During the first week of March I had the opportunity to record my first CD, in a huge abandoned warehouse were I had two KAWAI pianos at my disposal, and two sound engineers ready to fulfill my every wish (almost).
The disc was to be of works by Schumann and Liszt, and will be called (it will be on sale as of September 2017) “Fantasie Letterarie” (Literary Fantasies); quite a demanding title, aimed at bring together literature and music under the same umbrella.
The CD opens with the Three Sonnets of Petrarch as set to music by Liszt, numbers 47, 104 and 123 respectively. (The numbers are different to those used in the Canzoniere, don’t be surprised if the numbers don’t correspond!)
Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year,
and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment,
and the beautiful country, and the place where I was joined
to the two beautiful eyes that have bound me:
and blessed be the first sweet suffering
that I felt in being conjoined with Love,
and the bow, and the shafts with which I was pierced,
and the wounds that run to the depths of my heart.
Blessed be all those verses I scattered
calling out the name of my lady,
and the sighs, and the tears, and the passion:
and blessed be all the sheets
where I acquire fame, and my thoughts,
that are only of her, that no one else has part of.
Here is number 104
I find no peace, and yet I make no war:
and fear, and hope: and burn, and I am ice:
and fly above the sky, and fall to earth,
and clutch at nothing, and embrace the world.
One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me,
nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose:
and Love does not destroy me, and does not loose me,
wishes me not to live, but does not remove my bar.
I see without eyes, and have no tongue, but cry:
and long to perish, yet I beg for aid:
and hold myself in hate, and love another.
I feed on sadness, laughing weep:
death and life displease me equally:
and I am in this state, lady, because of you.
And Finally number 123
I saw angelic virtue on earth
and heavenly beauty on terrestrial soil,
so I am sad and joyful at the memory,
and what I see seems dream, shadows, smoke:
and I saw two lovely eyes that wept,
that made the sun a thousand times jealous:
and I heard words emerge among sighs
that made the mountains move, and halted rivers.
Love, Judgement, Pity, Worth and Grief,
made a sweeter chorus of weeping
than any other heard beneath the moon:
and heaven so intent upon the harmony
no leaf was seen to move on the boughs,
so filled with sweetness were the wind and air.
Translations by A. S. Kline
As you can see the central theme is, as always, Petrarch’s Love for Laura, and in these poems the almost divine characteristics of his beloved are exalted… The incredible use of oxymorons in sonnet 104 is particularly interesting; this helped me understand the importance of contrast within the piece; contrasts in dynamics, agogic, uses of rubato and emotions etc. Of the three sonnets it is certainly the most emotionally extreme.
I’d advise you to listen to the voice and piano version (there’s a beautiful recording with Pavarotti) and notice the difference between these versions and the piano transcription. The sonnet “Pace non trovo” is certainly the one that differs most.
I have a particular fondness for the last one, the rarefied atmosphere of its opening and the harmonic ambiguity are made even more intense by Liszt’s beautiful indication, hardly ever found on any score: Lento placido, and it is the adjective placido that needs to be conveyed in an impalpabile tranquillity of gesture, reflecting a deep calmness of the soul. Naturally, as in Petrarch, the calmness does not last forever…
The CD continues with Schumann’s Kreisleriana, a collection of eight fantasies inspired by themes from the writer ETA Hoffmann, and then Liszt again, the Sonata quasi una Fantasia “Dante”, a continuation of his Années de pèlerinage.
Kreisleriana is a very special work, perhaps the Schumann collection I love most, and I have often wondered why. In this work we can certainly perceive a great “influence” (perhaps in retrospect…) of the German writer, as well as the madness that characterised the musician Kreisler. But personally, I am more attracted to the idea that this music is a testimony to Robert’s love for Clara, a crazy, total, unconditional and idealistic love – the same way his music is.
“I have noticed that my imagination is never as alive as when it is anxiously focused on you. That’s how it’s been in recent days, waiting for your letter, I composed enough to fill volumes. They are amazing things, crazy, sometimes solemn”
“I spent three wonderful spring days waiting for your letter. Then I composed Kreisleriana in four days; totally new worlds open out before me […]”
Having spent over a year studying this music, and almost half of my life listening to it and trying to find the key to understanding it (of course, what it means to understand a piece is material for another post), I have come to the conclusion that the phrases cited above are exactly what can help. How is it possible to write such music in just four days? What emotional and mental states are necessary to succeed in such an undertaking? Of course it is not only madness, the music is clearly written in an intelligent manner, most of the time the structure is absolutely clear, his compositional skill is a fact. But like never before, in my opinion, there is the feeling that “here we have Meister Raro”, that in various parts of the score there is something akin to the intervention of pure inspiration, that the harmony at that point does not actually make sense and yet it works, and works very well, the dissonances are almost not perceived, and even if and when they are, it is, nonetheless, beautiful.
All this cannot be just the work of the calculating, architectural mind of a perfectionist. There is such a perception of “momentum”, of an idealistic Aufschwung, that one must absolutely realise, both as interpreter and listener, how important is the contact, the relationship with the Absolute, the unpronounceable, the mystical.
First and foremost, this music is poetry.
A single example is sufficient – certainly for all the material in the fourth piece. Apart from the fact that it is wonderful music and so on, I wish to focus on just one thing, in an attempt to penetrate this man’s world and imagination: why start with that pause? One could provide a simple answer, that is to say that the phrase leads to a certain somewhere in which he wants to find the beat, and therefore working backwards from that beat there is that pause. But this explanation is not at all sufficient; or at least it is not the only explanation. I believe that in that pause there is the necessary breath to play the first part, imagine, that breath is written, literally. It is the pause needed for the dominant chord, from which the melody follows, to resonate; which follows that E flat repeated in every chord along with the alto voice – the left hand that imitates the bass theme. All this is made possible THANKS TO that initial pause, in which the aural imagination must be almost infinite. Here the musician, the interpreter, has an entire, very long, pause, in which to imagine a whole palette of colours, the phrasing, the agogic that will be used in that phrase and in the following phrases, after which there will be no more space to rest, not until the next long break (with not one, but two separate fermatas!). In other words, the pause does have its metric value, in fact the highest note, the D, is exactly a half-measure further on (like climbing a mountain, it descends after the summit), but it has an imaginative, poetic and interior meaning above all, a formal element raised to a supreme expressive function.
Madness, if you like, is also confirmed by the fact that, after all the references and flattery directed towards Clara, Schumann ultimately dedicated Kreisleriana “to his friend F. Chopin.”
The CD ends with a small homage to Schumann, the second piece from 3 Fantasiestücke, Op. 111