Wednesday, July 20, 2016


A lot more Romanesque than romantic


The piano is for me the most musical instrument and yet of course not the only one, but the only that can talk many and even more than many languages. I have always been intimidated and fascinated by that instrument standing upright in the music classroom and on which this classmate of mine was playing some jazz every day during lunch recess. It will take me many years before I could be in a concert with a grand piano and his pianist. I seem to remember it was in the “Grand Théâtre” in Bordeaux.

It took me some time to get used to it and to understand its many languages, idioms, dialects and to realize that the pianist was also essential to make the piano’s discourse expressive of anything.

Beethoven, and his avant-garde piano forte, was always sad for me with fateful destiny badly sublimated into some hymn to Freude, Joy: too banal and commonplace in the music class with his themes and basic sentences repeated ad nauseam on the piano of the classroom. Is it sol sol sol mi (flat mind you) or some other combination of four notes that made me both become passive and submissive to that whipping of a music that tetanized me.

Then Chopin has always been and will always be for me the gay music of a playful philanderer in Paris with his dog running after his – sorry its – tail as if he were a snake biting his own tail. I have never been able to forget him courting with George Sand dressed like a gentleman and smoking a cigar. What was Chopin in the alcove of this Paris apartment rue Taitbout? Probably a plaything who played music to entertain the lady of the house, apartment or withdrawing room, dressed in pants with a tie under the collar of her starched shirt, before withdrawing to the back room opening on the yard rather than on the street for some more private keyboard games.

Then there was Liszt tender and mysterious but so melancholy, so romantic à la Lamartine, so tear-drawing at times that I could not listen to it very long without being taken by sobs and sighs and tears, precisely. That music is so heart-breaking and soul-rending.

But beyond them all there was, and apparently still is; Johannes Brahms. He was the one I feared and desired in the most intimate way because he sounded frightening, terroristic, dramatic and above all German in the wild meaning of some wilderness I could only find in Werther, Heine or Götz von Berlichingen. There is always behind the surface something like a monster, a tiger William Blake would call it, lurking under the giant ferns and tropical underbrush of some jungle. Brahms called in me the vision of death and the fascination of death I could only find in Thomas Mann, Wedekind or Musil, and I read them all in their original language. I was Törless in the hands of this pianist known as Johannes Brahms. Each note was a torture, and an exquisite pleasure.

I could not understand when the music teacher and later professor said he was the acme of romanticism. For me he was the acme of an untellable inner life that he could not express in any other way than through his fingers on the keys and his feet on the pedals. And I still feel like that when I get across Johannes Brahms.

So you can imagine when I had the privilege of going to a concert less than twenty kilometers away from my home in the mountains in an old Romanesque church and that I discovered Johannes Brahms played by Jonas Vitaud. A treat, an overdose of feeling, emotion, empathy and sudden engulfing fall in the oldest passions and frustrations, sensations and evasions of the old oldest days of mine. Brahms was there in front of me in the choir of this Romanesque church, flying and swinging in his awe and forbidding power from vault to vault, from column to column; from sculpted capital to carved capital, and they are all telling us without any words multiple stories, with monkeys, atlases supporting the heavens and the loft over the church entrance, mermaids, Sheila na gigs and many other forms and representations of elevation, skyward and up into spirituality.

Brahms was at home. He is for me a lot more Romanesque than romantic. He is the music that reverberated for me in the Romanesque church in Bordeaux, Sainte Croix, every time I visited it, and that just wraps up and molds the naves and the transepts of all these churches around me in my mountains, from Courpière to Beurrière, from Saint Germain l’Herm to Pignols

What makes this recording special, It is the way I felt it in the concert and I find it on this recording, Jonas Vitaud seems to go beyond the score and penetrate the soul of the composer and he is able to slightly impersonate the composer himself in his suffering, in his hope, in his insanity and in his spirituality, nothing well tempered, but variable, changing, in multiple ways that make every note a giant step towards the other side of the universe, the other self of the mortal man who reaches out for eternity and actually grasps it for the instantaneous duration of a few notes and one silence, for a variation on a sharp or a flat that run natural in spite of all, and yet remain flat or sharp. It is such wavering impressions that I find in Jonas Vitaud that is absent from so many other performers who read the score and forget the soul, the tortured soul of the composer, of the man who can only howl with a piano, till death them parts.


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