Music in Piano no Mori
Piano no Mori follows a couple of 5th grade primary school age children, two of who are gifted pianists - one strictly trained and the other who can't even read music, but has a depth of raw emotion in his playing that is rarely seen in younger pianists.
Originally a manga series by Makoto Isshiki, Piano no Mori, Isshiki was inspired to write the anime when he saw a documentary about the prestigious International Chopin Competition and Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin.
This competition is held every five years in Warsaw, Poland. It is one of few competitions with only one composer, and awards both professional and amateur prizes.
Bunin has since moved to Japan following the competition, and taught for many years at a music college in Kawasaki.
Piano no Mori trailer
In the anime, the main character Shuuhei Amamiya transfers to a new elementary school so his family can look after his ailing grandmother.
On the first day, he is set upon by the classroom bullies after finding out that he wants to become a professional pianist like his father.
They dare him to play an old 'cursed' piano, hidden in the middle of a forest - no one has been able to get anything other than a 'thunk' sound out of.
He meets Kai Ichinose, who is the only one who can play the forest's piano, even though it seems to be broken. Kai has been playing the abandoned piano for years, it's his escape from a difficult home life.
Shuuhei is a technically brilliant young pianist, but resistant to adding emotion to his playing, until he hears Kai play a piece by Chopin.
Developing friendships and rivalries
Over time, they develop a strong yet competitive friendship, and support each other in developing their piano skills with Kai's teacher, master pianist Sosuke Ajino, who encourages them to enter Japan's National Piano Competition.
During the qualifying rounds for the main competition, they meet another young pianist, Takako, who slowly overcomes her terrible performance anxiety with the help of Kai.
Kai also suffers from performance anxiety which blocks his performances, until he lets his chaotic performer out, much to the horror of the judges, and the delight of the audience.
This is a great anime about elementary school age friendships and rivalries. It's also a commentary on the different approaches to music - strict lessons and a hefty practice schedule resulting in a brilliant technician, vs letting a pianist play as they feel, creating a performer.
Learning piano at a young age
Having played piano at that age (although, not in competitions), I felt drawn back into that world as I watched it. I was somewhere in between the two pianists in my approach, but more of a lazy technician.
Both of the extremes as presented are not the best way to either stick with the piano in the long term, or enjoy it in the short term. A balanced and fun approach is best.
Gorgeous piano music
There is a beautiful collection of pieces in this anime, as well as a fantastic original piano soundtrack by Keisuke Shinohara.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to hunt down any official written version of the introductory piano piece - if you find one, please do let me know!
In the meantime - enjoy the performance below by Kyle Landry, who amazingly transcribed it by ear.
Classical piano music
All of the piano music in Piano no Mori is performed by the famous Russian pianist and conductor, Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy, who placed second in the International Chopin Competition in 1955 - his first international piano competition prize.
Many of these pieces are technically challenging when played at speed, but can be enjoyed at a slower speed when developing your skills.
They are meant to represent competition pieces, where the pianists should be technically brilliant, and yet show emotion in their playing.
A much wider range of competition pieces are featured in the printed manga, but there are only so many pieces you can fit in a short anime film, sadly.
Beethoven - Für Elise
Beethoven's Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor is more commonly known as Für Elise.
It's probably one of the most well known piano pieces in the world, and one of the pieces that many pianists say was their inspiration to start learning.
The first section is perfect for learning how to pedal correctly, and is one of the first pieces I performed at the piano school's yearly concert, just like many of my friends at the school.
The later sections are slightly more demanding, but more rewarding than the well-known first section.
Für Elise was not published until well after Beethoven's death, and no-one really knows which of three possible people this piece was dedicated to (three people close to Beethoven's had the nickname Elise).
Chopin - Waltz of the Puppy
Frederick Chopin's Waltz No. 6 in D-flat major Op.64, No.1 has two common names - the Waltz of the Puppy or the Minute Waltz.
Chopin was inspired to write this pieces when watching a puppy chasing it's tail.
Many pianists try to play it as fast as possible to show technical prowess, but it's not actually meant to be played in one minute.
Valentina Lisitsa plays a stunning version, you can truly see a puppy chase its tail in the craziness of the fast sections.
Chopin - Piano Sonata No. 3
Another by Chopin, showing the influence of the competition documentary - Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op.58.
This is the only sonata by him that ends in a major key, and is one of Chopin's most technically and musically difficult pieces.
The fourth movement, as played here by Elias-Axel Pettersson, is chaotic and fast, with emotional and beautiful melodies tumbling over each other in a rush to reach the finish.
Can you tell, I love Chopin's piano music?
Bach - Italian Concerto
The third movement, Presto, from J.S. Bach's Italian Concerto in F major, BWV961, is another technically difficult piece.
Originally composed for the harpsichord, it's become one of the most played piano solos by Bach.
Daniel Martyn Lewis gives a great performance of the third movement.
Bach is not my favorite piano composer, as I prefer more emotional pieces now, rather than just technically challenging ones.
Mozart - Piano Sonata No. 8
The Allegro Maestoso first movement from Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310/300d, is a stately but still fast movement.
It's one of only two sonatas written in a minor key by Mozart.
The cadenza from the third movement - Presto - is incredibly fast and difficult, but exhilarating when you pull it off perfectly!
You can feel how the audience reacts in the competition when Shuuhei performs the first movement flawlessly.
A lot of Mozart's music for piano (Serie IX: Klaviermusik, then click on the 'i' and then the PDF) and other instruments is downloadable for free from the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzberg.
Which is your favorite from Piano no Mori?
Other great musical anime
- Nodame Cantabile is probably the most well known anime about musicians, following the ups and downs of college-age classical music students.
Nodame Cantabile has been adapted to a live-action series and covers all kinds of instruments and orchestral music, as well as Nodame's piano music.
- La Corda d'Oro is about high school music students, mostly about the violinist Kahoko with a magical violin and how she is drawn in to the high pressure classical music world.
- K-On is another slice-of-life high school music anime, with light rock music.
- Beck and Nana are two anime set mostly out of school and are about members of rock and punk bands.
- Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) follows a high school classical pianist as he moves into the world of Jazz, with some amazing jazz piano.