The works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album constitute an itinerary depicting how the piano can convey “impressions”. Of course, the word “impressions” brings to the mind the related word “impressionistic”. As an aesthetical category, the term “impressionistic” has been used in musical criticism, but in a rather controversial fashion. On the one hand, in the works by such composers as Debussy and Ravel (among others) there undoubtedly are elements which can be related with the paintings by such impressionist masters as Monet, Manet, Renoir and (perhaps especially) Gauguin. On the other hand, there are chronological differences which cannot be ignored, and the symbolist dimension of the musical works should not be downplayed.
In this album, some “impressionist” elements are certainly found, especially in Debussy’s Estampes. Here we find an interest in exoticism which seem to correspond to Gauguin’s fascination for the Far East: Pagodes is the musical evocation and “French translation”, so to speak, of the Balinese gamelan music heard by Debussy at the Universal Exposition of Paris (1889). The sound of this percussion orchestra is recreated through complex timbral choices, while the organization of both tones and rhythms mirrors rather faithfully the principles of gamelan improvisation. Another kind of exoticism is found in Soirée dans Grenade, with its colourful depiction of a Spanish evening, with its evocation of guitar sounds and of melancholic sounds, testifying to the continuing interest of French culture towards Spain. A still other kind of “exoticism” is that of Jardins sous la pluie: here the world which is aurally evoked is not that of a geographically far country, but rather that of past time and experience. The melody perceived in the midst of the piano’s semiquavers is a children’s song, thus bringing the listener back to childhood memories, while the complex piano writing suggests the delicate percussive sound of rain, along with occasional gushes of wind.
Some “impressionistic” suggestions are also found in Prokofieff’s Visions fugitives. Instead of Debussy’s three pieces, this Suite is made of twenty very short pieces, composed between 1915 and 1917. The title is derived from a poem by Konstantin Balmont, who improvised it during a soirée at which Prokofieff was present. Translated by a French-speaking guest, the lines gave their title to the collection, which is in fact made of seemingly unrelated moments, of “impressions”, some of which have “impressionistic” overtones, whereas others are rather reminiscent of Scriabin’s style. Here too we find timbral suggestions, particularly in the case of Pittoresco, whose evocation of the harp is so poignant that Prokofieff himself later transcribed it for the harp.
Prokofieff, being a great pianist himself, knew perfectly well how to create fascinating musical textures by putting into relief the virtuoso, expressive and suggestive resources of the instrument; this collection splendidly represents his rich palette.
Still other “impressions” are those found in Poulenc’s Napoli Suite, which represents another kind of “exoticism”: here the unknown or the characteristic are embodied by the Italian atmosphere of Naples, seen through the lenses of enchantment, irony and vivacity. The first piece, Barcarolle, evokes the quiet atmosphere of the seaside and is reminiscent of impressionist suggestions thanks to the beautiful representation of water through sounds. The second, Nocturne, is enchanted and dreamy, and employs a rarefied writing of great harmonic refinement. The third, Caprice italien (whose title mirrors that of the eponymous work by Tchaikovsky), is another very brilliant piece, in which moments of dazzling virtuosity alternate with more expressive sections.
The album is completed by a new composition by Maria Gabriella Mariani, who reinterprets the concepts underlying the works of the other composers, but gives them new life and a new kind of actuality through the modern perspective of her own artistic personality. Her writing is full of ideas, stimuli and charm, and beautifully complements the works of her earlier counterparts.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Twentieth-century Suites are very different from their Baroque counterparts. They have lost many of the former’s harmonic and formal connotations, and have become a collection of musical moments united by an existential experience, by a particular theme, or by a powerful connotation of mood. The four Suites collected in this thematic itinerary constitute a kind of “Suite of suites”. I did not intend to present four ways of considering the musical genre in itself, but rather four different ways, including my own, of connecting a series of pieces.
The first consideration regards the formal aspect. I think that the composer who respected the bipartite structure most faithfully is Prokofieff in his Visions Fugitives op. 22, written in 1915-7. Debussy follows suit emphasizing the reprise, even though, in the last piece of his Estampes (1903), his vision overcame the formal rigour. The same would be done twenty years later by Poulenc. The last piece of his Suite Napoli, Caprice Italien, is a kaleidoscope of reminiscences and thematic fragments influenced by the Mediterranean folklore and colours. As concerns the Suite Mediterranea somehow respects the reprise of the exposed theme(s), even though the central section of the development is enormously wide and varied. Therefore, the three pieces of this Suite (written between 2009 and 2019) could be assimilated to as many first movement of Sonatas or Fantasias.
On the harmonic plane, none of the composers strays from an eminently tonal language. Between Debussy and Prokofieff the most forward-looking is possibly Prokofieff. Or perhaps Debussy, although in a less evident fashion. Or possibly each in his own way, following their respective stylistic choices which are precise and equally evident. Poulenc as well as my composition appear to be the most traditional ones. However, neither the language nor the harmonic choice in themselves decree the modernity of a composer’s style. It is not by chance that Napoli and Mediterranea are the most recent of the four works, and, most importantly, it is not by chance that Poulenc defined himself as an “unlabelled musician”.
The thing which enthused me most, and which still fascinates me every time I practise and perform these pieces, is in fact the beauty and variety of expressions, perceptions, visions and feelings, always new, and completing each other; they provide me with a kaleidoscope of emotions, each of which is unique, timeless, authentic. Indeed, the time I spent practising these works coincided with the lockdown, and I wanted to share this experience with others by creating a format titled “I practise with you”. There, I gave lessons to myself and I indirectly communicated to my audience the ideas and principles inspired by the works (rather than the results).
I tried to “see” the Visions fugitives, to “feel” the Oriental echoes, or the habanera rhythm and flamenco motifs by Debussy. I imagined the water’s sound among the green of the Orbec gardens, resisting the temptation to obtain a clearly percussive sound, but rather searching for it in that suggestive and picturesque setting. As concerns Poulenc, my work consisted in joining the Mediterranean element to his language, which is synthetical, never simple, crystal-clear but at the same time sibylline, elegant but never coy, humorous but, most importantly, classically new and modern.
Suites as journeys. A journey beginning in Russia, crossing France and reaching the Mediterranean. In Debussy’s own words, “If you can’t afford to travel, you have to use your imagination instead”. Therefore, we encounter a collection of illustrated and varied postcards. They have lost the constitutive element of the typical dance connotation, and they constitute, instead, as many evocations and characterizations. Possibly, it is for this reason that Prokofieff’s notes adhere much more closely to states of mind than to conventional steps; that the titles chosen by Debussy and Poulenc are bound to places of the mind and of memory (from the Eastern and Spanish atmospheres to the oarsmen of the Barcarolle, to the sea in the background of Nocturne, to the tarantella rhythm mixed with Neapolitan song in Caprice Italien). Within this context my suite is also found. Here, Solo joins the intimate element with fragments of Neapolitan folklore. The Canzone di Pulcinella speaks for itself and constitutes a reinterpretation of myth in a melancholic key. Finally, in Chef Tango the dance element is transfigured by the juxtaposition to the piece’s dedicatee, Mario Chef, and the tango becomes nothing more than an image of memory.
However, these aspects which are so intensely felt must constantly be related with the balance and interpretive composure required by almost all the composers represented here. In other words, we are not facing something similar to the Années de pélèrinage, even though the most touching moments are influenced by a century in which Romanticism lives only in memory. The evocation of tonal harmony or the reference to forms of the past will not suffice to resuscitate it.
Album Notes: Maria Gabriella Mariani, November, 2020
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Maria Gabriella Mariani, Pianist: “I have two languages and many languages.” It is in this way that Maria Gabriella Mariani defines herself, and in fact music always and narrative writing since several years, are two sides of the same coin for her. Martha Argerich appreciates her musical nature: “An extremely interesting talent; sure, imaginative, very artistic, her way of playing is so varied, it is never predictable […], I love her Scarbo […] Her improvisations are extraordinary”, in which she has been experimenting since childhood. Her piano origins belong to the Neapolitan school of Vincenzo Vitale, although she soon distanced herself not so much from the school of Vitale, but from the concept of school in general. She studied with Aldo Ciccolini in Italy and in Paris and graduated with the “Excellent” judgment from the “Lorenzo Perosi” International Academy in Biella. She studied chamber music with Trio di Trieste, although she preferred to play solo. At the age of 14 she made her debut at the Rimini “Aterforum”, receiving significant reviews in newspapers from the most important Italian critics; a few years later she obtained a scholarship in Paris for having won the Lucca piano competition entitled to Liszt and subsequently received a Prize of the Senate of the Italian Republic. She was first classified in numerous national and international competitions. Among her musical works and CDs, presented throughout Italy, among others, A. Barizza, N. Cattò, L. Ciammarughi, G.P. Minardi L. Segalla, S. Valanzuolo, L.Valente, A. Zignani, took care of them and the Neapolitan musicologist composer and director Roberto De Simone who, in 2014, devotes to her an essay focused on the possible ways of composing today, where he states that "the music of Maria Gabriella Mariani could declare the possibility of today's creativity”. As a soloist she played for prestigious concert associations and theaters throughout Italy and abroad. Graduated in Literature, she wrote a thesis on Schumann entitled Schumann. Thought and fantasy and published scientific writings of music and literature and arts in collaboration with several Italian universities. Recently she was awarded in the USA with 4 Global Music Awards, as well as a composer, as an interpreter of French music, (Ravel Gaspard de la nuit) and of her piano works. Her works have received public and critical consent. Even Ciccolini, after listening to some of her music, expressed himself: “Her music reveals an very impressive creative sense, supported by exceptional piano-player skills and assisted by a complete mastery of the keyboard and by a search of tone-colour that is more unique than rare”
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Francis Poulenc: (b Paris, 7 Jan 1899; d Paris, 30 Jan 1963). French composer and pianist. During the first half of his career the simplicity and directness of his writing led many critics away from thinking of him as a serious composer. Gradually, since World War II, it has become clear that the absence from his music of linguistic complexity in no way argues a corresponding absence of feeling or technique; and that while, in the field of French religious music, he disputes supremacy with Messiaen, in that of the mélodie he is the most distinguished composer since the death of Fauré.
Maria Gabriella Mariani: Italian pianist, composer, and writer, she studied first in Italy, then in France. Since 2008, in addition to holding concerts, she has also dedicated herself to the activity of composer. Her first CD Presenze (2008) contains seven solo piano works inspired by her first novel with the same title. In the same year she composes Fun Tango.Three radiant flows of a single matrix, a piano work in three movements, with which in 2017 won 3 Global Music Awards in Los Angeles both as an composer and a san interpreter. Her novel Imperfect Consonances is linked to Fun Tango, both published in 2010. In 2009 she composed Il Cielo s’inabissa (The sky sinks) and Traces, a piano sonata in three movements, and in 2014 recorded Riflessi (Reflections), solo piano pieces connected to the homonymous collection of stories written by her, focused on a fantastic wheel of time. In 2011 she dedicated to her Maestro Aldo Ciccolini the sonata Pour jouer (the only existing work written for the great Italian - French pianist) that performed in 2014 in his presence on the occasion of the institutional event “Tribute to Aldo Ciccolini”. The latter, after her performance, so expressed himself publicly: “I recognized myself very often during the execution of this piece, a masterly performance, which at the same time reveals a personality, like that of the Mariani, that is truly exceptional, with extraordinary pianistic means. I express my emotion, all my pathos in hearing to this monumental work dedicated to me”. In 2013 is the turn of Solo and In the name of the father and the son; the latter composition, a work for two voices, piano and chamber orchestra, is connected to the theatrical booklet of the same name written by Mariani also in the form of a novel. Her recent compositions are: Hologram - Theme, 17 Variations and Finale with improvisation (2014) and Kinderliana (2017), a collection of pieces connected to the Fairy Tales of Doracia, equally written by her. She has performed her compositions in the major Italian theaters, music conservatories, festivals and associations. Her music has been broadcast on RAI TRE, RSI.ch of Lugano, Radio Classica (“Il Pianista”) and have obteined flattering appreciations and reviews on authoritative music magazines. Some of her scores are published by Da Vinci Publishing in Osaka.
Sergey Prokofiev (b Sontsovka, Bakhmutsk region, Yekaterinoslav district, Ukraine, 11/23 April 1891; d Moscow, 5 March 1953). Russian composer and pianist. He began his career as a composer while still a student, and so had a deep investment in Russian Romantic traditions – even if he was pushing those traditions to a point of exacerbation and caricature – before he began to encounter, and contribute to, various kinds of modernism in the second decade of the new century. Like many artists, he left his country directly after the October Revolution; he was the only composer to return, nearly 20 years later. His inner traditionalism, coupled with the neo-classicism he had helped invent, now made it possible for him to play a leading role in Soviet culture, to whose demands for political engagement, utility and simplicity he responded with prodigious creative energy. In his last years, however, official encouragement turned into persecution, and his musical voice understandably faltered.