Daniel-Ben Pienaar was born in South Africa where he made his debut aged 14, playing Liszt’s First Piano Concerto
He studied at the Royal Academy of Music where he won the Queen’s Commendation in 1997. He has garnered an international reputation for his unconventional approaches to standard piano repertoire, with particular interest in early music, Bach, the Viennese Classics and early Romantics.
His recital appearances have included cycles of works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Over the last twenty years he has begun recording that repertoire, with much interest in the special artistic possibilities that the studio affords. His discography includes much-praised traversals of Bach’s ‘48’, complete Sonata cycles by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, the first complete recordings of the keyboard works of Orlando Gibbons and of the mature piano works of South African composer Arnold Van Wyk, as well as both the Goldberg and Diabelli Variations. He has also released a compilation of 36 works by 36 different composers from a period of more than a hundred years of early keyboard literature, ‘The Long 17th Century’.
His chamber music collaborations have included extensive travelling in Japan with violinist Narimichi Kawabata, Mozart and Brahms Violin Sonata cycles with Peter Shepard Skaerved, playing at prominent London venues with violinist Giovanni Guzzo, performing Bach’s Art of Fugue on harpsichords and chamber organs with Martin Knizia, and recording music for trumpet and piano (mostly arrangements of his own) on the Linn label with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood.
‘Interpretations where within the letter critically observed, a numinous potency breaks free'Gramophone
'Pienaar responds with an astonishing range of expression and colour'Sunday Times (London)
‘A veritable Mo Farah of the keyboard’BBC Music Magazine
‘One of the most exciting pianists of his generation’Rondo Magazin (Germany)
‘One of the most original pianists on the current scene’AllMusic
My solo recordings to date (dates refer to recording, not release):
- 2003 Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (Magnatune)
- 2003 Chopin: The Four Ballades and other works (Victor Japan)
- 2004 Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 (Magnatune, re-released on Avie)
- 2006 Orlando Gibbons – The Complete Keyboard works (first, and to date only, complete recording, Deux-Elles)
- 2008-9 Mozart – The Eighteen Piano Sonatas (Avie)
- 2010 Bach – Goldberg Variations and Fourteen Canons BWV1087 (Avie)
- 2011 Beethoven – Diabelli Variations and Bagatelles Op.126 (Avie)
- 2012-4 Beethoven – The 32 Piano Sonatas (Avie)
- 2013 Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (new recording, released in 2013 together with the 2004 recording of Book 2, Avie)
- 2015 Schubert – Twelve Great Sonatas (the eleven finished Sonatas and the fragment D.840, Avie)
- 2017 Chopin – The Four Ballades and Piano Sonata no.3 (not released)
- 2018 Arnold Van Wyk (1916-1983) – Complete Mature Piano Music (first complete recording)
- 2018 The Long 17th Century – A Cornucopia of Early Keyboard Music (36 works, each by a different composer, 2CDs, Avie)
- 2018 Bach – The Six Keyboard Partitas (not released)
- 2020 Byrd – Pavans & Galliards, Variations & Grounds (39 works – the most substantial collection of Byrd on the piano to date, 2CDs, not released yet)
- 2020 Haydn – 48 Sonatas (all the extant authenticated Sonatas, not released yet)
- 2021 Mozart – The Eighteen Piano Sonatas, with Twelve Miscellaneous Pieces (new recording of the Sonatas, not released yet)
My recent recordings of Beethoven and Schubert Sonatas explore how the canonical status of works, reception stereotypes and historic recordings can inflect current practice (for better or worse), and how detailed awareness of that can open up possibilities of expressive craft.
My 2CD compilation of 17th-century works and 2CD compilation of Byrd Dances and Variations advocate re-imagining early music on the piano beyond ‘HIP on modern instruments’.
I engage intensively with the recording process itself, both mapping and editing my own work – and having long discussions with engineers about the aesthetic possibilities of recorded sound in relation to given projects – maintaining an experimental approach and not seeking first and foremost to speak to current standardised industry expectations. With my Haydn cycle and new Mozart cycle I have started to work towards commercially viable self-recording (ie. without an engineer/producer present in the sessions).
My primary focus is the mainstream (canonical) piano repertoire and the ‘late’ position the performer finds themselves in, both in relation to the repertoire itself and to the performance and pedagogical traditions and conventions, reception stock-in-trades and outstanding recorded performances that surround the repertoire. I am keen to explore the variety of expressive potential that these exemplify and in assimilating techniques from all of them without subscribing to any particular one of the performance or interpretation philosophies that underpin them – notably not that of performer as conduit between the composer and audience. My aim is not a simplistic commercial hybrid like ‘historically informed performance on modern instruments’, rather taking critical stock of the whole gamut of expressive means at the instrument in a personal and idiosyncratic way, while actively in dialogue with present and past; setting the challenge of making compelling music now without taking recourse to a ready-made school or niche.
In the pipeline are a projects of a first complete piano recording of Gaspard Le Roux’s Pièces de clavessin, and of Brahms’ complete Klavierstücke. In addition to that I am in the process of slowly compiling recordings of multiple readings of each movement of the Bach Partitas, moving also in this manner away from the notion of a fixed or idealised ‘interpretation’.