Aaron Diehl settles himself at a Steinway piano in the Scottish Highlands and begins to play. From the instrument’s depths sound the first notes of the virtuoso’s composition, masterfully evoking the vibrant intensity of Glenmorangie Pride 1974, as part of a pioneering collaboration with Steinway & Sons. Discover how this peerless whisky inspired his music’s rare beauty.
In the warmth of Glenmorangie’s Highland home, deep in the Scottish Highlands, Aaron Diehl seated himself at the Steinway piano and played the first tentative notes of a newly-inspired composition. His muse? A single malt whisky beyond comparison, tasted moments before at its birthplace, Glenmorangie’s Distillery, a few miles down the road.
The virtuoso pianist had journeyed from his home in the U.S. to explore the origins of Glenmorangie’s most prized single malt – Glenmorangie Pride 1974. His visit marked the start of the Distillery’s creative collaboration with renowned piano maker Steinway & Sons, which shares Glenmorangie’s dedication to craftsmanship and passion for creativity. Their pioneering partnership would culminate in a unique composition by Steinway Artist Diehl, to celebrate the spirit of Glenmorangie Pride 1974.
Glenmorangie Pride 1974 is the pinnacle of Glenmorangie’s Pride series of rare and treasured creations. It owes its existence to Glenmorangie’s select craftsmen, who nurtured its two parcels of spirit through 41 years of careful ageing – and to the artistry and expertise of Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks, who skilfully married them together in perfect harmony. As Diehl met the single malt’s creator, he recognised a kindred spirit, spurred on by the same zeal which informs his music. And so, on the banks of the beautiful Dornoch Firth, the pianist was intrigued to accompany Dr Bill Lumsden on a journey into a single malt crafted and timed to perfection.
"What I witnessed was a complex dance between nature, time, and the discerning tastes of a Master Blender", added Diehl, a graduate of the world-renowned Juilliard School. “This alchemy is like the making of a great piano – several small steps leading to a final result, yet greater than the sum of its parts. What remains is the lingering question: ‘How did that turn out so brilliantly?’.” Together, they explored Glenmorangie Pride 1974’s wonderfully salty and spicy, rich aromas and its soft intensity on the palate. This was the moment of inspiration for the pianist, one of the most sought-after jazz virtuosos. “Tasting Glenmorangie Pride 1974 – no question,” Diehl said. “That’s the culmination of a 41-year journey.”
A MUSICAL EVOLUTION
Later, at Glenmorangie’s Highland home, Glenmorangie House – and back home in the U.S. – Dr Bill Lumsden’s creation stayed with Diehl. As he strove to evoke the whisky’s story, the composer devised a piece of four exquisite movements. They would conjure the magnificent influences brought to the single malt by the ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks. They would pay homage to its Highland provenance, celebrate the whisky’s unsurpassed maturity and evoke the skill and inspiration which brought it into being.
“I tried to paint a tonal narrative of Pride 1974’s evolution,” Diehl explained. “Two sources of inspiration were derived from the barrels – Spanish Oloroso and Kentucky bourbon. One movement is entitled Emergence, which intends to capture the mood of slow maturation. And I attempted to blend elements of folk music such as banjo picking or bagpipe embellishments.” Hinting at folk and classical music, as well as jazz improvisation, Diehl’s work emulates the complexity of Glenmorangie Pride 1974. “The mood ranges from contemplative to energetic, but always with a sense of urgency. There is also a deliberate use of rhythm throughout the work.”
Diehl designed his piece with a Steinway piano in mind – an instrument so masterfully crafted that it would reflect the timbre, tone and texture he intended in his depiction of the whisky’s balanced intensity and finesse. “I enjoy contrast – and I tried to elicit a sense of drama between different registers of the keyboard – the opening and closing themes, for example, include a rumbling bass figure against a lighter treble ‘echo’.”
Like the whisky, Diehl thinks of his composition “as having a respect for tradition, while possessing an avant-garde flair”. And, in a fitting tribute to his muse, he sees his role of composer as a musical distiller of sorts. “I always find something to edit – a certain harmonic progression, a melodic phrase. I’ve even scrapped an entire draft of the ending at one point. It’s a process of distillation – of keeping in only what is absolutely necessary.”
Whether we hear his creation with Glenmorangie Pride 1974 in mind or in hand, the harmony that the music shares with this peerless whisky, promises to transport each one of us from our everyday world, for a rare moment of beauty.
Listen to and download the musical composition by Aaron Diehl inspired by Glenmorangie Pride 1974: