At the end of many columns describing a work of music, I resort to YouTube recommendations for the reader to listen to. This is because one is unlikely to hear the ‘real thing’, the live performance in Goa, not any time soon, at any rate.
So it is refreshing to write about music that you will soon be able to hear played live in concert. This is a concert not to be missed, Marouan Benabdallah’s piano recital at the Menezes Braganza hall, Panjim on Saturday, 8 March 2014 at 6.30 pm. Entry is free.
Marouan’s programme opens with a highly evocative set that he has played here before, Claude Debussy’s Estampes (Woodcuts). Debussy delighted in images. In a letter to colleague Edgar Varèse, he confessed: “I love pictures almost as much as music.” His friend René Peter went even further: “To judge by his works and by their titles, he is a painter and that is what he wants to be…Plainly it is his delight to paint in music.” And he ‘paints’ masterfully indeed in this Impressionistic work in 3 movements: Pagode, evoking the Far East with its use of pentatonic scales, with hints of Javanese Gamelan percussion; Soirée dans Grenade, which mimics guitar strumming, and uses tango rhythm and Moorish harmony to paint a picture of Granada, and Jardins sous la pluie, a clever use of chromatic and whole-tone scales to depict a torrential, windswept rainstorm.
The programme proceeds with pieces either composed by, or transcribed from the works of other composers, by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. First up is his Consolation no. 3 (Lento placido) in D flat major. The Consolations, also referred to by the title Six Pensées poétiques (Six poetic thoughts) are a set of six solo piano works which take the musical style of Chopin Nocturnes. The title Consolations may have been inspired by Lamartine’s poem Une larme, ou Consolation, from the poetry collection Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (Poetic and Religious Harmonies); or by the Consolations of the French literary historian Charles Saint Beuve, a collection of Romantic-era poetry where friendship is extolled as a consolation for the loss of religious faith. The third Consolation that we will hear is one of the most popular of the set, and an arrangement of a Hungarian folk song that Liszt would later ‘recycle’ in his First Hungarian Rhapsody. He later adapted it in 1883 to incorporate the use of the then ‘new’ sostenuto pedal.
Liszt made innumerable piano transcriptions of works by other composers to play at his recitals. Marouan’s next work is Soirées de Vienne, Valse Caprice no. 6 from a set of nine modeled on various waltzes by Schubert. These are anything but literal transcriptions of the original music, with Liszt adding interludes or transitions, changing harmonies, creating passages that imitate the original material, and expanding on or changing other details. It is perhaps better termed a paraphrase, where the music is still Schubert’s but with Liszt’s calling cards strewn everywhere.
Liszt sometimes transcribed just one or two works by other composers, but not so with Schubert. One other such example is Schwanengesang (Swan Song), a posthumous collection of Schubert’s songs. Liebesbotschaft (‘Message of Love’) is one of the happier songs in this cycle, in which the singer (tenor voice in Schubert’s song, but moved into the soprano range by Liszt’s piano transcription) exhorts a brook to carry a love note to his beloved. Running demisemiquavers mimic the flow of the waters.
Next we come to Wiosna (Spring), one of Six Polish songs by Frédéric Chopin that Liszt transcribed. Chopin set to music original texts by contemporary poets, some of them his personal acquaintances.
The next Liszt transcription is of a work by Robert Schumann. Widmung (Dedication) was set to a text by German poet Friedrich Rückert and is a wonderful example of ‘Schumann in love’ with his future wife Clara during their difficult courtship. It is part of his song cycle Myrthe (‘Myrtles’, which in Germany were uses as bridal wreaths) Opus 25.
La Campanella (Italian for ‘little bell’) is the title of the third of Franz Liszt’s six Grandes études de Paganini (“Grand Paganini Études”), S. 141 (1851). Its melody comes from the final movement of Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, where the tune was reinforced by a little handbell. It makes huge technical demands for both hands, notably trills with the fourth and fifth fingers.
Serge Rachmaninov’s Sonata no. 1 in D minor, Op. 28 was originally inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play, Faust, and although Rachmaninov abandoned the idea soon after beginning composition, traces of this influence can still be found in this three-movement work. Rachmaninov originally wished it to be a ‘program’ sonata based on the main characters of the play: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles In fact, it almost mirrors Liszt’s own Faust Symphony which is also made of three movements which reflect those characters. It is still a typical Classical period sonata, with a fast-slow-fast structure.
(Marouan Benabdallah will perform at the Menezes Braganza hall, Panjim on Saturday, 8 March 2014 at 6.30 pm. Entry is free).