Sunday, 28 January 2024

CHF 50 | 30.-

19:30 Eglise de Rougemont

J. Haydn
Sonate pour piano n° 47 en si mineur Hob. XVI:32

M. Ravel

F. Liszt
Réminiscences de Don Juan S.418

Under the patronage of

Concert presentation

Haydn: Piano Sonata no.47 in B minor Hob. XVI:32
We think of ideologies as forming unified blocs: the Viennese Sturm und Drang movement (‘Storm and Stress’), which emerged at the end of the 1760s, did not break with the Enlightenment, yet still denounced the ‘tyranny of reason’. Advocating a more tangible form of expressiveness and a return to nature, its pre-Romantic influence was initially literary, driven by Goethe. In music, it was associated with a revival of minor tonalities, a fondness for chiaroscuro and the pursuit of the unusual. Is it true to claim, as has been said, that this sonata of 1776 embodies the imprint of the Sturm und Drang movement on Haydn? Let us refuse to deliver a conclusive verdict, given that at the very same time the birth of the pianoforte was transforming keyboard writing: this evolution of the harpsichord, which allowed the player to vary the intensity of sound according to the force applied to the keys, indeed offered entirely new contrasts, intimacy and interpretative possibilities. And beyond any notion of ideas, how could we not consider two indispensable geniuses: Bach, whose death in 1750 left a void in terms of his sheer inventiveness, and who pervades the score like a ghost swallowed up by classicism; and Mozart, whom Haydn had not yet met, but whose gracefulness and brazen clarity turned the pianistic landscape of his time on its head. In short, at this intersection of paths at the end of the 18th century, there is one certainty: that we are presented here with a defining work unique to its genre, one that blends polyphony and counterpoint with echoes of the dying Baroque, heralding the storm of Beethoven without rejecting the glorious equanimity that preceded it. In short: a marvel, pure and simple.

Ravel: Miroirs
At the beginning of the 20th century, creative fertility reached a new peak. After Liszt, who died in 1886, Ravel was one of the prospectors-in-chief of the unexplored territories of the piano. Substance and ideas always operate as a pair: impressionism overlays the writing, when in 1904 Ravel wrote these pieces overflowing with reflections, with the play of water, with fleeting impressions… Yet we might also speak of synaesthesia, so much do these Miroirs resonate with the concepts of Messiaen to come: ‘When I hear music, I see corresponding colours.’ The Noctuelles (‘Night Moths’), as if to illustrate the point, scatter a thousand colours in chromatic series (semitone by semitone), in the image of the fluttering of moths from which they take their inspiration. The Oiseaux tristes (‘Sad Birds’) present a paradox: the access to clouds is no guarantee of happiness. Instead of flight, falling. Instead of air, the memory of lightness. The birds depicted by Ravel are ‘lost in a dark forest in the height of summer’. With its infinite arpeggios. Une barque sur l’océan (‘A boat on the ocean’) brings out the perpetual waltz of the waves. Everything ripples, even the tonalities. The notes become bubbles. We sink into various depths: from the inertia of the abysses to the miracle of the surface. The Alborada del gracioso (‘The Jester’s Aubade’) that follows sets up a second paradox: the confluence of Iberian folklore and a radical sense of exploration. It is no surprise that Ravel later orchestrated this piece: even on solo piano, it already seems to contain the voices of multiple instruments, beginning with the strings of a guitar – all of which makes performing the piece such a challenge. La vallée des cloches (‘The valley of bells’) that brings the work to a close exploits all the piano’s sonorities to the full. Impressionism gives way to the phenomenology of Henri Bergson, contemplating at the same time: ‘The sounds of the bell come to me one after the other. I either retain each of these successive sensations, noting down the qualitative impression that their number makes on me, or I set out to count them, but the sounds stripped of their quality, emptied, will leave identical traces of their passage.’

Liszt: Réminiscences de Don Juan
The history of music is crisscrossed with statues of commanders. They are not all severe, as in Don Juan – but they are never more displaced than in Don Juan. Besides, must they be displaced? This was not the view of Liszt, who throughout his life celebrated those he considered to be his founding fathers. From transcriptions to arrangements, from inspirations to free improvisations, the repertoires of Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and here Mozart were the things that fired Liszt’s inner world. A supreme hallmark of elegance, according to musicologist Gil Pressnitzner: ‘The man who created modern piano technique knew how to take a back seat with modesty.’ He went on to add that the artist ‘did not simply want to write the music of the future, or to build a temple for his own worship like Wagner, but brought to bear all his poetic sensibility in order to pass on the torch he had identified in others’. This generosity, moreover, was made possible by Liszt’s magical talents, his ability to hybridize his language and tame his favourite instrument so far as to convey the polar opposite of his natural musical environment – namely the voice. So, let us not hear these Réminiscences as a summation of Mozart’s score. On the contrary, let us see them, like one of César Baldaccini’s compressions, in order to feel, beyond the sounds, the plastic aspect of the work , which constructs and deconstructs the face of an opera much as Picasso the Cubist constructed and deconstructed the face of Dora Maar – imagining himself to be the first to do so.

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