Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks

Max Richter – The Blue Notebooks

Discovering Max Richter – A Personal Introduction…

Released in February 2004, and to the best of my knowledge there are no plans to release 20th anniversary edition, so with a multitude of new releases waiting attention – why now?

I crave your indulgence as I set the scene. It’s late, very late in fact, on the last day of March 2024, a month I was glad to see the back of, following the loss of a dear friend. As is the norm for this time of evening I’m aimlessly flicking across the tv channels trying to find something, anything remotely interesting to watch before turning in. By this point the sound is low and for some unknown reason I pause on Sky channel 186, Ayozat. For the most part it’s a particularly pointless, generic channel and I don’t think I’ve ever watched it before. Happenstance therefore prevails as I’m drawn to the sound of haunting ‘strings’ and glancing up to the screen, a harrowing video. Rewind and watch the full track…

So moved by the music and video I rewound and replayed the track again… then off to bed, with a mental note to check out this ‘new discovery’ tomorrow…

It appears I am somewhat late to Max’s party. Born in 1966, Max Richter is a renowned, classically trained composer, arranger, and pianist, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Music in London, and studied with pioneering electronic music composer Luciano Berio. Max Richter has released eight solo albums, written a multitude of scores and has been nominated, and won, a whole host of Awards. He also co-founded ‘Piano Circus’ performing works by minimalist musicians such as Brian Eno, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich, to mention a few.

The Blue Notes is Max Richter’s second solo album and features eleven melodic, ‘ambient’ tracks, firmly rooted in the minor-key, whilst exploring a contemporary and minimalist approach. It’s a thoroughly absorbing listen, augmented by succinct readings by Tilda Swinton, and it is her narration, along with heavily reverberated piano and found-sounds which open proceedings. The text across the album, come from novelists Franz Kafka’s ‘The Blue Octavo Notebooks’, and poet Czesław Miłosz’s ‘Hymn of the Pearl’ & ‘Unattainable Earth’. Following the brief introductory track, we have the piece which so caught my attention the night before, On the Nature of Daylight. A wonderfully evocative and free flowing piece, imbued with solemn counterpoint, as it gradually unfolds…

As a side note here, the sorrowful video was filmed in 2018 and features actress & producer Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale). In fact since it’s release On the Nature of Daylight has been featured in over twenty-five television programmes and films.

The Blue Notebooks is an absorbing, forty minutes of immersive music, combining electronica and classical music, and I fear dissecting the pieces would act more as disservice, as the album is best appreciated as a continuous piece. There are of course many highlights and just to give a taster, we have three short piano interludes Horizon Variations, Vladimir’s Blues and Written In The Sky, which revisits the harmonic structure of On the Nature of Daylight. Then there is the ethereal, cascading voices of Iconography, which, as the title eludes to, creates imagery of a church or cathedral. The continuous nature of the album is amplified by the tolling bells which introduce the penultimate track, The Trees. With text by Miłosz, read by Tilda Swinton, the track draws its ‘lower end’ from the previous track, Arboretum, whilst the arrangement, builds consistently to a climax, before the release into oblivion…

Since the fortuitous discovery of The Blue Notebooks I have spent many an hour exploring other works by Max Richter – the obvious starting point was his debut album Memoryhouse, which is a natural predecessor. There is 15th Anniversary Reissue of The Blue Notebooks which features the original album, plus seven tracks offering alternative versions and/or mixes. However the jewel in the crown has to be Recomposed By Max Richter: Vivaldi ~ The Four Seasons originally released in 2012 with the Berlin Konzerthaus Kammerorchester, and more recently, in 2022, as Max Richter: The New Four Seasons – Vivaldi Recomposed, with the Chineke! Orchestra. A truly inspired reinterpretation of Antonio Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons)…

Max Richter continues to write and perform and his latest ‘EP’ released last month – is a ninety minute ‘piano version’ taken from the eight hour SLEEP cycle. It is estimated since it’s release, in 2015, SLEEP has had nearly 2 billion streams! Max Richter, along with string ensemble and Tilda Swinton, performed at last year’s Glastonbury Festival, sadly not included in the BBC highlights…

The words ‘prog adjacent’ might be appropriate to entice some to explore, however for this reviewer The Blue Notes has offered a fascinating glimpse into the music of Max Richter.

01. The Blue Notebooks (1:19)
02. On The Nature Of Daylight (6:11)
03. Horizon Variations (1:52)
04. Shadow Journal (8:22)
05. Iconography (3:38)
06. Vladimir’s Blues (1:18)
07. Arboretum (2:53)
08. Old Song (2:11)
09. Organum (3:13)
10. The Trees (7:52)
11. Written On The Sky (1:40)

Total Time – 40:29

Max Richter – Piano (tracks 1,3,6,8,10 & 11), Electronics (tracks 1,3,4,5,7,8,9 & 10)
Louisa Fuller – Violin (tracks 2,4,7 & 10)
Natalia Bonner – Violin (tracks 2,4,7 & 10)
John Metcalfe – Viola (tracks 2,4,7 & 10)
Philip Sheppard – Cello (tracks 2,4,7 & 10)
Chris Worsey – Cello (tracks 2,4,7 & 10)
Tilda Swinton – Reader (1,4,7,8 & 10)

Record Label: FatCat Records
Country of Origin: Germany / U.K.
Date of Release: 26th February 2004

Max Richter – Website | Facebook | YouTube X