I imagine myself wandering over a frozen plain in a winter night, the stars twinkling above me, the moon light being reflected by the snow. Everything around me bathes in a blueish light and the leafless trees cast long, sharp shadows on the ground. And I hear Chopin’s “Nocturnes” (Night pieces). I am warmly dressed, wide awake, I breathe the cold air and I feel like walking, briskly, without a specific goal. I just want to walk and enjoy this mesmerizing music.
Star Wars at the Philharmonie de Luxembourg? Not quite, but the first movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony truly reminded me of the battle between good and evil, laser swords drawn, and the eery, spacey soundtrack of Episode VII. It was even more impressive yesterday evening, when performed live by the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela under Gustavo Dudamel with Yuja Wang at the piano and Cynthia Miller on a device called “Ondes Martenot” (Martenot Waves) than on my recording of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. This music is very powerful and has had a lasting impression on me, especially in its many subtle tones.
Oh Franz, what did they do to you? The Austrian composer and pianist Franz Liszt wrote between 1848 and 1854 a wonderful symphonic poem called “Les Préludes” in the best romantic tradition. The “Préludes” reflect the different phases of a human life before death: torments, battles, love, pain, consolation, enjoying nature. But in 1941, the Nazis stole the triumphant tune at the beginning of the first movement and used it until their fall in 1945 as a jingle announcing the weekly army broadcasts with all their propaganda about Germany winning the war!
The Communist Party did not welcome revolutions that it had not initiated itself. György Ligeti was not welcome, nor was his music. Not in Hungary, when it was ruled by the Communist Party. But the Communist world broke apart and Ligeti’s music stays on. He is certainly one of the greatest composers of classical music of the 20th century. Et pour cause, as they say in France.