On Saturday, October 7th, 2017, beginning at 19:00 h, I will give a recital at the Bulgaria Chamber Hall in Sofia. Bulgaria Hall is the home to the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the main concert hall in Sofia. The program will feature five works from the modern repertoire – or, rather, four major works and an outsider – linked by the invisible thread of magic, mystery and mysticism: a masterpiece of expressionistic suspense, the spectral chords of Murail’s magic mandrake, Scriabin’s purest musical ceremony, a forgotten colossus brought back to life, and a tale by Edgar A. Poe turned into a dodecaphonic chaconne…
SCHOENBERG – 3 Klavierstücke, op.11
SÁNCHEZ-AGUILERA – “Morella” (from “Tales of the Grotesque”)
SCRIABIN – Sonata no. 7, op.64
MURAIL – La Mandragore
SABANEEV – Sonata “to the memory of Scriabin”, op.15
The Three Piano Pieces, op.11, occupy a critical place in Schoenberg’s oeuvre – and in music history – as one of the pioneering works marking the transition toward the atonal language. Composed in 1909, they represent Schoenberg’s first published composition fully embracing the new idiom of “free atonality”. Links with tradition certainly remain (as they do, arguably, in most of Schoenberg’s later production); formally, this cycle of three interconnected movements looks back to the Viennese sonata model, while the instrumental writing bears affinity with that of Brahms. However, the extreme expressivity, the violent contrasts of mood and dynamics, the unreal atmosphere and lyricism, bring this work in close relation with the contemporaneous expressionist movement.
“Morella” (2016) was inspired by Edgar A. Poe’s short story of the same title. It is formally a chaconne, consisting of 11 variations symmetrically distributed around a central interlude-nocturne. The notion of permanent identity – a fixed idea of the title character in the narrative – suggested the derivation of all formal, harmonic and melodic material from an unique element through serial composition. The work is to some extent programmatic and features hidden – and not so hidden – references to Scriabin, Sorabji, and even Chopin.
Within Scriabin’s imposing cycle of piano sonatas, the Seventh (1911-12) occupied a special place for the composer – it was his favourite, the one he gave the designation of “White Mass”. He described it as “purest mysticism” and felt that in it he had achieved “the highest complexity within the highest simplicity”. A quasi-traditional sonata form becomes the vehicle for one of his most advanced creations, where the complexity of harmony, counterpoint and rhythm emerges economically from simple materials. The music suggests a multitude of effects – bells, trumpets, lighthing and thunder, the lightness of flying, an ecstatic final dance; the score abounds in poetic markings such as “somber majesty”, “heavenly bliss” and “delirium”; and the work seems to express the composer’s philosophy in sound – the contrast and interplay of spirit and matter, of the masculine and the feminine.
Tristan Murail is one of the most prominent contemporary composers associated with “spectralism”. As Murail explains, just like the mandrake – according to legend – is a magical plant that grows under the gallows, his musical “Mandragore” grows in the shadow of Ravel’s “Le gibet”, from which it retains the idea of ostinato and a certain atmosphere and harmonic colour. He describes the work as “a spiral centred on several ostinati of rhythm, colour and timbre – five “spectral” chords of variable appearance turn in the arms of the spiral”.
Leonid Sabaneev (composer, musicologist, music critic, mathematician, Scriabin’s close acquaintance and biographer) became most notorious for his musicological writings, but his own music has remained practically forgotten to date, in spite of its remarkable interest. Among his compositions for piano, the most significant and ambitious is his sonata, op.15, a large-scale work composed in 1915 and dedicated to the memory of Scriabin. This complex, monumental work consists of one single, extended movement, tightly organized thematically around a few generating motives, pianistically demanding and – although partly indebted to Scriabin – original and highly significant on its own. According to Sabaneev himself, his music – which he defined as predominantly “tragic” – conveys “emotional states of somber, heroic devotion” and a feeling of “beyond the limits”, attempting to “speak the language of chaos”.