My Inspiration: Classical pianist William Howard on the sheet music that inspired his latest project, Sixteen Love Songs

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William Howard found inspiration in a second-hand music shop in Prague (Source: Greg Sigston)

I became very passionate about Czech music in the 1970s when I was a student. I went to Prague in 1984 during Communist times, and I’d go to second-hand music shops where you could pick up music phenomenally cheaply. I used to come home with piles of scores; lots of stuff I’d never heard of. That’s how I came across this piece by Josef Suk, which was written in the 1890s. It’s called Love Song and it was an absolute gem of a discovery. This piece was totally new to me and I didn’t know much of Suk’s music at all; he’s not that well-known outside of his own country, especially back then.

I completely fell in love with it as soon as I sat down to play it. It’s a really gorgeous, unashamedly romantic love song written when Suk was still in his teens. I’d describe it as very romantic and passionate, with some beautifully soulful moments. It has this haunting melody that I find hard to get out of my brain.

"That chance discovery set off a whole chain reaction, ending with this idea of putting together a collection of similar pieces. My new album, Sixteen Love Songs, consists of other pieces that have very strong melodies and romantic themes. They’re songs without words. They’re very seductive pieces – I defy anyone not to fall in love with one or two of them.

They’re all classic pieces written between 100 and 200 years ago and I don’t change them in any way at all. But although they were written long ago, they still have this emotional power over people. I think it’s partly because people recognise the language of this music, almost subliminally, from popular culture. We hear echoes of it in romantic film scores and TV and pop songs.

Some of the pieces from my album have had interesting afterlives: one was made into a song by Elvis Presley, another was a big hit in the 1930s, a Schubert piece has managed to accumulate 14m hits on YouTube, which is unbelievable for a piece of classical music.

I’ve been a professional pianist all my life – I’ve made over 45 recordings – and this has given me the most pleasure of all of them. It’s funny to trace it all back to that second-hand music shop in Prague all those years ago.

William Howard’s new album, Sixteen Love Songs, will be released in June on Orchid Classics.

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