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ClassicsOnline Home » BACRI, N.: Piano Music (Reyes) - Piano Sonata No. 2 / Diletto classico / Prelude et Fugue / L'Enfance de l'art
Described as ‘simply inspired’ by La Nouvelle Revue Française, the music of award-winning French composer Nicolas Bacri defies trends or categorization. He uses familiar forms to create personal narratives both lyrical and witty in the Diletto classico, and his palette ranges from the dramatic, expressive and powerful Second Sonata to the gently evocative L’Enfance de l’Art. The ‘poetic sensitivity and deftness’ (American Record Guide on 8.572266) of Eliane Reyes’ playing has made her the dedicatee of numerous works by Bacri.
Nicolas Bacri (b. 1961)
In his book Notes étrangères, Nicolas Bacri reflects on his position as a composer today and makes the following statement:
“My music is not neo-Classical, it is Classical, for it retains the timeless aspect of Classicism: the rigour of expression.
My music is not neo-Romantic, it is Romantic, for it retains the timeless aspect of Romanticism: the density of expression.
My music is Modernist, for it retains the timeless aspect of Modernism: the broadening of the field of expression.
My music is Postmodern, for it retains the timeless aspect of Postmodernism: the mixture of techniques of expression.”
He may perhaps have begun to develop this independence of spirit as far back as 1979 while studying with composer Louis Saguer (1907–91), a man of subtle but freely inspired and individual creative powers. Bacri also trained at the Paris Conservatoire (1980–83), studying composition with Serge Nigg and Michel Philippot, analysis with Claude Ballif and orchestration with Marius Constant. Between 1983 and 1985 he was in residency at the Villa Medici in Rome. Bacri himself still sees seven of the works he wrote in this early period (1980 to 1987) as a key part of his production. Composed in the wake of the post-serial avant-garde of the day, these include his First Symphony, dedicated to Elliott Carter.
Indications of a Postmodern approach began to appear in his Cello Concerto (1985–87), dedicated to Henri Dutilleux, and his Symphony No. 2 “Sinfonia dolorosa” (1986/88/90). Bacri abandoned the exclusive use of atonality and broadened his style in a spirit of synthesis, taking into account the potential riches to be mined from the attraction and repulsion of sounds in a tonal field extended to take in all modal scales. He also places great importance on the “directionality” of music, seeing it as an elemental aspect of perception. This is why he places particular emphasis on form, as a means not only of rigorously organising materials but of regulating the flow of expressive contrasts. “I love the idea that the listening experience may metamorphose as the music is interpreted on two different levels, one emotional, one intellectual, the two feeding into one another.”
The Prelude and Fugue, Op. 91, composed in Bayonne in September for the Fourth Pontoise International “Piano Campus” competition, is dedicated to fellow composer René Maillard. Like Shostakovich before him, Bacri here proves that the Baroque form that reached its apogee with Bach’s harpsichord and organ works, remains fertile ground for a composer’s imagination and invention, even in the 21st Century. The Prelude, in a sparkling C major, acts as an introduction and is inextricably linked to the Fugue in that it sketches out the head of its subject. The four-part exposition in the fugue reveals a highly expressive subject, and the interest of the musical discourse lies in the subsequent use of this and its fragments as well as in the variety of ways in which it is presented. Shortly before the end, the tempo halves. The music then takes on a lyrical aspect, before a resounding C major conclusion on a rhythmic figure derived from the end of the subject.
Sonata No. 2, written in Brussels in 2007 (revised 2008/10), is dedicated to pianist Julien Quentin, who gave the première of the original. The final version was first performed by Eliane Reyes. When the score was published, Bacri added the words “in memoriam Kenneth Leighton”, in homage to the remarkable Scottish composer, who had written: “During my thirties, I was very worried about being up-to-date, using serial techniques and anything else that was going but this does not bother me now.” – words with which Bacri could certainly sympathise. Requiring great virtuosity of its performer, the Second Piano Sonata is a work full of both fire and emotion and, like Liszt’s Sonata, is made up of several sections to be played without breaks. Its tremendous sense of unity stems from the fact that so many of the materials used in the different sections refer back to a single source: two themes set out at the beginning of the work in the contemplative and sorrowful Adagio doloroso.
At the heart of the Sonata is a Scherzo which, with its sarcastic trills, broken rhythms, breathless tempo and contrasting registers, is both sombre and alarming. The ideas laid out at the start incorporate musical elements taken from the themes of the opening movement and lead to a broad development with wild and hectic hammered-out accents. In the middle, acting as a trio, there suddenly appears a modified version of the first, desolate theme from the opening Adagio, before a reprise of the Scherzo but with a shorter development section. The finale introduces a theme which resembles a fugue subject but is, in fact, simply another aspect of the Adagio’s first theme in a totally different rhythmic guise. A central episode in 5/8 is derived from the second subject. The return of the subject is interrupted by a brief slow passage in which the left hand plays the opening theme in its original rhythmic form, surrounded by trills and chromatic arabesques in the right hand, before a conclusion based on each of the two themes in turn.
Diletto classico, Op.100, (in English, “Classical Delight”, a title that points to the piece’s mischievous nature), comprises three autonomous “notebooks”: Suite baroque, Sonatina classica and Arioso barocco e fuga monodica. This pastiche, while “essentially humorous”, is nonetheless an opportunity for Bacri, as in his Symphony No.4 (Symphonie classique “Sturm und Drang”), to “question himself about his musical roots”. “Unlike a stylistic exercise, whose only aim is to imitate,” he has written, “the pastiche is an attempt to improve one’s own style by paying tribute to an earlier form of expression.” The character and style of the pieces in the Suite baroque (2006–07) make it an obvious descendant of the old masters’ suites, but the Sonatina classica (2007), despite its sonata-form opening movement, has some surprises in store, with its final Fuga diatonica and, above all, its central Gavotte, a dance that had fallen into neglect in the days of Viennese Classicism. The latter is evidently a tribute to Prokofiev, a composer Bacri admires and who included a Gavotte rather than a scherzo or a minuet in his own “Classical” Symphony. The Arioso barocco e fuga monodica a due voci (2006) sums up the overall collection, with its two elements situated at either end of the historical lesson the composer wanted to take from “Baroque-leaning Classicism”: “the Arioso barocco borders on a stylistic exercise whereas the Fuga monodica represents the appropriation of an aesthetic principle, while drastically limiting its possible stylistic consequences”. As well as the fugue’s being a contrapuntal tour de force (one has the constant impression of hearing two parts despite the fact that two different sounds are never played simultaneously), this is the most personal piece in the collection, and a fine illustration of what Bacri calls “atemporal Classicism”.
The Deux Esquisses lyriques, Op.103, (Two Lyrical Sketches), are character pieces in Romantic, nationalist style. Conte russe (Russian Tale, 2006) is lyrical and intimate, while Paysage scandinave (Scandinavian Landscape, 2007) is nostalgic and sentimental.
The final works on this album are some of the composer’s earliest, dating from the period 1976 to 1979. The title L’Enfance de l’Art (The Childhood of Art) perfectly conjures up both the youthful period in which the pieces in this collection were written and the composer’s first steps in the field of composition. The influence of the Second Viennese School is discernible but it is also clear that he has moved beyond it, to the benefit of a timeless lyricism which, since the post-serial period of the 1980s, has seemingly become his music’s defining characteristic.
The Petit Prélude is a very short work written in 1978 and revised in 2003, while the seven Petites variations sur un thème dodécaphonique (Short Variations on a Twelve-tone Theme) were composed in Paris in September 1979. Their theme is generated from a three-note cell and shows that it is possible to write music full of poetry, whatever the language may be, as long as it possesses lyricism. The work is dedicated to one of the best French composers of the twentieth century, the twelve-tone pioneer Serge Nigg.
© 2010 Gérald Hugon
Translated by Susannah Howe
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