Marc-Andre Hamelin Turns A Timeless Melody Into A Raucous Piano Workout

<p>(Photo: CPR)</p>
<p>Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin in the CPR Performance Studio. </p>

Here's a piece for piano built around a tune that has fascinated composers for centuries.

Pianist and composer Marc-Andre Hamelin built his Toccata on "L'Homme Armé" on a French melody that dates back to the Renaissance. (The original song opens with the provocative line whose rough translation is, "The armed man should be feared.") Hamelin played it in the CPR Performance Studio while in Denver to play a Friends of Chamber Music recital.

Hamelin is one of many composers to make use of the tune. Some borrowed the melody for dozens of settings of the Latin Mass. More recent composers like Peter Maxwell Davies and Karl Jenkins have also written pieces around it.

Hamelin's toccata is full of bombastic chords and fast passages. Throughout the piece, the timeless French tune weaves in and out of the chaos and dissonance.

Unusually, 30 different pianists helped premiere the composition. Hamelin wrote it for the Van Cliburn piano competition in 2017, and each of the 30 competitors played the piece.

During his session at CPR, Hamelin also played a touching and nuanced performance of a song by Frederic Chopin, arranged by Franz Liszt. Watch how Hamelin's fingers traverse the keyboard as he navigates the delicate melody.

Speaking of the Van Cliburn competition, watch CPR Performance Studio sessions with the gold, silver and bronze medalists: Yekwon Sunwoo plays Liszt and Tchaikovsky, Kenny Broberg performs Debussy and Schubert, and Daniel Hsu plays Chopin.