After the tragic death of a 12-year-old pianist, musicians are deciphering his unfinished composition

8 February 2022, 11:50 | Updated: 17 February 2022, 13:19

Kyan Pennell was a young pianist and composer
Kyan Pennell was a young pianist and composer. Picture: Courtesy of Amanda Brierley

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Kyan Pennell wanted to be a concert pianist, but sadly that dream was never realised.

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Seven months ago, 12-year-old Kyan Pennell from Brisbane, Australia, began teaching himself music theory, performance and composition.

He scrimped and saved in order to buy his first piano, and by using YouTube tutorials, he had soon learned to play 30 pieces of classical music by memory, including Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu, and Beethoven’s Für Elise.

Kyan tragically died in a freak accident caused by a gate closure on his family’s property in Mary Valley on 31 January 2022.

Kyan was neurodiverse, and his family described his diagnosis as a ‘superpower’ which helped him to focus on and achieve whatever he put his mind to. He loved classical music, and Brierley shared on Facebook that he even learned non-classical pieces just so he could “bring a crowd in, and then educate them [with] the beauty of classical music”.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Kyan had also begun composing classical music prior to his death. When his parents were going through their late son’s belongings, they were surprised to discover an unfinished composition in the middle of a blank exercise book.

“I never heard what he was composing.” Kyan’s mother Amanda Brierley posted on Facebook, sharing a copy of his manuscript, “Is there anyone that can read music and play it and send it to us?

“It would mean the world to us to hear his composition.”

It didn’t take long before musicians began responding to the post, which has now received over 150 comments, and 115 shares, with renditions of Kyan’s composition.

In her post, Brierley also explained, “he wasn’t formally trained in reading/writing music, [Kyan was] all self taught so [the notation] could be wrong, I don’t know.

“If I remember rightly he told me about this and there were bits that repeated, and changed tempo, with light and shade, but he didn’t write that down.

“This was just the intro, it is unfinished, he was building up to a grand midsection and then would do an ending, but he never got to complete what was in his mind’s eye.

“He imagined it to be performed by wind and string instruments, and of course his beloved piano.”

Kyan Pennell’s composition
Kyan Pennell’s composition. Picture: Amanda Brierley

So far Kyan’s piece has received video performances on the piano, cello, and on various music softwares. And now members of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra have released a performance of the full work.

“I am extremely humbled by the responses of people,” Amanda told ClassicFM.com. “It makes me see beauty through adversity.”

On Facebook, Amanda also responded to the musicians saying, “[Kyan] would have been so chuffed that all these wonderful people are now playing his music.

“He was so full of life, with a beautiful mind, and passion for classical music. Little did he know he was actually composing his own funeral song.

“He did tell me that many people have to die to become famous, well my beautiful boy, here we are.”