Yann Tiersen was born in Brest in Brittany and now lives in Paris. Many composers work alone during the composition process, though Tiersen has taken this a step further by recording many of his albums himself. On the soundtrack to Amélie for example, he is credited with playing the following instruments: toy piano, carillon, banjo, mandolins, guitar, harpsichord, vibraphone, accordian, piano, bass guitar and melodica. When working on those albums, one can only assume that he lays down the parts one by one to build up the track in layers. Tiersen is not a recluse however. There have been many concerts of his music, performed using a substantial number of musicians. Tiersen himself frequently plays the piano or accordian during such live performances.
Tiersen's music seems both traditional and new, familiar yet surprising. It seems to spring from folk music and popular song, with a sprinkling of French cafe or street music, and a touch of the avant-garde. His music sounds distinctly French in character, the accordians in particular seem to emphasise the Gallic character. The pieces are frequently constructed as simple folk tunes or dances (with waltzes being particularly common) with simple melodies and accompaniment of broken chords. Descending figures and minor keys give some of his music a melancholy character, while an upbeat tempo and busy rhythmic figures make other tracks quite lively. His birthplace is obviously an influence too with references to the sea and one track on "La Valse des Monstres" called Quimper, a town in Brittany.
Although simple in construction and very easy to listen to, appealing to a wide range of musical tastes and age groups, this simplicity is deceptive. There is subtlety in the forms, complexity in the emotions, a lot of care in the instrumentation and clearly a lot of creative effort in achieving a balanced performance. Like Chopin, Tiersen's music demands a rubato style. For classical comparisons, you should look to Tiersen's countryman Erik Satie or the minimalist Michael Nyman. But comparisons aren't really necessary. Tiersen should be enjoyed for the individualist that he is. He has a stylish Flash website including at www.yanntiersen.com which gives information about his films, albums and concerts. The site also has animated films with musical accompaniment and you can even listen to lo-fi versions of all the album tracks, so it is very easy to make up your mind before you buy.
Tiersen's latest film score is "Good Bye, Lenin!" and arguably his minimalist credentials are even more to the fore on this soundtrack, with tracks reminding us of either Glass or Nyman. The score is less French sounding (which is just as well since it is set in Germany) and in places departs just a little from his previous style, yet Tiersen has lost none of his individuality. The soundtrack CD has now been released and is available from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Initially it was hard to find Sheet Music by Yann Tiersen, but his growing fame has created a worldwide demand. Two volumes of his music for piano are available from www.di-arezzo.com. The way complex expressions come from simple musical ideas is clear from these arrangements and you'll enjoy playing them. The first volume has "comptine d'ete nos. 1, 2 and 3", "le vieux en veut encore", "toujours la" and "la piece vide". The second volume (now reprinted) also has "comptine d'ete no.2" and the 5 piano pieces from Amelie: "Comptine d'un autre ete: l'apres-midi", "Le moulin", "La Dispute", "Sur le fil" and "La valse d'Amelie (piano version)". This particular collection has proven quite popular and is highly recommended.
Here is a great short animation discovered on YouTube which uses Tiersen's Comptine d'un autre été: l'après midi. Recently Tiersen has added his voice to calls from various musicians in Europe who believe that record companies have been too agressive in their crackdown on music piracy on the internet, and that copyright laws should be changed.