Moroccan-Hungarian pianist Marouan Benabdallah will perform at Menezes Braganza hall on 8 March 2014 at 6 pm. In an exclusive interview to the Navhind Times, he discusses the music that will feature in the programme.

Could you talk us briefly through your selection of works for the programme you will play in Goa? There is quite obviously a huge representation of works and transcriptions by Liszt, in view of the Lisztomania festival.

“Lisztomanias International, the Festival of European Romantic Music” was officially launched in Delhi in December 2013 at the Hungarian Cultural Center with a conference on Franz Liszt, one of the greatest musicians of the 19th century. 

The original Lisztomanias Festival is held in Chateauroux, France every year in October – it is considered as one of the most important festivals in France – and devoted to the music, the art and the spirit of Franz Liszt.

Lisztomanias International is, as its name suggests, an international extension of this festival with concerts and opera productions held/to be held in various countries, such as Russia, India, China, Japan, Hungary, Morocco and others.

Regarding my program, there is obviously some Liszt, but it represents only 1/3 of the programme. Liszt himself was not limited to his own music! He performed works by many contemporary composers of his time and transcribed many works of his fellow composers! Transcriptions represent a considerable part of his oeuvre. So I included several transcriptions, each one of a different composer (Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Paganini) in addition to Debussy’s Estampes and Rachmaninoff’s seldom played 1st sonata in D minor. 

 

Liszt had a huge love of the human voice and tried to reflect this in his music, didn’t he? Whether it be in his own compositions, or transcriptions of other composers. I see for example that you have his transcription of Schubert’s Liebesbotschaft from his Schwanengesang (“Swansong”, a posthumous collection of his songs).

Since the Age of Enlightenment, music is essentially lyrical. Singing is considered as a model for instrumental music. Indeed, the founding value of art resides in its capacity to create emotions and since the voice is the most “human” instrument, it reveals the most immediate expression of sensibility. 

I think Liszt loved the piano above all because he transcribed everything for piano: Beethoven symphonies, song cycles by various composers etc. It is incredible how he managed to write down all this music! Unfortunately, he didn’t compose much for voice – except few songs and an opera, Don Sanche – and didn’t compose much chamber music either.

It is said that Chopin too shared this love of the voice. What are your thoughts on this, that pianist-composers should have this motivation? Is it part of a basic instinct of all composers to make their music “sing”, or is there something more?

As I said, singing has the most direct emotional effect on the listener, however, making a piano “sing” depends strictly on the performer’s ability…

Chopin loved the voice perhaps, but he mostly composed only for piano, except few songs, a cello-piano sonata and a trio. Very strange!

I find it interesting that almost all the works on your programme (except the Rachmaninov Sonata) have a title that brings to mind an image, or some background. It gives one pause to think of the context beyond the musical form of the piece. Would you agree? What is the “function” of the title for us, the listener?

The title sets a basic tone and creates a kind of expectation in the listener before even hearing the music! 

Until the 20th century, the titles given to certain compositions referred to the source of inspiration that led to the “birth” of the musical piece, for example, the title of a poem, a painting etc. However, Debussy was the first to give evocative titles that are part of the overall impression of the musical work, such as “The sounds and fragrances swirl through the evening air” or “Fairies are exquisite dancers” to name only two. We will find this also in the case of Estampes that I am playing, its three movements presenting 3 different moods and atmospheres.

The first, Pagodes, was clearly influenced by Javanese gamelan that Debussy encountered during the Universal Exhibition of 1889 in Paris. He uses pentatonic scales (typical of Far-Eastern music) and gamelan motives.

The second, An Evening in Granada, is an entirely imaginative depiction of Granada in Spain, because at the time Debussy composed this piece, his only experience with the country were few hours spent in San Sebastian in the north of the country, close to France. However, Manuel de Falla said that “there is not even one measure of this music borrowed from the Spanish folklore, and yet the entire composition in its most minute details, conveys admirably Spain”.

The third movement, Jardin sous la pluie, brings us back to France as it is a description of a garden during a severe rainstorm. We can hear sounds of the thunderstorm raging, wind blowing and rain drops!  

Rachmaninov’s Sonata no. 1 in D minor also has an ‘extra-musical’ association (Goethe’s tragic play ‘Faust’). This mighty work is not as often played as his Second Sonata; we have to thank you for including it in your formidable programme. 

Yes, Rachmaninoff intended to compose a program-sonata based on Goethe’s Faust, but abandoned this idea at a quite early stage. However, we can still recognize here and there the three main characters of this tragic play: Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. 

This sonata is one of the most important works for piano from the entire piano repertoire. Unfortunately, it is rarely played because its very challenging technical difficulties and its length! It lasts about 37 minutes, which makes it one of the longest pieces composed for piano. The original version was about 45 minutes long, then Rachmaninoff made some cuts upon the suggestions of his friends and colleagues.

I find the ‘extra-musical’ angle interesting, particularly as I remember that after your last concert (which featured the music of Scriabin), you were scheduled to then play Scriabin in Morocco at a recital where there would be perfume sprayed into the concert venue. How was that experience?

It was unforgettable and we are planning other perfumed concerts! That was a very unique evening! 

I was joined by Paris-based perfume designer Clémence Besse, who devises an olfactory scenography for the concert. The different perfumes she creates in harmony with the music of each composer are discreetly diffused in the hall during the performance. 

Among the five senses, the sense of smell is the only one directly linked to the limbic system (the brain structure that plays an essential role in our emotions and the formation of our memories), thus has a very strong power of evocation. Perfume is an amplifier of emotions, sensations, and quality of life is about the richness of the senses. Scent design brings to arts a new dimension, which enhances the sensorial and spiritual experience and increases the emotional impact, thus intensifies the affective bond between the audience and the masterpieces I perform!

(Free entry coupons available at Alliance Française 2420049; Furtados Music store Panjim and the German consulate 2235526)

An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 4 March 2014

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