Eric Christian Von Fricken by Chris Millington
Eric Christian Von Fricken is a Brooklyn based pianist and composer with a deeply romantic musical style influenced by the sounds of Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Satie. Eric’s innate understanding of listeners has led him to grow an engaged and growing Instagram family of almost a quarter of a million fans. I was intrigued to understand more about his ethos, influences and how he cracked the social code.
Can you tell me about your journey into classical music?
Well, I started piano lessons when I was four but unsurprisingly, I much preferred playing soccer with my friends than practicing. But in my teens, I got into film music and that’s when it really clicked for me.
Going to a movie theater and hearing all of the classically influenced symphonic music was inspiring. At the time nothing terrified me more than performing (laughs) so writing and being behind the scenes felt more like something that I could do.
Was there a film that made a particular impact on you?
I would say the first film music that really had an impact was John William’s score for Jurassic Park. The nostalgia, adventure and energy of the opening theme has everything you could want from an epic film track. I probably heard it for the first time when I was 5 and have memories of jumping behind the couch to hide from the dinosaurs (laughs). Danny Elfman has also been a big inspiration for me – I gravitate towards the quirkiness of his orchestrations, harmonies and melodies (pauses) I mean his score for Edward Scissorhands is unbelievable.
Is this what inspired you to pursue music seriously?
Yeah. I ended up applying to Berklee because it was the only school at that time that had a music film program. It was a cool experience, but it was actually more focused on pop and jazz genres, but I still got to study with some great classical teachers and was lucky to make friends with people from all over the world.
Did you start your Instagram page while you were a student?
Yes, a good friend of mine was a photographer and had gone viral on Instagram at the time when it had just launched. I asked her to take a photo of me with my phone in any style. It showed me how you can always create something beautiful if you have the right angle and framing. And that was it! The photo did well and I got really into building my page… I was actually working at Saks fifth Avenue at the time, and in between selling suits, I spent all my time trying to figure out this whole thing.
When did it blow up?
Around 2015, I got put on an Instagram suggested user list. My followers quadrupled in something crazy like three weeks, so I was motivated to develop this social presence because as I was leaving Berklee, it felt like it was a good channel to share who I was with people.
Were you sharing content of yourself as a pianist from the beginning?
Back then, there wasn’t a video function yet and no way to share music, so it was all my photography work. I actually started to get photography gigs through my page and even though I wasn’t a trained photographer, my attitude was just to say ‘yes’ to everything… (laughs) my first job was for an alcohol brand and next thing you know there are these jobs coming in from all over the world.
So, when did you go back to music ?
I moved to Brooklyn from Los Angeles to go back to what I had always loved – music. The only resource I had at the time was a piano. So, I started rebranding myself as a musician and posting piano tracks on Instagram. Quite quickly, the piano music started doing well and I was encouraged to start writing again.
Do you feel a pressure to write in a style that has proved to work commercially?
Finding my voice as a composer has been something I have had to work on a lot. At school, you would hop around from harmony class to melody class and then you would jump into film scoring. Learning how to write a melody is not the same as learning how to say what you want to say with a melody and the struggle came from not knowing exactly what I wanted to say yet.
So, how did you find your voice?
It was a whole process (laughs) It was when I came back to New York…I realised who I wanted to be and what pants I wanted to put on in the morning ! (laughs) you know? From this came my voice. I came to understand that I resonated more with European style of life – the pair of black jeans, the white tee, the glass of red wine and that this was the music that I wanted to listen to, so I started writing with no intent other than to make something strictly my own.
Do you have a philosophy around composing now?
I think of composing more as uncovering a painting- you scrape off a corner at the top and it’s blue and you think, ‘Oh, there’s a piece….’ Then you scrape off in another direction and you might think that’s the sky, so you start scraping down, but then you realise, ‘Oh,it’s the blue of water.’ So you have to just go with what you find, uncover the rest and maybe it’s exactly what you wanted or maybe it’s not, but you continue with the process (pauses) but I don’t force it, I don’t like to forcefully do anything.
What was the inspiration behind your Solitudes EP?
During the quarantine, I haven’t been able to really listen to dark music… I don’t really have the heart to put on Tchaikovsky on first thing in the morning –
Seriously! (laughs) I craved more gentle music. So, I started writing more melodic music and decided to create an EP from it that would bring that same sense of peace to listeners. I also like the idea that this kind of music can exist as it is, unplugged and acoustic – there’s something powerful in the idea that it could still be played in a black out.
Do you have a style of music that you keep getting drawn back into?
Romantic works are like Italian food for me- I could listen to them every day and they are always as good. But, I do gravitate back towards dark music, so recently I’ve been listening to Rachmaninov’s trio Elegy
, which is very heavy and very dense and work by the other Russian composers- Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev. My favourite composer is probably Scriabin even though his music is difficult to play – his Prometheus, his Symphonic works ….and his Piano Concerto in F Sharp Minor i
s probably my favourite concerto ever. I actually saw Daniel Trifinov perform it once –
He’s magic, isn’t he?
He’s incredible. I also saw him perform the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Boston Symphony- he was a total unknown at the time but you could tell he was going places – he has this presence when he comes on stage and you can see the change in his eyes when he plays – he goes somewhere else – it’s not a show, the music totally takes him over- it’s like he’s possessed.