10 June 2013

Can you speak english? Style and National Identity in the 20th

The title almost looks like a PhD in comparative studies, but we will talk about music :)

Last week, I got deflowered multiple times! For the first time, I heard live:
- Elisabeth Leonskaja (Southbank, I love you: click here to see the program)
- les Valses nobles et sentimentales
- Enesco's first piano sonata
- la Plus que lente (that I hadn't recognized, shame on me I don't know my Debussy)

As usual for Southbank, many seats empty. The ushers invited us to move forward, which does not make great difference in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This anecdote may seems irrelevant as such, but there is a post to write about it another day (I am convinced that Southbank is empty because it is not Glyndebourne :) QED).

I wont praise Leonskaja here, journalists do it very well, she's just great.  full stop. We can still praise her courage to program Enesco's sonata. Apart from being an incredible pianist, she dares programming rare pieces like Enesco's sonatas.
Enesco's sonata is lovely with 3 movements rather different at first glance (just heard it once, so please scholars, do not be too harsh on me). It begins à la manière du Prélude à l'unisson (Suite op.9) before turning into full-fledged piano-sonata first-movement,  It is followed by a tocatta-like movement the imaginary son of Prokofiev and Poulenc could have written (presto of course). Very funny.  The final (slow) movement starts with the resonnances of a cimbalom, from which a romanian folk melody springs, before letting the left hand introducing a sort of perpetuum mobile (re-using a motive that appeared in the first movement) while the right hand starts developping the romanian theme à la Liszt towards the end. Beautiful end. 

She also played lots of French music (1910-ish) with Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales and some excerpts from Debussy's Préludes.  The link between Debussy and Enesco was quite clear to me, not really in the composition style though, but mainly in the similarity of music material. It reminded me of the spectral experiments without the computers and the maths. Let's take a chord and let's listen to the notes created by the chord resonnances. Suppose we add one sound, preferably close to one that is already played, and another. Listen. Let's move the elbow and produce another sound. Quicker? Slower? What do we get? etc.

Then she played Brahms, 3rd sonata. Beautiful. Then encores: Mozart (finale of a sonata, I think in F), and La plus que lente.

Overall great concert, great pianist. Great moment (I was also with my friend A. We caught up eating scotch eggs at the intermission).

I was amused then by some of the comments I could hear drop around me. "This wasn't very French" (says the Brit), complaining that she would not play in style. At one moment, I wanted to interact and tell the woman: can you enjoy the conversation of a foreigner in English?  Then, you can enjoy the Russian playing French music!!

The notion of style in music is awkward in two ways:
First it means that people care more about the form, than the content; they care more about the historicity of the musical experience (at best, most of the time, it is the new fashionable way to do music) than the experience itself.  In some way it is in total contradiction to what music is.
Second musicians are all mixed now, their playing does not really embody a national identity, mostly because of international trade and the invention of mass produced recording.

At the end, I have the impression that speaking of style is just another way of acknowleding that people may have accents when they talk in a foreign language. But as far as I am concerned I am not bothered at all when an English person talks to me in French with a very seducing accent.

"Can you spike english?"

1 comment:

WL said...

So lucky!!! and thank you for the afterthoughts...

I would be there if I needed no visa to travel to UK : (