelie, Goodbye Lenin)
rose to prominence with the neoclassical arrangements that
envelop the folkish instrumental melodies of La Valse Des Monstres/ The Waltz Of The Monsters (Ici D'Ailleurs, 1995),
originally composed for either a theatrical adaptation of Tod Browning's horror movie Freaks (1932) or Yukio Mishima's staging of the 15th-century noh play "The Damask Drum/ The Silk Tambourine".
The soundtrack for Freaks contains
two main kinds of compositions:
impressionistic vignettes for
piano, violin, harpsichord and even toy piano
(best the two versions of the exuberant baroque sonata Comptine d'Ete' n° 17 for two harpsichords);
accordion-driven folk-inspired dances La Valse des Monstres, Quimper 94, Le Banquet and Cleo au Trapeze.
Le Tambourin de Soie ("The Damask Drum")
adds melodicas, chimes and tubular bells to the chamber instruments,
Michael Nyman-esque minimalist repetition,
notably in the
Mouvement Introductif (for piano, two harpsichords, and eight melodicas).
Tiersen sounds like a pupil of Mike Oldfield once we
remove the rock guitar riffs from Oldfield's suites.
There is definitely no rock music in Tiersen's music.
That style of brief vignettes would remain his main expressive vehicle.
Rue Des Cascades/ Cascades Street (Ici D'Ailleurs, 1997) contains
20 of them, ranging in duration from one to four minutes with the notable
exception of the seven-minute closer, La Vie Quotidienne (which is
really made of two independent parts, a violin sonata and a lugubrious drone).
The album includes his first songs, notably Rue des Cascades (sung in a high choirboy register by Claire Pichet), used later in the soundtrack of Eirck Zonca's film The Dreamlife of Angels.
Tiersen plays an impressive number of instruments:
piano and toy piano, violin, accordion, mandolin, harpsichord, and even an
old typewriter (Pas si Simple, countering an old-fashioned accordion-driven melody - the song would be included in the Amelie soundtrack).
The other song on the album, Naomi (also sung by Pichet) contains verses from Allen Ginsberg's poem "Kaddish".
Tiersen draws inspiration from
Celtic jigs (Deja' Loin),
from carillons (La Chambre),
and from music for circuses, cabarets and county-fairs (Soir de Fete, another future Amelie track). There are also
piano sonatas, from the breezy Comptine d'Ete' n° 1 to the melancholy La Piece Vide.
Certainly not groundbreaking, this music is a simple form of entertainment.
More austere and less spontaneous,
Le Phare/ The Lighthouse (Ici D'Ailleurs, 1998) contains
a Celtic-tinged song Monochrome (sung by a male singer) and three
songs later recycled in the Amelie soundtrack
(the piano sonata La Dispute,
the lively folk dance La Noyee/ The Drowned Girl
and the hysterical violin movement Sur le Fil/ On the Wire).
He does better with the radiant Celtic jig Arrival on the Island.
The piano sonata La Chute/ The Fall is instead rather stale.
His fusion of street music and classical music is best presented in L'Homme aux Bras Ballants.
The album often sounds repetitive and an even monotonous.
Tout Est Calme/ Everything's Calm (1999) was a collaboration with the quartet Married Monk.
L'Absent (Ici D'Ailleurs, 2001) is a set of rather boring ballads, sung by several
guests vocalists while
Yann Tiersen plays the usual arsenal of classical instruments.
sings the chamber lied La Parade (with piano, strings and onde Martenot) and the uninspired litany Le Meridien.
Les Jours Tristes is a trivial singalong (sung by a male singer.
If there isn't much to say about the songs, the instrumentals are also
Christine Ott's ondes Martenot decorate the wordless À Quai,
and the feasty street music of Le Jour d'Avant and the neoclassical piece Le Retour are small additions to his canon,
but the piano solo (L'Absente) and the violin solo (Qu'en reste-t-il?) are mediocre.
C'Etait Ici (2002) is a double live album.
Les Retrouvailles (2005) continued with the song-oriented format,
vocalists such as Elizabeth Fraser (of the
Jane Birkin and Stuart Staples (of the
A completely different artist emerged on Dust Lane (Mute, 2010).
Synthesizers and guitars replaced the classical chamber instruments,
and a hippy-style choir replaced the high-profile guest vocalists,
while the rhythm section peppers everything with more proactive percussion.
Hence the softly ecstatic singalong Amy and the
solemn choral crescendo Ashes, and the eight-minute pieces,
Fuck Me and Till The End, that are a bit of both.
The bouncy and gloomy Palestine is perhaps the most original song here, like a cross between the
Another song that exudes a sense a tragedy is Chapter Nineteen.
The album reveals an existential songwriter and composer.
The only drawback is that the choral songs sound very similar.
The shoegazing instrumental Another Shore and the post-rock litany The Gutter were the highlights of
Skyline (2012), which also
contains the previous single
Monuments (2011), a dreamy psychedelic elegy, and the next single
I'm Gonna Live Anyhow.
While several songs sound like leftovers, this album further expanded Tiersen's
palette. In fact, it may feel confused or varied, depending on taste.
The transition towards ambient pop began with Infinity (2014),
which in a sense was the continuation of the project of Dust Lane.
It opens with the mellow "om" of Infinity and then the
choral singalong of Slippery Stones. That was now his favorite
format: a simple melody repeated ad libitum in a slow crescendo.
The most user-friendly example is the catchy and poppy A Midsummer Evening. Second best is the ethereal The Crossing, bordering on
The trivial percussive crescendo Ar Maen Bihan is another Tiersen specialty, but not exactly groundbreaking.
EUSA (2016) collect 18 solo piano pieces dedicated to the island off the coast of Brittany where he lived, and
EUSA - Field Recordings (2016) collects field recordings of the island to be played alongside the piano pieces.
Hent (Muta, 2018) is a 43-minute piano sonata with a feeble collage of field recordings in the background;
basically a fusion of EUSA and
EUSA - Field Recordings;
his best venture into ambient and new-age music, a celestial flow of tiny loops.
The spiritual and ecological All (2019) is a continuation of
Hent, but structured in 11 independent songs which are mostly sung in Breton.
Tempelhof is actually an instrumental and could have been a section of
The rest is a cycle of
delicate nature-inspired elegies with sounds of nature.
Pell is sung, or whispered, by
an Enya-esque female choir with pulsing neoclassical instrumentation.
The nine-minute Erc'h is a celestial, Zen-inspired prayer delivered by a male singer and a female choir, immersed in a bucolic atmosphere.
The hypnotic new-age chant Heol and
the eight-minute Beure Kentan for spoken-word, piano and sounds of nature
are music for relaxation and meditation.
The 25-song Portrait (2019) re-recorded some of his past "hits" with guitarist Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))), vocalist Gruff Rhys and others.
Marking another transformation,
Kerber (2021) contains seven lengthy instrumentals for piano and discreet
electronic noise, notably the
slow, lulling chamber music of Kerlann
and the elaborate ten-minute piano sonata Kerber.
Unfortunately, most of the time the music is neither creative nor atmospheric
enough to justify its duration.
Most of the synthesizer-heavy 11 5 18 2 5 18 (Mute, 2022) is filler, and amateurish filler. The album exists mainly as a container for
the eleven-minute 11 5 18 2 5 18, where the synth integrates well with Tiersen's ambient-concrete art. The rest is a
trivial imitation of synth-pop or of German cosmic music of the 1970s or of Giorgio Moroder's disco-music (sometimes in the same song, as in
1 18. 13 1 14 5 18. 11 15 26 8, the second best one).