On being part of a musical ensemble (and my sudden interest in Faure)

It used to be back in the day when I practiced and learned pieces as a Piano soloist, that I’d be interested in the intensive pianistic writings and performances pieces by the likes of Chopin, Rachmaninov and Liszt. You know, the showoffy type of music that exhibited ‘big fat chords’, rich harmonies and shimmeringly fast melody lines.

Lately as an ensemble performer I have found working with a group of musicians with differing musical interests is a conversation. Trying to put forward your ideas, trying to be open to others and having that very important but polite conversation about disagreeing.

One of my friends, an actor by trade and training, likes to suggest crooner songs and early jazz. Another friend, interested in the early 20th Century, Jazz and a trumpet player, is in broad agreement with this cultural tendency and this gathers influence. I am not so familiar with Jazz (despite my former piano teacher being a former Jazz musician), and I quite enjoy learning about the new chords, enhancing my chord vocabulary and stretching myself to new styles.

One of the things that has surprised me is the way I have been drawn to chamber music  and composers who I normally wouldn’t consider. Working with the piano makes one think mostly or almost completely of the pianists-composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin. It’s always important to remember that there were non-pianist specialising composers as well, and not all classical music is defined by that one instrument.

I’ve lately been drawn to Gabriel Faure. Faure has a beauty and darkness, a gentility and subtlety to it that communicates beauties of the human condition. Faure is also technically interesting because he is said to write his piano work like an organist. There is a philosophical distinction that I learned from my logic lecturer, Finn Spicer years ago, the difference between ‘being hard to do’ and ‘being tricky’. Faure’s works as I have come across them have been tricky, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about fingerings and stylistic considerations.

I think many of his popularly known works show beauty: the Sicilienne (which I want to try on Bb Clarinet, but I’m also playing as accompanist), the song ‘Apres un reve’ (After a Dream), which I wish to perform with cellist. There is the wonderful ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ which I once performed as a bassist at Westminster Cathedral (which I have fuzzy memories of now). Lately one piece in particular has taken me, has enamoured me, has dared to look me into the dark abyss, which is the Opus 24 Elegie, which I aim to one day play as an accompanist.

Lately it has been a great joy to perform as part of an ensemble, not just with long time friends (where I feel the shared feeling of love shows in our playing), but also the way that performing as a musician forms a powerful medium. I often like to think of myself as a person of few words, despite the fact that I go on and on and on when I’m blogging on here about a variety of topics, there is nothing I can say that is more profound and complete than the expression of music. There is a beautiful ambiguity sometimes in music, and at other times, or even simultaneously, a great degree of specificity. The C-minor introduction asserting the tonic in the Op 24. Elegie is definitely a C-minor tonic (specificity), but what it expresses is so powerful and can also mean many different things to many people -representing many different mental objects in the same sonic experience.

I think it’s odd how I’ve come to enjoy Gabriel Faure so much. I thought that the next composer I might be enamoured with would be say, Haydn, or going deeper into Beethoven, or Mahler, following my interest in the likes of Schoenberg, Bach, or the Romantics. There is a moderation to Faure that appeals to me, a gentility that does not always need to go to the extremes of the human condition in the way Schoenberg or many Romantics would.

Michael

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