A mermaid is floating through the score

 Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, close to Paris - the mermaid would have felt at home here. © Charles Thibo
Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, close to Paris – the mermaid would have felt at home here. © Charles Thibo

The bassoons. Wide-spaced strokes of the timpani. The double-bass. Now, the strings. Waves. The flutes. Something is gliding through the water, breaking through the surface, ripples, moonlight, grace – a mermaid. In 1902/03, Alexander von Zemlinsky, a Viennese composer, wrote the wonderful symphonic poem “The Mermaid” that I want to present today. Zemlinsky was an early talent: At the age of 12, he attended already the conservatory of the Viennese Gesellschaft der Musikfreude*. He studied piano and composition and was being mentored by both Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler.

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Romanian folk and the temples of Tamil Nadu

 Nyman fuses tradition with modernity. © Charles Thibo
Nyman fuses tradition with modernity. © Charles Thibo

We all know what experimental music is, right? It’s horrible to the ear, dissonant, no structure, no sense, so why bother? But what if you blend experimental composing techniques with folk dances? What if this would be done by a composer well-known for his movie soundtracks (Drowning by Numbers, Gattaca, The Piano)? What if this would culminate in extraordinary creative, stimulating and powerful string quartets?

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Meeting the Master of Total Serialism at a hotspot

If the hammer is without a master, it might get some crazy ideas of its own! © Charles Thibo
If the hammer is without a master, it might get some crazy ideas of its own! © Charles Thibo

A few hours before I started to write this post, the death of Pierre Boulez made the headlines. A controversial person, if I trust my Twitter timeline. Was he the chief representative of contemporary classical music? Of French contemporary classical music? A polemic person and a conductor with too much political influence? As a matter of fact, I am not sure that these questions matter. Music matters.

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Walk with me into the night

The night - a different dimension. © Charles Thibo
The night – a different dimension. © Charles Thibo

Darkness. Tchaikovsky comes to my mind. Oppression. Shostakovitch is not far. Fear… may be Rachmaninov? But then there is light! Strauss! It must be Strauss. It isn’t. It’s Arnold Schönberg. Wait, the rebel from Vienna, he cannot have written such a piece? There is tonality. And chromaticism*. And melody and all you would not expect. Well, Schönberg wanted to go beyond the existing means of musical expression, but to get there, he first had to work his way through precisely those traditional means of musical expression.

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