When All Is Lost

Frozen. © Charles Thibo

Hours full of pain – not exactly a selling argument! But this is the title the composer Gabriel Dupont gave a piano cycle he wrote in 1904: Les Heures Dolentes. If you listen to the recording by Stéphane Lemelin, you will at once hear that title is well deserved and that no one ever has described in a more beautiful way the slowly passing, monotonous hours when you try to recover from really bad news, these moments when you feel paralyzed, unable to speak, unable to move, when you stare in front of you aimlessly, absent-minded. This singular mood when all seems lost and life makes no sense anymore.

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Respighi Paints a Picture of Darkness and Drama

A storm is brewing. © Charles Thibo

Wagner? This is not Wagner. But it sounds like Wagner! An Italian, you say? Non è possibile! But yes, this symphony, aptly named “Sinfonia Drammatica”, was composed by an Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi. For those of you who have followed this blog from its creation on, that name will have a familiar ring – Respighi composed this wonderful cycle of symphonic poems with the city of Rome as its main subject, that I discussed in one of my first posts.

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Bruckner’s Colourful Wagner Memorial

Sommervakanz 2016 CT1 53
On the top. © Charles Thibo

Majestic. This symphony is majestic in many respects. Firstly through the impressive use of melodies as structural elements. Secondly through its sophisticated and still balanced instrumentation. Thirdly through its dedication to the Bavarian King Ludwig II. And finally through the background of its creation. Richard Wagner, or more precisely the death of Richard Wagner, is looming large behind this piece. In the first movement, the composer Anton Bruckner quotes a duet from Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde”, in the second and fourth movement, the tubas and horns play a thrill lamentation that can also be interpreted as Bruckner’s pledge of loyalty to his idol.

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A Metaphysical Love on the Coast of Cornwall

John Duncan has painted in 1912 the fateful moment of Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion. (Courtesy City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries)
John Duncan has painted in 1912 the fateful moment of Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion. (© City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries)

Love and death. Man enslaved by his passions. Man doomed because of his passions. Romance followed by tragedy. Tragedy on a supreme level. Audience devastated, in tears. Richard Wagner. I like Wagner. Ugh! Well, yes. If I have started this blog half a year ago, it is to a large degree Wagner’s fault. Let me explain: As a student I was fascinated by the nihilistic German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Two years ago, I read somewhere that Wagner was once Nietzsche’s idol, and so I bought a biography on Wagner. The book was full of interesting references to other composers and I bought more biographies. That was the moment I disappeared behind a pile of books about classical music. The start of a passion…

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