"Up with me! up with me into the clouds!
For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
With clouds and sky about thee ringing,
Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seems so to thy mind!
I have walked through wildernesses dreary
And to-day my heart is weary;
Had I now the wings of a Faery,
Up to thee would I fly.
There is madness about thee, and joy divine
In that song of thine;
Lift me, guide me high and high
To thy banqueting-place in the sky."
from "To a Sky-Lark" by William Wordsworth
"Poème" can mean several things. It could be understood as simply a poem, suggestive, fugitive and free. It may also be a story of epic proportions, such as sagas and legends. The lyrical aspect is the key element, and the basis of my understanding of it for this project. To me it suggests something that goes heart to heart, direct and without the need for explanation.
As I dived into the works of Bach in my previous project I experienced tremendous inspiration and joy, but also a certain fear and awe for the music. This time I feel relieved, turning to the romantic repertoire. This is not only because it is perhaps my main ground, like so many musicians, but because I feel an enormous freedom of emotion in the pieces I have chosen for this project. The wealth and richness of sounds called for in order to tell these gripping stories are so remarkable, beautiful and free none can be immune to their immediacy - they all go directly to the heart. These pieces tell human stories in the most direct and profound way, reaching from utter despair to divine joy and redemption.
The project includes a piece by a Norwegian composer which is seldom, if ever, played. It too is a grand poem for the piano, telling the story of the Aeolian Harp travelling over stormy seas of the north. It is wild, intens and beautiful. "Eolsharpa" by Geirr Tveitt has served its time in the darkness - it's time to bring it into the light. Poems indeed are the two French pieces in the project - both ballades - by Claude Debussy and by Gabriel Fauré. I cannot explain how much I love these pieces, and I am particularly fond of the Fauré, which is not that often heard in the original solo version. It's like actual sunshine was captured in sound.
I have lived with the B minor Ballade by Franz Liszt for years, as I have with his "Les Jeux d'eau á la Villa d'Éste" . The first one an epic tale of gothic mystery, the other one not only a groundbreaking work in regard to sound, but of light, beauty and religious grandeur. Finally, the culmination of the project is the F minor Ballade by Frédèric Chopin, one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Life and death itself expressed in sound. No use in trying to say more about it, words fail.
Which is why we need music.
C. P. E. Bach
- Concerto in d, H. 47
- Piano Concerto
Ludwig van Beethoven
- Concerto nr. 1, op. 15
- Concerto nr. 3, op. 37
- Concerto nr. 4, op. 58
- Concerto nr. 5, op. 73
- Piano Concerto
Ernst von Dohnányí
- Variations on a Nursery Song
- Concerto, op. 16
- Concerto in G "Nr. 4"
- Concerto nr. 1 in E-flat
- Concert in G minor, op. 25
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Concerto in A, Nr. 12, KV. 414
- Concert in d, Nr. 20, KV. 466
- Concerto pour piano et orchestre
- Concert champêtre (piano version)
- Piano Concerto nr. 3 in C, op. 26
- Concerto nr. 1, op. 1
- Concerto in G
- Concerto 3, op. 29
Inside Polyphony #6
Recording this album was one of the most intense, fascinating, challenging, valuable and beautiful experiences I have had professionally. Because of the tremendous amount of concentration and utter commitment to the work it was impossible for me to write during the actual recording process. Over a month has passed since that week and now I am in the middle of listening to it all, overwhelmed and happy over what we accomplished. I certainly understand why there are so relatively few Bach recordings out there, compared to other parts of the pianists repertoire. It's just very hard to make this heavenly music take wings.
This project has taught me many things - most importantly to listen. The smallest detail becomes magnified through the microphones, and only when they showed them to me I made many realisations about my music making at the piano. Recording Bach brought a new understanding of my playing, of the music, of the pianistic realm and the incredible command we can have over our instrument as long as the true mental conception of the sound is clear. It did not feel like reaching a goal, but rather like being handed a brand new starting point on a higher level. I am so grateful for the experience and I cannot wait to share the result with you.
Inside Polyphony #5
ON THE SINFONIAS AND 5TH PARTITA IN G MAJOR - AND RECORDING
History has not forgotten Bach the Pedagogue. Throughout his life he taught extensively, and all his keyboard works was written with teaching in mind. He even published his works in order of difficulty, the partitas considered the most extensive and therefor most difficult. The three-part inventions, or Sinfonias, were ment to develop the ability to play a keyboard instrument in a singing manner (a direct quote from Bach himself) and also develop the students ability to compose by demonstrating strong thematic ideas in a most concentrated and creative development. At the same time these pieces are indeed character pieces - as a prototype to piano pieces which blossomed in the romantic period. To me they are specifically children's pieces in the best sense of the word: they have and tremendous sense of narrative, like little stories, pictures and songs. I have in fact had a great time trying to give them my own specific content with this in mind. My imagination suggested anything from fairytales, theatre and toy marches to laments and even impressionistic paintings. Calling them children's pieces does not mean they are ment only for children. As a young adult I have found them very challenging. To play two voiced music is natural and logical since we have two hands - playing three voiced music is automatically much more difficult. From this we learn to think in several layers at once, and create the illusion of more voices conversing together within the same musical flow. I honestly don't understand why we don't see these pieces more often in concert. At first I thought that they are perhaps to easy for a master to put in his or her program - now I'm thinking it's perhaps because they are, in a sense, too difficult. However I know that one of my great idols Andras Schiff has done this a lot, and I intend to do the same. Together these fifteen pieces form a fantastic cycle wich tickles and baffles the imagination.
The Partita in G major is not among the most perfomed, but I simply love this piece. In this project I have placed it at the end, since it is the "comedy" among the pieces. It is not flat out funny, but it has a wonderful warm, humoristic brilliance which I find very attractive. Each movement has a strong extroverted character, even the Sarabande is not as introspective as they tend to be. The most obvious "joke" from Bach's hand is the Tempo di Menuetto, where the rhythm sounds like it is in two, while cadencing in three. I know of no other movement by Bach which has an ironic tone. This kind of musical playfulness is almost not found until Prokofiev and Les Six. The Gigue is a gigantic double fugue which crowns the suite in a fantastic, sparkling and most of all joyful manner.
The reason why I wanted to do this project was do develop a solid ground to stand on as an artist. I wanted to develop my musical ideas, my instrumental skills and my imagination. This alone would be enough. Then I was presented with the possibility to make a recording, my very first album. This is also why I have named the project "Inside Polyphony". It will be recorded in surround sound, which made it possible to actually being inside the pieces, enhancing the experience of polyphony. I am terribly honored and proud to do this with the 2L, the brilliant and multiple Grammy nominee Morten Lindberg. Co-producing is also Wolfgang Plagge, the fantastic pianist and composer, and my musical mentor for many years. I hold Plagge responsible for helping me find my true persona and therefor being able to express this through my playing. To read more about Lindberg and his company click on this link http://www.lindberg.no/english/index.htm.
You can imagine my excitement - the recording is less than two weeks away, and I look forward to share this process with you.
Inside Polyphony #4
ON THE FRENCH SUITE IN B MINOR
I fell completely in love with the B minor French Suite while exploring the suites and I chose to include it for this project. Though the 5th one in G major is perhaps the most famous one and all of them are masterpieces I felt particularly close to the B minor one. What I find most striking in this music is the poetry. The movements are like beautiful poems expressing tenderness, melancholy and love in the most intimate way. I feel that the music suggests everything, yet explains nothing, much like the music of Debussy. This parallel might seem a bit odd, but I find this aspect of Bach's music very beautiful. Clarity, logic and heart melted together are the pillars of his music. Being "vague" (relatively speaking, this suite is based on a single motif!) is something rare in his music, but despite his titanic intellectual powers he managed to express something of that as well, to me particularly in this suite.
Though I find this sad poetry the main point of this suite this does not mean that there is no fire in it. The Courante is full of wild temperament, and so is the Gigue, both arch-typical Baroque dances of thundering articulation and groove. I am constantly reminded of one of my great idols Cecilia Bartoli while playing these movements, and though it is difficult I try to emulate some of her mind blowing energy. Giving these two dances some spice only enhances the poetry of the rest of the suite. The climax and emotional core of the suite is in the Sarabande, which contains some of Bach's most spiritual, profound and moving music. This is most often the case in his suites, perhaps one of the only exceptions is the Chaconne from the D minor Violin Partita.
One of the most fun parts of playing this suite is experimenting with ornaments and improvisations within the frames of the music. This process is still going on for me, and for every choice I make I feel that I "own" the piece more. Daring to explore the melodic possibilities in this harmonically rich music as well as using my taste and intuition to decorate it in the way I want to has been some of the greatest lessons I have learned while working on this entire project. It is indeed one of the greatest joys of performing Baroque music.
Inside Polyphony #3
A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE CHROMATIC FANTASY AND FUGUE
Among all the keyboard works from Bach's hand this piece is perhaps the most dramatic one in existence. From the very first note this piece explodes in intensity. To my mind it is truly volcanic, which might seem a little surprising to some when we talk about music from the baroque period.
As we know Bach was a very religious man and there is no reason to think that this piece is less of an expression of this, as are all his works to a certain extent. We know that the anguish and suffering of Christ (the Fantasy) was associated with falling chromatics and the resurrection (the Fugue) with rising ones. This might very well have been Bach's concept. In my own interpretation this has not been my main focus, but to ignore this obvious possibility would be ignorant of me towards Bach as a composer and a human being. At least we can say that the fantasy represents a tremendous struggle and the fugue a explosive victory.
Having worked on the piece for a long time already I am still awestruck by the terrible anxiety of the opening of the Fantasy. To me the music tells a story of trying to escape the terror which hunts in the dark. One of the truly magical moments in this piece is the arpeggio sections, after all the intensity. It could be a dream, a vision, or an internal escape - as opposed to the external one in the start. I always feel like the music defies gravity and takes flight in those moments, like being uplifted from the earthly surroundings of the opening pages.
The recitative is so full of emotional conflict and, in my opinion, loneliness. The music seems to keep asking painful questions over and over again, before accepting the pain at the final cadence. The coda is among the most moving music I know of, where the music keeps falling as dissolved in tears. At the end we reach the lowest point of the piece both in sound and emotion. To me this low point is the absolute climax of the piece, although what we here is utter silence. I find it shattering and heartbreaking. Then yet another great moment emerges when you as a performer decide to start the fugue. The moment when you are at your lowest and decide to lift your head up high and fight.
The battle of the Fugue might very well be the closets kind of music we can find of this nature before Beethoven, who in his works certainly expressed this tremendous struggle and victory in the most human and at the same time spiritual way. Bach's way, to me, is divine. It occurs both on earth and in heaven at the same time. After the draining suffering of the Fantasy, this Fugue becomes such a vital celebration of life. This can be completely overwhelming both to perform and to listen to in concert, as I have experienced. The first time I performed this piece in public was a moment I will treasure for ever. It made me feel both very exposed emotionally (as I felt I couldn't "hide" in this piece) as well as powerful because of the Fugue.
To learn and study this piece is a mission of a lifetime, but already I feel a very strong personal connection to this piece and I am very curious to see what time will teach me about it.
Inside Polyphony #2
WHAT AND WHY
As an artist I feel that one of my most difficult tasks has been to narrow down my ideas and desires to something as essential as possible. I have always been looking for ”what’s next?”, and this has proven to be difficult to change. On the one hand it is important for me to be able to get excited about all kinds of music, as it is a driving force in my daily work. On the other hand, as a professional, there has to be times where my excitement and energy is focused on a few clearly formulated ideas. One of these ideas has been”Inside Polyphony”.
There has been several reasons for why I wanted to do this project. Most importantly I felt a very strong attraction to Bach’s eternal music – I simply had to play it. Secondly, as a young artist I wanted to do something wholesome so as to build a strong artistic foundation to stand on, entering this jungle of great, young musicians. What better music to build my work on than the music of Bach?
From a pianistic perspective I wanted to structure my abilities, as well as try to explore greater tonal variety and control. I wanted to get on the ”inside” of polyphonic music, to create an interaction between the voices clearly and intentionally. Having worked for a long time on differentiation of textures on the most basic level (foreground/background) I felt that the challenge of more complex textures was in place. This music is also, if I may say so, much stronger than we who perform it. By that I mean that the music can take almost any kind of treatment and remain as powerful as ever. At the same time I think that playing it can reach the very core of ones musicianship and actually show this to the performer, almost like looking at yourself in a mirror for the first time. At least this has been, and still is, my experience while working on the project. The process has not been easy, yet all the more rewarding.
The strongest and most wonderful part of the project has been studying and playing these great pieces and then gradually experiencing that my thoughts, ideas and feelings about them grew more and more specific. I wanted to take the leap from playing in a fairly well, generic manner to fulfilling my obligations as an interpreter and give my complete conceptions of these works. To met this has been a life changing experience. I have by no means reached the ”goal” yet, though I certainly have reached a new place where the view is overwhelming and beautiful – and slightly terrifying.
The works I have been working on is four of the greatest works for the keyboard by Bach: The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, the complete Sinfonias (three-part inventions), the French Suite in B minor and the G major Partita. I will discuss each of these pieces in the following posts. Stay tuned!
Inside Polyphony #1
We pianists are so lucky to have such a vast amount of repertoire available to us. There is music from as far back as the middel ages that we can play, though the piano itself was invented later. However - we might say that our repertoire starts with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest men ever to walk the earth. Some have even said that music also ends with Bach - all other music being mere "afterthoughts" - though then perhaps this has been said to emphasize the tremendous emotional and intellectual value of the music. To me as a pianist his music has originally been a starting point and I have to admit that as a child it sometimes felt like a chore to work on his inventions as well as the Preludes and Fugues. As a student there where times (as I am a little ashamed to admit) where I did not even touch his music when I probably should have.
During this last six months I have been working very seriously on an ambitious project with selected keyboard works by Bach. My desire to work on his music came quite suddenly, though I don't think it came coincidentally. This music, with all its emotional power, beauty and logic, is the strongest antidote to any insecurities one might feel both musically and technically. It's like Sviatoslav Richter said: "One should play Bach regularly - even just from a hygienic perspective". And indeed: Nothing cleans your mind, hands and heart better than Bach. There is literally no separation between emotional content and physical execution.
I was at the same time very attracted to the idea of producing and projecting the equality of voices on the piano. This means being able to colour each voice as needed so that as a listener one would feel like the voices are talking to, singing or even dancing with each other. This has been a gigantic goal for me to achieve on the piano, though I can think of no better way to develop as an artist as well as an instrumentalist than by doing this work. Over the next couple of weeks I will discuss different aspects of this project here, like what pieces I have chosen and why, what I feel about the pieces and how I have worked. I hope the reader can forgive my subjective perspectives in the posts to come - this is not a scientific experiment, but rather a direct expression of my work as a young artist.