COMPLETE WORKS FOR PAINO
Performer Jean-Louis Roblin et Christophe Manien48 pages & Notes in English and French
CD 7874 (2CDs) 28€ / order
About LUCIEN GUERINEL
COMPLETE WORKS FOR PAINO
Megadisc Classics: How did you come to have the idea of working on Lucien Guérinel’s piano works in view of a recording?
Jean-Louis Roblin: From a pleasantry I had made during a meal, about his ‘complete works’. He seized the opportunity to reply: ‘Well then, it’s you I entrust with doing everything I’ve written for piano’.
From a pleasantry seized as an opportunity…
Lucien Guérinel: But the immediacy did not come just by coincidence, which we must correct out of esteem and friendship, for example… And despite the great difference in our ages, our paths have grown closer over the past fifteen years. His wife, soprano Anne-Sophie Roblin-Venturelli, and he had asked me to write them a song cycle, which was first performed in Élancourt, and Jean-Louis has performed several of my piano pieces in various concerts. It goes without saying that I am extremely grateful for his free involvement in this recording project.
Megadisc Classics: Tell us about what it contains.
Jean-Louis Roblin: Concert pieces, including one for two pianos, two Inscriptions
(in memory of famous composers: Debussy and Ohana, the latter for four hands),
so-called pedagogical pieces or, in any case, for children.
Etudes – Preludes – Chants, Espaces
The Two Etudes, which are some of the earliest, are dissimilar: the first (Gravitations) turns round middle C, either in short, very fast elements, or in veritable harmonic crawling, interspersed with more spread-out episodes, more liquid, if we might say, and all that concludes in the mystery of the newfound C, surrounded by short palpitations and inscribed in a low harmony above which a very high augmented fourth rings, as if foreign.
The second, Focales (Focal Lengths), poses problems, it must be said, owing to its strange technical difficulty, which brings to mind the second movement of Boulez’s Sonata No. 1 or his Incises. So, in this etude, the constant opposition in the motion of the two hands is already a fearsome test, the rapidity of the overall tempo nonetheless requires reasoning, and the final densification of runs is pitiless. In short, your fiery pianism borders on the unachievable!
Lucien Guérinel: Yet you achieve it! However, I recognise that this etude falls within the province of madness, as if I had wanted to prove that I could write something even more difficult than what the ‘greats’ have proposed to us. Ah, youth!
J-LR: Your Preludes, which, for all that, are not trifles, are more accessible. One generally expects them in sets of 12 or 24, but you stop at eight; only Messiaen and Frank Martin have done like you.
LG: But there is also the case of Scriabin: after the 24 of Opus 11, he isolated two (Opus 27), then five (Opus 74), but there it was because he had no more time before being carried off by illness, as we know. As for me, I had thought of a 3 x 8, but I left it at that.
J-LR: We’re not going to go through them one by one. Suffice to say, they are particularly varied: the 2nd, subtitled ‘homage to Scriabin’, is static; it proceeds by stages without moving, evoking the harmony so characteristic of that composer but without tacking it on. The 4th takes up the idea of the pole note of your 1st Etude, this time on a C# but in a completely different atmosphere, and each of the others has its own gesture and colour.
Concerning Chants, Espaces for two pianos, the title seems enigmatic to me. The density of these pieces’ texture makes me forget the word ‘chants’ (songs) of the title, specifically in the third movement, which contrasts a very fast moto perpetuo, broad chords, and groups of fast notes. In other words, the place of the songs seems quite incomplete, but I’m doubtless missing something. As for the word ‘espaces’ (spaces or areas), the density to which I’ve just alluded seems sufficiently explicit to justify the plural of this word…
LG: You’re right. My title raises questions. Might I dare say I used it because I liked it? Moreover, it was a time when I favoured these titles in two juxtaposed words. But if Songe, Mouvement designates states, the juxtaposition of ‘chants’ and ‘espaces’ can leave room for enigma. I’ll begin at the end: the third piece was added later, and I didn’t feel up to changing the title. As for the first two (and I do believe I found the title before beginning), it seemed that the spaces were there, which, moreover, is the criterion of a work for two pianos; they seem to enlarge the space of a single keyboard, which is already quite sizeable… The ‘chants’, obviously, do not appear in the recognised flesh, collected and deployed, of a whole musical universe crossing the diverse aesthetic dispositions of successive periods. I quite willingly acknowledge that. In spite of all, it seemed to me that they could be received as such, in these characteristic phrases that ‘detach themselves’ from the constant assaults of the surrounding mass. Might I (again) dare say that this could evoke what one hears from the voices in Stravinsky’s Les Noces, they too on the characteristic supports that make this vocal ambiance? In truth, I hadn’t thought about that at all, but it seems to me that the broad hindsight I have today might make me think that. I hasten to point out that it is only an evocation, and a distant one at that. And who would dare pretend to be similar to a Stravinsky?
There remains the central piece that begins, admittedly, with a… singularly dislocated melody, as if quartered, but which, in its way, brings together what makes one think of a constant… cantando. But, shh! I’m off.
J-LR: And why did you wait so long before writing for the piano?
LG: Quite simply because I was afraid. After everything that has been written for it up to the 20th century, you have to admit that we are invited to abstain. And then, my fear was reinforced because the piano is the sole instrument I played: the paradox is only apparent. It was the Pleyel from the 1930s (like me) that gave me new courage: magnificent basses (for a baby grand), a one-of-a-kind una corda (I have never found this really felt-like sensation anywhere else), displays of singularly perceptible harmonics. I had acquired it shortly before these Chants, Espaces. Certainly, I had an equally flattering sensation seated before a fine Steinway of the Lyrinx label, to which I had been granted access one Sunday and on which I wrote my 4th Prelude. But that’s another story.
Pour un enfant et un piano – Douze micro-études – Douze petites pièces pour enfant
J-LR: Skimming through the two cycles of children’s pieces, one notices that, for a child, playing some of them is not all that easy, at least for a novice pianist such as we encounter most often in our conservatories. Some pieces present rather wide spreads, others comprise dangerous displacements. Did you have any particular pedagogical objectives when writing these pieces?
LG: Yes and no: yes, because one can always propose to children (I am thinking of an age bracket between 9 and 13) who are already fairly advanced in their piano study, a few gestures to resolve delicate situations that familiarise with…. what follows. No, for the reason that one can write for children without asking them to ‘go on stage’; I still believe in childlike perceptibility, open to a word that is in a position to concern it. Finally, yes again, with Micro-études, which clearly have this objective, specified before each of them.
J-LR: So, little etudes. It’s true that there has been a substantial output of large etudes aimed at work on all sorts of difficulties, and according to the evolution of the pianistic language, naturally, up to Ligeti’s present-day Etudes. Yours, which can nonetheless fall into the category of concert works, are in no way meant to compete, which does not prevent them, in their microcosm, from remaining etudes.
These pieces, indeed quite brief, have precise objectives (crossings, large chords, strict tempo, sense of phrasing…), which were not necessarily evoked in known etudes…
…little etudes must have the spirit of a game and be brief to be forgiven a bit.
LG: …and which do not make them technically simple pieces. But I insist on the fact that they nonetheless all have the spirit of a game, since play is the very essence of childhood. This notion is essential in music and, consequently, it must be brief to be forgiven a bit.
J-LR: In Pour un enfant et un piano (For One Child and One Piano), a collection whose pedagogical intent is in no way explicit, one piece in particular drew my attention: the Bouffonnerie, which features the particularity of reconciling, in the first and last bars, consonance and dodecaphony: right hand in a 12-note row but whose theme seems almost tonal, and the left hand, which, also based on the 12 notes, plays consonant intervals in breves (thirds and sixths), all in a waltz-like character (moreover, the following piece is a Petite valse bancale [Little Lopsided Waltz], also taking up some of these processes), which gives the piece a rather unusual aspect. At that moment, did you want to reconcile or was it a matter of thumbing your nose at certain canons? The waltz being, furthermore, a genre that was in a bad way…
I keep my sense of humour, otherwise…
LG: That’s the least that can be said when you hear a contemporary composer describe it as a ‘reactionary genre’. But to answer your question, I reconcile, so I am always respectful of the choices that the others have had; I keep my sense of humour, otherwise I’d sink.
J-LR: And, at the age of 80, you again wrote Petites pieces pour enfant, which make up a sort of layout of very diverse inflexions!
LG: Yes, my grandchildren are already of marrying age, and so it is to the great-grandchildren I don’t yet have that I am speaking.
J-LR: As you said, those who ‘are not yet going onstage’, for some of your little pieces are remarkably difficult!
Songe, Movement – Chemins de ronde
Now for a few words on your large piece entitled Songe, Mouvement, which is practically an oxymoron. In fact, it seems that this title is an evocation of the quasi-regular alternation between dreamy (songeur) and turbulent passages – ‘calm sea’ and ‘tempest’, in a way. Yet, those ‘dreamy’ passages are generally underpinned by a precise assemblage of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. On one side, in the left hand, the four notes F-G-A-B sometimes form an aggregate, sometimes a set of arpeggios. The eight other notes, in the right hand, are treated almost monodically.
And all that coexists magnificently. Might this be a serial legacy, even though manhandled in the ‘turbulent’ passages – your defiance vis-à-vis dogma getting the upper hand?
LG: My defiance always gets the upper hand vis-à-vis dogma, regardless of what kind (no more question of humour here); music has also proposed a few, and it is not really that which attracted me to it. I don’t know if serialism can be compared to a dogma, i.e., it must be recalled, to that which is good; so, facing it, the bad.
the true serialists, curiously three in number – the others being only astounded admirers – left particularly starry traces…
The true Serialists, who, curiously, are three in number, like the great Trinity – the others being only astounded admirers –, left particularly starry traces…
MDC: …I’m interrupting you: who are the three true Serialists?
LG: Schönberg, Webern, Berg, the Austrians… (I resume) not so much by the systematisation of their views as by the genius peculiar to each of them, the eternal alliance between inventive intelligence and controlled sensitivity. Every system fades away by itself, at an increasing speed according to the impatience manifested today like a veritable claim. ‘The race’ – in English, of course.
So, I do my own thing, always with the same little packet of notes – I’m not the only one, to tell the truth –, and everyone tries to muddle through. You record it quite well, and, in particular, the immediate limits of what could fall into a system: a small bloc of four white keys and, around, a sort of shower with the eight others. Dream phrasing, suspended on G# (pole note); an abridged reminder of the initial diagram and new phrasing of a Lisztian nature that, despite appearances, almost falls silent before dropping one by one around the central veil, which deploys the bloc of white notes, the ‘melodic’ part resting on the G#. Then, it’s the sea, the fate of all composition, the place of all perils…
the word ‘vif’ being a noun, we are thus in the ‘heat’ of the moment
J-LR: ‘Lisztian’: that’s the word that Gilbert Amy had uttered following the competition at which you presented your work.
LG: And he had asked me to take it the right way.
J-LR: Your title Chemins de ronde (Parapet Walks) is once again unexpected. But let’s begin with the first piece: Dans le vif de l’instant, which comes from a poem by Andrée Chedid.
LG: The word ‘vif’ is a noun here, so we are in ‘the heat’ of the moment, which throws off as many sparks as necessary to venture into this space suggested by the poet.
J-LR: It is because you have a predilection for Andrée Chedid.
LG: Yes, to the point of having gone to meet her at her home one day, a moment of which I have a particularly fond memory. But the greatest contribution she allowed me was Prendre corps, a vast poem on which I wrote one of my longest works (for quartet and two women’s voices).
J-LR: Thus, the first part begins mysteriously in the lowest register of the piano then goes to the agitation that might often be described as streaming, before ending with a particularly dreamy sequence. The second, Focales et foucades (Focal Lengths and Caprices), a title by alliteration, still remaining in the ‘Heat of the Moment’, with its mood swings that bring to mind those pieces that used to be called caprices.
LG: Exactly! And although this term is barely used anymore except for certain childish behaviour, it is indeed that which speaks to us about fantasque (capricious).
J-LR: How do you inscribe your Mélodie – a highly unexpected term – in the atmosphere of these walks round the battlements?
LG: Certainly, the Chemins de ronde, devoted to war and thus to the watch, has nothing to do with the flowered balconies where the lovely ladies of Seville listened to the melodies of their lovers wafting up to them! But, after all, they were not forbidden to perceive, in the distance, some solitary silhouette, wandering, bruised, desperately seeking a voice that would respond to his distress, and to imagine that this silhouette might also have a voice that, for the time being, disappears in the night… Come on, I am, let’s say, in misinterpretation/contradiction. And moreover, that is why I collapsed one day to the point of asking you to eliminate this Mélodie. You dissuaded me with such conviction that I kept it. But if we are forbidden to express ourselves in the space of the critic – the listener –, I am nonetheless taking the risk of saying that your way of attacking this unusual Mélodie, in the perfect spirit of the little text that I insisted on inscribing on the score as to the agogic, supports your conviction perfectly. Thankfully, an interpreter is never a galley slave.
J-LR: It must also be said that Mélodie resorts to tonal pedal effects starting from groups of low sounds prepared in silence, which, when the time comes, deploy harmonics blending with the melody itself to offer it, in a way, a harmonic setting or, more precisely, a glittering that is increasingly present towards the final moments.
The work ends on a real chord: the lowest A under the highest C: as you yourself said, we finish ‘arms wide stretched’…
LG: Just another word on this melody that experiences the riskiest colorature since the piano has the advantage over the human voice of having a much wider range! We must not forget that this is an instrumental song. A lost silhouette greatly needs to vociferate to increase its chances of being heard…
J-LR: Like a good number of your illustrious forebears, here you have written fine homages. Now certain 17th-century composers (Froberger, Louis Couperin…) wrote tombeaux, an idea later taken up by Ravel for his Tombeau de Couperin. In the 20th century, we then composed ‘homages’ (in France, La Revue Musicale strongly contributed to this). Today, you write ‘inscriptions’. Is it to take up the idea of the tombeau, a sort of epitaph?
a lost silhouette indeed needs to vociferate to increase its chances of being heard
Moreover, certain composers paying homage to others go about it in various ways. Either they write ‘à la manière de…’ (Arthur Honegger’s L’hommage à Ravel); they textually quote a motif, a theme or a whole passage (Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje ‘Le tombeau de Claude Debussy’); or they write an absolutely personal piece whose meditative atmosphere is like a humble bow. (There also exist, however, several rather mocking tributes by Kurtág or Ligeti, for example). It seems to me that you are between the first and third ideas, knowing that I haven’t detected a quotation in your pieces that might have escaped me.
LG: Nothing escapes you. There is no quotation in these Inscriptions. Your reference to ‘a meditative atmosphere is like a humble bow’ suits me perfectly. It is indeed as if one affixed a small marble plaque (because of the rain) on which is inscribed a word echoing the timbre of a loved one’s voice. We don’t copy, we don’t quote, but the echo must be in tune with that timbre. The homage is contained in this very small space.
J-LR: Let us recall that the Inscription pour Maurice Ohana is written for four hands and that it has already been recorded on CD1 , like Songe, Movement, Chants, Espaces and Eight Preludes2 .
Jeu mémoire – 4 Pièces vraiment petites
J-LR: Jeu mémoire (Memory Game) is, according to your foreword, a competition piece rooted in a work by Johann Sebastian Bach. Indeed, you chose the subject of the Fugue in A minor from the 2nd Book of the Well-tempered Clavier. And in your piece
we find, in particular, the first four notes of this subject, treated in various ways, along with the second rhythmic motif. However, this playing with memory, even though the piece is relatively contemplative, does not seem to be an homage in the style of your two Inscriptions. This is perhaps owing to the temporal and stylistic gap separating you from Bach, whereas it is more reduced with Debussy and even more with Ohana.
LG: The foreword that you mention is found at the top of the score, to clearly explain that this reference to Bach was imposed by the rules of this Japanese composition competition. And that it was indeed respected…
But, as for the rest, which never lasts more than four minutes, I played truant – more play than memory. Nonetheless, a figure tinkles, on three occasions, ‘from somewhat far away’, ‘like bells’, discreetly saluting Bach’s memory. And that will come back at the
very end, in a register widened towards the upper end. My ‘bells’ return to the distance, near Köthen, in a range of slightly more than six octaves.
(1) Inscription pour Maurice Ohana, in Regards sur la Musique Française, piano à quatre mains, Joël Rigal – Anne-Marie Ghirardelli, CD De Plein Vent, DPV 07133
(2) Songe, Mouvement, Huit Préludes, Philippe Gueit, et Chants, Espaces, Vladimir Plkeshakov et Elena Winther, CD l’Empreinte Digitale, EDI 3058.
J-LR: So the [fugue] subject is well hidden…
LG: …and is not discerned if you haven’t been informed about it.
J-LR: You have to admit that your reverie – for that is what it is, isn’t it? – is quite far from the style of that period, and the word ‘gap’ that I’ve just used is a minimum…
LG: I’m not ‘inscribing’ anything here, even though Bach remains ‘dear to every musical heart’, as Romain Rolland wrote about the Fugue in B flat minor from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier. You are familiar with Emil Ciorans’s quote: ‘Without Bach, God would be a complete second-rate figure…’
J-LR: And then here is a rather unusual title: Quatre Pièces vraiment petites (4 Truly Little Pieces)! Joking seems to be present, along with concision. The playing time of each piece varies from 1’20 to 1’50. That’s not much but already more than a good number of other pieces. As for the pleasantry, it seems that the alternation of fusées and rests in Fantasque (capricious), the regular punctuation of the outer notes in Folâtre (frolicsome) and the gusts of the Finale indeed play with the contrasts in moods – yours, perhaps, and, doubtless, the performer’s. Only Feuillet (page) seems quite peaceful in the midst of these follies. Moreover, each title begins with an F. Did you want an alliteration? Ravel himself had wanted it concerning this Pavane pour une infante défunte…
LG: Of course. And then I wrote these four little pieces for Philippe Rauzy, who comes up from Lyon every year to tune my piano. And who does it so well! If I added this useless ‘vraiment’, it was indeed to mock myself a bit.
On the other hand, I did not add ‘d’album’ to Feuillet because that seemed obvious to me. As for the ‘f’s of the three other pieces, they are like flashes in the pan, which nonetheless require a certain vigilance on behalf of the performer. Controlled amusement, in a way.
‘Without Bach, God would be a complete second-rate figure.’ (Cioran)
MDC: In the pieces for two pianos and four hands you are accompanied by Christophe Manien.
J-LR: I met Christophe Manien in 1991 (so that goes back to the last century!) on the occasion of a training session we were doing with the pianist Marie-Paule Siruguet. Two months later, we both entered her class at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory. It was the opportunity for us to do our first four-hand attempts, accompanying the dance class’s show with Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants. We graduated from the Boulogne Conservatory four years later with our premiers prix. Subsequently, our paths diverged but, having similar centres of interest, namely accompaniment and, more specifically, vocal accompaniment, we again found ourselves as students, both at the Paris Conservatoire where we earned our graduate training degrees, in particular in Serge Zapolsky’s Choral Conducting class (Christophe having previously taken Anne Grapotte’s Vocal Accompaniment class). When the project of recording Lucien Guérinel’s piano works, which include a work for two pianos and another for piano four hands, was presented to me, I immediately suggested that Christophe be my partner, given the complementarity of our playing, doubtless due to our shared artistic history.
MDC: And your career?
J-LR: Subsequently, along with my activities as a vocal coach at the Saint-Maur-des-Fossés Conservatory, I collaborate as an extra musician or pianist répétiteur with marvellous groups such as the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, the Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Accentus Chamber Choir. But I have always had an intense solo activity, sometimes even taking up certain challenges (a complete Ravel cycle in a single concert – for which I received precious advice from Roger Muraro –, or combining Ligeti’s Etudes and the Liszt Sonata). To that are added collaborations with contemporary composers: Lucien Guérinel, of course, as well as György Kurtág, Eric Lebrun, Régis Campo… Moreover, I am a keyboard fanatic, playing the organ and harpsichord, or the harmonium, celesta, pianoforte, which allows me to frequent other repertoires.
MDC: And this portrait?
LG: This photo by Bruno Comtesse, chosen for the booklet, proposes, without any competitive intention, planes where you can discern this staging of ages that naturally orders things, certainly, but above all, fixes the depth (depth of field obliges…) of the affective relations between the ages, through listening to the world so simply brought together. The photographer’s gesture is always attached to such delicate weighings.
MDC: And you went to a painter’s to choose a drawing, a photographic visual in black and white to illustrate the jacket. Why?
LG: Because the drawing also falls within the ‘forces of Nature’, as is the case with Gérard Venturelli. And his, to be specific, seemed to me to suggest some silhouette of a pianist before his keyboard…
MDC: Just one more word or, rather, a question: You would doubtless like to answer the one that would not be asked?
LG: The temptation is real, but I must behave myself and stay on the side of the music alone. Thus, no one has ever asked me what I liked best! And if I were to respond: ‘But everything!’, it would be like a pirouette. So? Gesualdo’s Moro, lasso, al mio duolo, which begins with a common chord of C# major in the 16th century? One or another sonata by Domenico Scarlatti? The Et incarnatus est from the B minor Mass? The introduction of Haydn’s Creation? The Adagio from Mozart’s K.488? Beethoven’s Opus 81a or his ‘Moonlight’ (a miraculous accompaniment formula)? Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben? The Brahms Intermezzi? Tristan? Bruckner’s last three adagios? That of Mahler’s Ninth? Nearly all Debussy and Ravel? Fauré’s Après un rêve? Verdi’s Otello? Scriabin’s 9th Sonata? Strauss’s Salome? The Franck Quintet? A few highly moving pages of Puccini? Szymanowski’s Szecherezada? Adoration de la Terre (4 bars!) and, linked, Danse de la Terre, the most gripping piece of modern music, which nothing has surpassed since (Stravinsky, or his own sacre3 )? Almost all Bartók? Peter Grimes and
the War Requiem? The best of Shostakovich? And then a whole group of composers, regarded and thus listened to at a distance, alas. And who would go think that I don’t
(3) Translator’s note: ‘sacre’ as in Le Sacre du printemps means ‘rite’ but here Guérinel plays on the other definition, being ‘coronation’.
like those I haven’t mentioned? Or else, that I don’t shake hands, in friendship and admiration, with some of my contemporaries? Have I left anything out?
‘After having listened to a melody like that, you could kick yourself for not having found it yourself!’
MDC: Writing and poetry in echoes of your music. Have you always written?
LG: Oh, nice question! I had even begun to write a story in the style of Jules Verne, when I was 10 or 12, and it was only much later, just before I hit thirty, that I tried my hand at poetry. That resulted in a few slim volumes up until recently. Then I kept some ‘Notules’, a ‘Sentiment des choses’, up to ‘Conjugales’. Very little, in truth, perhaps for nothing. But I’m attached to them. To my mind, the phrase remains the temple. That is where one finds (or doesn’t find) the best of our overall approaches, to life, to the world. And then the words, these dear children that should forever remain children – bearers of promises, doubtless of the sole spontaneous reaction — and which are always one step ahead of music. Ah, this setting to music, which has continued to propagate misunderstandings, whereas it is the least questionable consecration of a
language. This should be the sole gathering for a universal reconciliation. ‘Let us dream, it is time,’ said the poet. I dream, at least. Isn’t the adjective ‘disenchanted’ the most sombre? And, a contrario, when you were introduced to someone, already so long ago, you said ‘enchanted’, and not ‘hello’… Who does not have, in his heart, the divine song Après un rêve that Fauré found, on words that did not expect such a flight? Henry Barraud exclaimed: ‘After having listened to a melody like that, you could kick yourself for not having found it yourself!’
Paris, 27 September 2016
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle