A summer dream and a return into my past

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Golden glow. © Charles Thibo

Today, I will try something new: Over a week I will present three works from three different composers, recorded by one single ensemble and compiled on one single album. Three quartets, magnificently performed by the French Quatuor Ebène. The idea to group these posts sprang from the parallels between the pieces and the parallels between the pictures I matched to the posts. I discovered this album a year ago and immediately fell in love with all three quartets.

“I made myself a religion out of the mysteries of nature”, Debussy once said about his music. Everything is new with Claude Debussy, his personality, his way of thinking, his art, writes the French musicologist Brigitte François-Sappey. And the piece I will present first illustrates both points. Its sensuality and the tonal shifts reflect parallel developments in the field of painting with an emphasis on expressing an instantaneous sensation, catching a short-lived impression. With its cyclic structure the quartet transcends the rules of classical harmony. Debussy postulated that “any sounds in any combination and in any succession are henceforth free to be used in a musical continuity.” A radical shift in the conception of chamber music.

Three pictures, three colours

When I first heard his String Quartet (L. 85, Op. 10), a clear succession of pictures formed in my head. Picture one: I see a wheat field with red, white and blue wildflowers basking in the wind and a blue sky. Picture two: I see myself at the age of five or six making a puzzle depicting a rural landscape. People are working in the fields, there are woods, a small village, a castle at the distant horizon. The drawing was in the naive style, an idyllic nature, a calm, orderly world. I loved that puzzle, it showed the world the way I thought it should be. Picture three: It’s on a spring evening, close to sunset, I am returning with my parents from a stroll, my mother carries some of those wildflowers I mentioned already. A warm feeling of happiness floats through me.

The string quartet was written in 1893 and has four movements. It is a prime example for the ground-breaking development in music that Debussy had triggered. Thematic density – one theme, multiple variations – the thematic material in the first movement are the raw material for the following sections. Extreme rhythmic flexibility – the rapid change of pizzicato* and bowed passages in the second movement illustrate this. An obsession with timbre and sonority.

Density and clarity

Reactions to the quartet in the musical circles of Paris were split. Eugène Ÿsaye, who conducted the premiere in 1894, confessed he did not understand the piece, infuriating the composer. It took a long time until Debussy dared to think about writing a second quartet. He never wrote it. Paul Dukas however was exstatic: “Everything is very clear and concise despite the formal freedom. The melodic essence is dense, but it has a rich flavour.”

Debussy’s quartet feels like a summer dream, a modern one, pleasant, intriguing, in direct opposition to Romantic music. When I listen to it, I feel this sensation of warmth, happiness. Every time. Outstanding.

© Charles Thibo

Party time with Dmitry and friends

Cheers! © Charles Thibo

It’s party time and I will have no party without proper music. So here we go, bridging the nowadays-not-so-large-anymore gulf between classical music and jazz. I invited my very good friend Dmitry to this occasion, so please, take a few minutes, and with his Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1 we will celebrate the fact that another year of a thrilling life – mine – has gone by. May there be many more. Here’s a toast to Dmitry Shostakovich, one of my favourite composers, and to Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, who have recorded the piece!

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Hiding in the sanctuary of Beauty

Bach BWV1060
Shelter. © Charles Thibo

The other day I felt tired, miserable, distressed. I felt like hiding from the hideous world, from which I felt totally disconnected. Hiding – but where? Johann Sebastian Bach’s music is a good place to hide, a sanctuary of singular beauty, where I always feel welcome, where I can stop thinking, where I don’t have to talk or to explain or justify. In the realm of Bach I can be. To be, to exist, without any conditions attached to it – philosophers from Parmenides to Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel have struggled with the concept. How good it feels to be permeated by Bach’s Concerto for two Harpsichords, Strings and Continuo in C minor (BWV 1060), to forget reality and to contemplate Beauty, Purity, Eternity.

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A jestful piece hiding Mozart’s desperation

Hey, hey, Mister Postman! © Charles Thibo

Illustrating this post required some undercover work. I had the idea to write something about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade for Winds and Strings in D major “Posthorn” (KV 320) since last year’s summer. And I knew that many years ago, postmen in Luxembourg wore caps with a posthorn. Nowadays, they wear basecaps with a modern logo that has no charm at all. So where could I get a picture of such a cap? The post museum was one option, but all the stuff is exhibited behind protective and reflecting glass.

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