Polyphonic – polyrythmic – polyethnic

Structure and randomness. © Charles Thibo

Order. Disorder. Order within disorder. Structure versus randomness. Progress and aesthetics. Where are we heading to? Tenderness, a sad tenderness tiptoeing through the room. Gathering speed, growing stronger – dynamics! Then, silence. A nervous pulse, an attempt to get it right. Dark persuasion, balanced by a single voice, clear and forceful. The listener is clueless. Another hint: the name. Fanfares. By whom? For whom? But isn’t the king naked? A faltering message. A summer day after a thunderstorm, puddles on the road, a black sky in the east, a rainbow. Can you paint a rainbow with sound? Definitely. A trip. Darkness, anxiety. Is the traveller doomed? Why Warsaw?

A most challenging piano work

Gyorgy Ligeti’s first book of “Etudes” is at first bewildering, irrating. The Hungarian composer published a first set in 1985; the tradition of pianist-composers writing “Etudes” (studies in the sense of training material) had been lost since the middle of the 20th century. Ligeti wanted to ressurect this tradition and give it a definitely modern touch. He draw his material from East European, African and Asian sources and wrote some of the most challenging solo piano works ever. This music is polyphonic and polyrhythmic. Johann Sebastian Bach would have been delighted. And if you listen to a world-class pianist performing these pieces you will hear – a masterwork. Try the recording of the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, you will not be disappointed.

Before and after Boulez

Ligeti had been born into a Jewish family in 1923 in Hungary and fled his home country in 1956 after the uprising against the Communist regime had failed. In the West, he familiarized himself with the thinking of German and French contemporary compositions. He studied Pierre Boulez’ total serialism and worked on sound custers as we have seen in a previous post on his piece “Atmospheres”. Oxford Music Online recalls that “[b]y the late 1970s the avant garde to which he had been attached, however sceptically, was no longer functioning as such: the time of shared ideals was over, and instead of being a challenge to established musical culture, the postwar generation had become the new establishment.”

A pianist-composer partnership

Pierre-Laurent Aimard closely worked with Ligeti while he was part of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, an ensemble formed by Boulez and devoted to the performance of contemporary classical music. Aimard became something of an ambassador for Ligeti’s late piano works. He performed many of Ligeti’s pieces for the first time ever and the composer’s feed-back was very important for Aimard as he describes it in a video from 2015. Today Aimard regularly gives masterclasses to students  wishing to perform Ligeti’s music.

If I agree with you that contemporary classical music in general and Ligeti’s “Etudes” more specifically are a challenge for the audience, I am also of the opinion that it would be a mistake to stick exclusively to the music composed in the 17th, 18th or 19th century. Today’s composers have a message. Let’s pay tribute to their efforts and listen to them. The more we train our ears, the better we will understand what they have to say.

© Charles Thibo

A sparkling piece based on Spanish dances

Zarzuelas have a long tradition in Spain and inspired Rimsky-Korsakov.

Work and home – two busy and challenging places. Five days a week I switch roles around lunch time. I work half time. One half I spent at the office, the other with my daughter… and the household. The jump between these two worlds is tiring and sapping my strength at times. The time it takes to drive from the office back home is the time where I try to clear my mind, get ready for that other world I am about to jump into. Music helps. Inspiring, energizing music like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34, recorded by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel.

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A young woman writes about her joy and her dreams

Life. © Charles Thibo

Do you need a break? I do. From time to time, I need to disconnect from everyday routine, the steady stream of news and from people I have to meet although I do not enjoy their company. So I close my eyes and mentally I walk off to another world. I see a young woman. She’s wearing a pale green dress and a straw head. She smiles. She stretches out her hand and with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, she whispers: “Come. I will show you something.” She rushes to the veranda and upon her return she says: “Look. I wrote this.”

I look at the papers in her hand. A piano quartet in A flat major. I look at her. “Fanny!” I truly love that piano quartet.

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Haunted by the question of fate

Black temptations. © Charles Thibo

What if… what if it were possible to manipulate time and arrange a meeting between Franz Schubert and Pyotr Tchaikovsky? So here is Schubert in a Kaffeehaus in Vienna, reading a paper, sipping a beer. The door opens and an elderly man enters. He takes off his hat, unfastens the buttons of his heavy coat and looks around. The room is blue with tobacco smoke. Suddenly the man’s eyes light up and he draws closer to Schubert’s table: “Ahem, good day, Sir. I beg your pardon, but I’ve been looking for you.” Schubert looks up, lowers the paper. Hesitantly the man ventures: “My name is Tchaikovsky. I am a composer from Russia. You can’t possibly know me…”

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