We’re feeling incredibly excited about this week’s star of our Classical in Conversation blog. A real 21st century figure in the world of classical piano, it’s Yiruma.

A Successful Journey

Born in South Korea, Lee Ru-ma (yep, Yiruma is a stage name!), fell in love with the piano at age 5, which led him on a journey to the UK to study at the prestigious Purcell School for Young Musicians, and then later at Kings College London – a very impressive education! He then went back to his home in South Korea to release his debut album, Love Scene, in 2001.

Fast forward to 2020, and Yiruma had his album, The Best: Reminiscent, 10th Anniversary, debut at number 3 in the Billboard Classical Charts, reaching number 1 only two weeks later! This was after the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a resurgence in popularity! During this time, his YouTube videos attracted millions of views too!

The Elephant in the Room!

Now let’s address the elephant in the room, the piece we all know and love, whether we’re tuned in to the classical world or tuned out, “River Flows in You”. Yiruma truly wrote a stunning solo piano piece with this one. Calming, whimsical, and certainly flowing, “River Flows in You” has the sort of melody that draws in the listener from the moment it begins.

The piece is built on a structure of repetition and variation of relatively simple melodic patterns (you’ll be humming it for days!), the result of which provides an incredibly peaceful atmosphere. Yiruma’s original recording of the piece is pretty complex, but the beauty of this piece is that you can scale up or scale down the accompaniment to suit any level – and that’s what we’ve done! So, you can find “River Flows in You” in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 2 books, alongside some other fantastic contemporary composers like Nikki Iles and Alexis Ffrench.

“River Flows in You” became so popular online (it has racked up over 350 million Spotify streams!) that fans of The Twilight Saga called for it to become “Edward’s Lullaby” before the first film was released. The fans were clearly very convincing, as the track ended up being included in the final film of the trilogy, Eclipse.

Preparing to play this piece requires a fair bit of attention on the fingering and on a steady pulse too. We want to nail that legato, that flowing river feel, and these two elements will be absolutely key in that! The suggested finger patterns are really designed to make this as easy as possible for the player. Thankfully, we’ve got the left hand which acts almost like an anchor, keeping us grounded to that pulse all the time.

We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about Yiruma and this wonderful piece of music, and there’s plenty more to read of the Classical in Conversation blog. You can read more about “Clair de Lune” by Debussy, “Vignette No.1” by Florence Price, and “Martian’s March” by Pauline Hall!