January 1986 marked a turning point in the career of Louise Bessette. Since winning the First Prize at the Concours International de Musique Contemporaine in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France), she has gone [...]
They spoke about it
An exhilarating and elegant concert pianist, Louise Bessette stands out as one of the preeminent performers of music from our times. After having devoted her previous recording to Olivier Messiaen , pianist Louise Bessette takes on a totally different musical journey, with a program of Spanish works.
Reflections on Spain
Spain: 16th-century superpower, cradle of flamenco, and birthplace of numerous painters and architects. But is it possible to capture the true essence of Spain, which still inspires Hispanic and foreign composers alike? Can one extract a particular sound or colour from its 17 autonomous communities, 50 provinces and 8,112 municipalities? Should one even try? In the preface to his 20 Cantos populares españoles, Joaquín Nin himself compared
Spain’s then 47 provinces to a 47-note scale that possessed the power to express every shade of joy, sadness, love and hope.
Although Ernesto Lecuona (1896–1963) is considered the most important Cuban composer of the early 20th century, some of his most successful piano works, including Andalucía (Suite Española), were inspired by Spanish folk music. His melodic creativity, frequently complex compositional style that favoured an agile left hand (Lecuona’s own performances were particularly appreciated in this respect), and always interesting harmonic structures won him the admiration of many of his contemporaries, both in the U.S. (he gave the Cuban premier of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue) and in Europe. Indeed, Ravel declared that, “I think Malagueña is more beautiful and melodious than my Bolero.”
The collection opens with the melancholy “Córdoba,” followed by “Andalucía,” which exudes both sensuality and vitality, driven by a dancing ostinato accompaniment in the left hand. “Alhambra” paints an almost impressionistic picture of the palace built in the 13th century for the Sultan Mohammed Al-Ahamar on the heights of Granada; the palace is legendary for the opulence of its halls and gardens. “Gitanerías” is reminiscent of a fiery flamenco, while “Guadalquivír” sounds like an homage to the river that flows through Andalusia. The suite closes with the bewitching “Malagueña,” which has since been reworked into numerous other forms.
Born into a Catalonia bursting with artistic effervescence, Federico Mompou (1893–1987) never identified himself as a composer, but rather as a musician. Rejecting Schoenberg’s serialism, he was much more interested in the styles of Scriabin and the nationalists Granados, de Falla and Albéniz. A poet of the piano and a master of harmonies that constantly fluctuate between consonance and dissonance, allowing chords to be imperfect, his unique voice is best appreciated when “solitude itself becomes music,” as he explained himself in the preface to Música callada.
The grandson of a bellfounder, Mompou integrated allusions to this theme into several of his works. For instance, the inspiration for “La fuente y la campana” (The Fountain and the Bell), from his collection Paisajes, came on a warm evening in 1942 spent with his fiancée, the young pianist Carmen Bravo. After a concert given at the Palau de la Música Catalana, the young lovers strolled Barcelona’s magnificent Gothic Quarter. Resting on the edge of a fountain in a square, they heard bells sounding midnight in the distance. In the work, somber Gs underlie a somewhat archaic melody in the minor mode. The middle section hints at the water’s murmuring, into which the previously sketched out melody melts.
“The music of Albéniz does not attempt to plead, to preach or to argue; it reshapes itself on the spot, like the forms and colours in a kaleidoscope; it is a song and a dance, but the song casts a spell, and the dance, though it does not move, changes constantly,” summarized Vladimir Jankélévitch. Far from wishing to distance himself from the land where he grew up, Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909) embraced the exuberant vitality of crowds, the agitation of mass gatherings, and the humble music of the street. In his tangos, as in his habaneras and other dances, he revisits and binds age-old tunes to old-fashioned sentimentality, channelling them into a new folk music that is Spanish to the core.
Seville native Joaquín Turina (1882–1949) was a friend and protégé of Albéniz. He studied with Vincent d’Indy and Moritz Moszkowski, and he wrote some of his most inspired works for piano. These include his Danzas gitanas, whose rhythms and harmonies—at times harsh and raw and at others extremely subtle—paint highly expressive pictures. “Zambra,” not devoid of a certain nostalgia on occasion, takes up the idea of a party, with dance and song. “Danza de la seducción” is in turns languid, sinuous, feverish, and tender; while “Danza ritual” reveals a more tempered, almost stoic mood. The perpetual motion of “Generalife,” a portrait of the summer palace of Granada’s Nasrid sultans, is punctuated with hemiolas reminiscent of the polo Gitano. The cycle concludes with “Sacro-Monte,” an area famous for its caves where Gypsies dance the flamenco.
Soleá was composed in 1982 by Tomás Marco (born in 1942 in Madrid) for the centenary of Turina’s birth. Though he studied with Stockhausen, Ligeti and Adorno in Darmstadt, by the 1970s he nevertheless favoured a return to Spanish nationalism. Generally accompanied by solo guitar, the soleá is one of the most important flamenco forms (or “palos”). Its golden age was the late 19th century, when musicians and dancers performed in the cafés cantantes. Out of this form, Marco has fashioned a dramatic work that bridges tradition and modernity.
Though he has lived in Montreal since 1970, José Evangelista was born in Valencia in 1943 and holds the sonorities of his native land close to his heart. However, he does not hesitate to cross them with those of the Indonesian gamelan, the Western avant-garde, or the Middle Ages. By exploring melodies and the echoes they create to form the illusion of polyphony, his Nuevas monodías españolas is a revisiting of 21 traditional Spanish melodies, primarily Castilian work and love songs, dances, lullabies and anecdotes. The composer points out: “As with my first collection [Monodías españolas, from 1988, also recorded by Louise Bessette], I took two things into consideration: first, the many traditional Spanish melodies that are still performed as monody, with various rhythmic aspects their only accompaniment; and second, the fact that many of these melodies are imbued with modal characteristics that are hard to reconcile with tonal language. Hence, my versions of these melodies use neither harmony nor counterpoint, and I have instead tried to explore a pianistic style that focuses on changes of register and on ornamentation. The goal is to create the illusion that several voices are simultaneously performing slight variations of the same melody in different
The crossroads of varied and even contradictory emotions, Spain remains without a doubt as multi-faceted as the gazes cast upon it. How, after all, could one use only a few words to describe a beloved face?