Essential Music: Children on the Hill, by Harold Budd

BrusselsIn 1980, I first heard the music of Harold Budd. The only piece I heard at the time was a single piece of music on an obscure sampler called From Brussels with Love, (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) released by a (then) little-known Belgian label called Les Disques du Crepuscule. (Fortunately, this recording has since been released on CD. Children on the Hill has also been released on Budd’s The Serpent in Quicksilver. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)) You can also buy the song alone on the iTunes Store.

This cassette contained music by many other musicians and groups that I have come to love – such as The Durutti Column, John Foxx, Michael Nyman, and Gavin Bryars – but what stuck with me most about this tape was the one simple piano piece by Harold Budd.

Deceptively simple, subtly emotional, this is a chromatic piano piece about five minutes long where the right hand plays a haunting melody over a simple rhythmic left-hand part that, for most of the piece, plays just four notes.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of this piece and its understated melody that rises and falls like the eternal breath of life. But when I first heard it, I was so taken by the music that I copied it to an endless loop cassette tape and would spend hours listening to it. Even today, hearing this piece brings tears to my eyes.

I later discovered other music by Harold Budd, including his albums The Plateaux of Mirror, released the same year; The Pavilion of Dreams, released in 1978; and his 1984 classic The Pearl, recorded with Brian Eno, who produced much of his work, and then his later recordings (I have a couple dozen Harold Budd albums now). One notable recent recording by Harold Budd is a live piano recital from 2006, Perhaps (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which contains one track that is a riff on the melodies of Children on the Hill. It’s worth noting that when Budd performed this piece live, he would improvise on it for a long time. You can download a 23-minute version from a 1982 concert here. An excerpt of this performance was included on a cassette that Les Disques de Crépuscule released called Chicago 1982: A Dip in the Lake.

Budd’s music has always retained this naïve simplicity, yet his seemingly simple melodies hide a powerful ability to move and transfix the listener. His music exudes stillness and quiet, and speaks to each listener in a unique way.

Unforgettable, like a sunset on a lonely beach, Harold Budd’s music is inimitable.

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