Matthew Shiel performs Debussy’s Romantic Piano by Candlelight: Clair du Lune at St. Vincent’s Chapel

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Matthew Shiel
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Matthew Shiel
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The intimate and charming 19th century St. Vincent's Chapel creates the perfect ambience for this concert featuring Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Burns and Hisashi et al. on a romantic musical journey from France to Japan, Scotland to Venice.  Matthew Shiel won a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, graduating with first class honours and several awards, including the J.S Bach Competition and a prize for ‘outstanding harmony and counterpoint’.  

Liebestraum no. 3 by Franz Liszt was inspired by a German love poem, ‘Oh love as long as you can’ (Ferdinand Freiligraph), about cherishing every moment with the one you love.  Shiel captures the shifting emotions from quiet nostalgia to dark sense of loss followed by dreamlike reflection. 

 Beethoven’s Bagatelle no. 25 is famously known as ‘Für Elise’, but there's long been a mystery behind the identity of Elise.  Perhaps his pupil, Therese Malfatti to whom Beethoven proposed the same year, 1810, but the hidden score was only published 40 years after his death.  A bagatelle is a short, light piece of music, and this Rondo begins with the repetition of notes in E and D sharp, to reflect regret and longing in its haunting melody. 

Robert and Clara Schumann were great friends and mentors of the young Johannes Brahms, who unwittingly fell in love with Clara after Robert was sent to a mental asylum.  Brahms’ Intermezzo Opus 118, no. 2 was written towards the end of his life for Clara; it's deeply introspective, melancholic but soothing - the composer himself called his set of intermezzi "lullabies to my sorrows". 

From the Italian word barca meaning boat, a Barcarolle is a traditional folk song for Venetian gondoliers. Here, Shiel plays Tchaikovsky’s June from ‘The Seasons,’ in which you can almost hear the lapping water and rocking movement of the gondola, as the lyrical tune flows gently along. 

Another love story for this recital of romantic music: A Scottish aristocratic lady, Jane Stirling was Chopin’s devoted pupil in Paris from the 1820s, later arranging his concert tour in Scotland, while he dedicated his Prelude in F Minor, Op.55 to her, "touched by her kindness and generosity of spirit."  From quietly playful like lively dance steps it develops into a heartfelt letter of affection. 

A Down by the burn where scented birks

Wi' dew are hangin clear, my jo,

I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,

My ain kind Dearie O.

Based on Robert Burns’ poem, Lea Rig was a delightful jaunty jig cleverly illustrating the tone and tempo of fiddle playing on piano.  

The poem, Clair du Lune by Paul Verlaine was inspired by the paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau, which in turn captured the imagination of Debussy for his famous piece of the same title – ‘the calm light of the moon, sad and fair.’  The gentle musical tone is sentimental with a light fluid harmony, rippling like harp strings to evoke the beauty of nature.  At this moment, sunlight streamed through the chapel’s stained glass windows to enhance the theatrical setting.

The young Italian composer, Alfredo Caponnettto studied for a PhD in Edinburgh and is renowned for linking Renaissance counterpoint with the contemporary language of music. Specially composed for Matthew and this concert, his elegant and soulful Notturno was played with such insight and compassion. 

Matthew Shiel has ‘composed’ a most enchanting concert, relating amusing, enlightening stories to introduce each piece; his eloquent performance expresses a dramatic, emotional mood from sad and sorrowful to light-hearted and lyrical, oozing a joyful sense of romantic love. 


This performance took place on Saturday 15th June, 2024. 

A collection of colourful abstract and surreal prints and cards by the Chinese artist, Emma Yitong Shen, inspired by this music, are for sale at the Chapel before and after the concerts. 

At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2024, Matthew Shiel will be presenting this concert again as well as a diverse range of musical shows at St. Vincent’s Chapel during August. 

Debussy’s Romantic Piano by Candlelight – Clair de Lune, Aug 16, 23

Rhapsody in Blue: Jazz Piano by Candlelight Aug 10, 21

Einaudi’s Piano by Candlelight – Elegy for the Arctic Aug 14, 22

Orchestre à Six Mains – Three Pianists, Six Hands, One Piano, Aug 17, 24

Charlie Chaplin’s Late-Night Cinema Aug 10, 14, 16-17, 21-24