Liszt’s dark tones – an intimate confession

La Délicate. © Charles Thibo

In Greek mythology, the Titans were members of the second generation of divine beings. In the field of piano music, Franz Liszt was a titan. An exceptionally gifted pianist, an impressive composer, a revolutionary spirit, a paragon for many of the next generation of musicians. But being a titan comes at the price of loneliness. Towards the end of his life, Liszt complained that the world did not understand his language anymore, that his gifts were no longer appreciated.

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Creating the illusion of lightness

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Graceful melancholia. © Charles Thibo

In his lighter moments Robert Schumann was quite a joyful fellow! I could not imagine how else he could have written Op. 102. The German title is “Fünf Stücke im Volkston”, which would give “Five Pieces in a Folk Tune” if translated. But the title is misleading, these pieces, even if written for the amateur musician, have nothing simplistic about them, far from it. They are very refined, carefully constructed, permeated by the elegant, graceful version of German melancholia. To compose a melody creating the illusion to be light is one of the challenges – I think Mozart once said this.

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May contain traces of scepticism…

All is well!? © Charles Thibo

Shostakovich, the master of irony. Shostakovich, the pawn. Shostakovich, the genius. Shostakovich, the believer. Shostakovich, the patriot. A man with multiple facets. A man who continues to fascinate me. During the summer of 1964 he wrote his String Quartet No. 10 in A flat major, Op. 118. It reflects many of Shostakovich’s facets. His tenderness, his love for beautiful melodies, his penchant for the grotesque, the tension that dominated his life and permeates every piece he wrote. The question of life and death of an artist in the Soviet Union that in some way or other haunted him for as long as he lived.

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Up the mountain, through the fields, into town

Wheat field with cypresses, painted in 1889 by van Gogh

The shimmering air on a summer afternoon – a physical phenomenon that astonishes me time and again. Air is transparent per se and still you can see it when it ascends, being heated and becoming less dense than the air around it. I had to think of it when I listened to “Les eaux” (The Waters), the first movement of Thomas Adès’ piece of chamber music “Lieux retrouvés” (Places rediscovered). It refers to the flow of water, horizontal, vertical, patterns easily disturbed, leading to turbulence, interferences – the rippling of a water surface caused by wind, a dropped stone. The geometry behind this has fascinated many a composer – we have already found that in the music of Franz Schubert and Maurice Ravel.

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