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Cheryl Frances-HoadMichael Zev Gordon 

Piers Hellawell - Bernard Hughes - Elena Kats-Chernin 

David Knotts - David MatthewsNico Muhly 

Pavel Zemek NovákRichard Reed Parry 

Robert SaxtonHoward Skempton 

Joby TalbotJudith Weir

A collection of contemporary love songs for piano

In an imaginative project designed to connect audiences and composers, William Howard has invited leading composers in the UK and abroad to contribute to a collection of 21st century love songs for solo piano. They have been released on a new album Sixteen Contemporary Love Songs on the Orchid Classics label (ORC100083). The following composers have written pieces:







Read William Howard's article in New Dots May 2016

 Image: from Pavel Zemek Novák

Little Song of Love and Mercy

William Howard writes:
Throughout my professional career I have enjoyed working with composers and commissioning new works. While I was preparing to record my album of romantic love songs for piano, I started wondering what their contemporary equivalents might sound like. I thought many composers might not take to the idea of writing a piano ‘love song’, with its suggestions of a romantic genre, but almost every composer I approached reacted with great enthusiasm. Since love is a theme common to music across the world and across the centuries, I realised that a collection of 21st century piano love songs could provide a perfect introduction to the different musical languages of living composers, especially for listeners who come to new music somewhat reluctantly.

Click on names above to see details of pieces and programme notes
Contemporary Love Songs - pieces and programme notes
Cheryl Frances-Hoad

cheryl frances-hoad 

love song for dusty (2016)

Premiere The Forge, Camden Town, London 6 June 2016


Composer’s note: When William asked me to write a Love Song for his wonderful project, the first thing that occurred to me was that it would be a fabulous opportunity to completely let my compositional hair down! I wanted to pen something utterly heart-on-sleeve, with big melodies and grand pianistic gestures, something unashamedly over the top but also totally sincere, perhaps occasionally even a little romantically unhinged...


The inspiration came from various sources - primarily William's new CD of Romantic Love Songs, but I also imagined my piece to be the result of what Chopin or Liszt would have written if they had lived in the 1960s and been heavily into Dusty Springfield (a temporary obsession of mine when I discovered that other types of music existed other than 'Classical'). As a composer I am usually scared of repetition, but in this work I wanted to keep as much as I could to a typical love song structure, with verses, choruses and bridges. This commission also fulfilled a long-standing ambition to write a piece with an'up a tone' key change at the end.


Love Song for Dusty was commissioned by Joanna Lumley as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project and was given its first performance by William Howard on 6 June 2016 at The Forge, Camden Town, London

Michael Zev Gordon


Premiere Cheltenham International Music Festival 9 July 2017

Composer’s note: A four-verse song-without-words for my wife, more than twenty-five years since I met her. At the start, a simple two-part texture; then the lines intertwine and the harmonies become richer and more complex. The third verse pulls back only to push on again; in the fourth, the music gradually settles: a low bass grounds the rocking accompaniment, the melody rises up and up.

For Fiammetta was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song project by Geoffrey Barnett

Piers hellawell

love on the escalator (2016)

Premiere Cheltenham International Music Festival 9 July 2017


Composer’s note: The piece takes on a technical challenge, namely to encompass the musical path from detachment through engrossing passion to serenity, an expressive counterpart to the human experience of love – without recourse to the elaborate pianistic resources that characterize much Romantic repertoire. I tried to avoid recourse to traditional pianistic devices - save for tremolo, whose surging effect characterizes the piece’s most animated passages.
The ‘escalator’ of the title is a recurrent chord sequence that I use in many works as a harmonic structure; it is stated in detached fashion at the outset, and then underpins a set of increasingly passionate variants. Following the plan above, the course of Love On The Escalator runs, therefore, from a rather non-committal opening mood, through increasing involvement to a serene close.


Love On The Escalator was commissioned for William Howard’s Love Song Project by Andrew and Caroline Joy.

bernard Hughes


Premiere Leighton House, London 23 May 2017

O du Liebe meiner Liebe has two musical sources: Gabriel Fauré’s Prelude in E-flat minor, op.103 no.6 and J.S. Bach’s chorale arrangement O du Liebe meiner Liebe BWV 491. I have been fascinated by the Fauré Prelude, which is an extraordinary piece constructed as a strict canon. My piece is an homage, borrowing Fauré’s texture and creating a (freer) canon of my own, using Fauré’s first nine notes in rotation. The inner part is the same notes in a slower rhythm, and becomes the song at the centre of the music. When the opening canon returns later in the piece the earlier cantus firmus is replaced by a beautiful Bach chorale setting, from which my piece takes its name.


O du Liebe meiner Liebe  was commissioned as part of William Howard's Love Song Project by Ted and Jenny Salmon

Elena Kats-Chernin


Premiere Cheltenham International Music Festival 9 July 2017


Composer's note: The notes have space around them in this piece, a little bit like dust over the keys. The title refers to roses delivered to a loved one, they are packed in a box and have a beautiful glow, very tender and elegant.  And yet, they could be a farewell gift…

Roses in a Box was commissioned as part of William Howard's Love Song Project by Henry and Gia Shaw

David Knotts

Album leaf(2017)

Premiere Hoxton Hall, London 26 April 2017

Composer's note: I take a great deal of inspiration from a peculiarly melancholy sensibility which is discernible in the work of many British composers, writer and artists. Our grey skies, long winters and national propensity for pessimism all find their way into our artistic identity and this propensity towards melancholy is something reflected in many of my pieces. As a love song, Album Leaf is polarised towards love’s sorrow rather than its happiness. The image of autumn’s first leaves as they fall from the trees inspired the piece’s opening figuration and the piece’s subtitle – September Sadness.

Album Leaf was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project by Primrose Metcalf in memory of her late husband Simon.

Photo: Alasdair Nocolson

david matthews

a Love song (2016)

Premiere Leighton House, London 3 May 2016


Composer’s note: The Romantic musical language of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was ideally suited to the love song, far more than the various languages of our own day, where the concept seems to be disappearing even from popular music. My own musical language continues in many ways to be Romantic, and I am also very concerned with the renewal of melody, so possibly my task was easier than for some others taking part in this commission project; nevertheless it took me months to get the notes right in a piece lasting under four minutes. It is dedicated to my wife, Jenifer.

A Love Song was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project by Neil King, for Matilda

Nico Muhly


Premiere Cheltenham International Music Festival 9 July 2017

Composer's note: Anything can be a love song, when sung with intent. Falling Pairs obsesses over the small energy of two neighbouring notes spreading out — from close to far and back again.


Falling Pairs was commissioned as part of William Howard's Love Song Project by Edward and Rosie Harford.

pavel zemek novÁk

Little song of love and mercy (2016)

Premiere Hoxton Hall, London 26 April 2017


This piece is based on the following text from the New Testament 1 Corinthians 13-14: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


Little Song of Love and Mercy (Sonata No.7) was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project by Susan Vicary.

Richard Reed Parry

FAST CLOUD: A love Song (2017)

Premiere Hoxton Hall, London 26 April 2017

Composer's note: When William invited me to contribute to his Love Songs project, I envisioned writing something which encapsulated some of the more blurry, chaotic and slightly overwhelming aspects of “love” - a word with uncountable meanings and equally uncountable ways in which to be experienced and felt.  I bookended and interspersed a very fast and fairly relentless barrage of notes and tempo changes with a short thematic fragment (that sounds almost as if it’s directly quoted from a 19th century love song and could have been written by a number of different composers of that era), as a sort of frame within which to explore an entirely different type of “love song”.


Fast Cloud: a love song was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project by Alex and Diana Good, for each other.

Robert Saxton (2016)

For teresa

Premiere Hoxton Hall, London 26 April 2017


For Teresa is based on the musical letters of my wife's name, tErESA CAHill and, at the close, quotes the opening of Beethoven's Für Elise, another 'love song' which, it is generally accepted, was written for Theresa Malfatti and titled Für Therese.


For Teresa was commissioned by Tim Suter for his wife Helen as part of William Howard's Love Songs Project and was first performed privately by William Howard for her 60th birthday in February 2017.

Photo: Katie Vandyck

Howard Skempton

Premiere at Leighton House, London 23 May 2017

Composer's note: As a young pianist, I was allowed to go my own way, and I remember being drawn to Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte.  Many of my little piano pieces are really songs without words, and I suspect that a fair number of these are love songs.  My Solitary Highland Song, commissioned for William Howard’s Love Songs Project, takes its title from Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’:

“Behold her, single in a field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!”

Wordsworth was haunted by “the melancholy strain ... the maiden sang”, but we are left to muse on his feelings for the singer.  What is palpable is the poem.  What is palpable in the case of my Solitary Highland Song is the sound of the piano.


Solitary Highland Song was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song project by Tessa and Peter Watkins

Joby Talbot

CAmille (2017)

Premiere Hoxton Hall, London 26 April 2017


Composer’s note: The dedicatee of this short piano love song is our baby daughter, Camille, who was eight months old at the time of writing and a complete joy.


Camille was commissioned as part of William Howard’s Love Song Project by Sergio Biseo ‘per Rosemary, con amore’.

Judith Weir

fragile (2017)

Premiere Leighton House, London 23 May 2017

Composer's note: William Howard's Love Song Project, launched in 2016, involved over 500 composers from 61 countries, including myself. We had been invited to re-imagine in our own contemporary spirit the genre of Love Songs for solo piano, so popular in the classical repertory of the past. 'fragile' is my own contribution.

'fragile' was commissioned as part of William Howard's Love Song Project by Nicholas and Jane Ferguson for their 40th Wedding Anniversary. 

Michael Zev Gordon
Piers Hellawell
Bernard Hughes
Elena Kats-Chernin
David Knotts
David Matthews
Nico Muhly
Pavel Zemek Novak
Richard Reed Parry
Robert Saxton
Howard Skempton
Joby Talbot
Judith Weir
William Howard
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