PATRICK DE CLERCK
Quatuor Danel Plays
Performer Quatuor Danel, J-M Bardeche
CD MDC 7866 20€ / order
About PATRICK DE CLERCK
Quatuor Danel Plays
Patrick De Clerck To Patrick De Clerck music is an essential and even indispensable part of life. Music is breath, the breath of life. Music brings life and links the mundane world to the higher world. Thus music is divine; it makes it possible to reach everything. Music imbues and changes the human being, it purifies the air. It brings about refinement and catharsis. Music is a cult, and every piece of music is a ritual. Patrick De Clerck’s music moves in the cult-like atmosphere of Giacinto Scelsi. It displays a penetrating religiosity and, sometimes, a melancholic resignation like the music of Arvo Part.
Since his first work, the opera Re of 1988, which wanted to express “a desire and a striving for authenticity and genuineness”, the cult has been built ritual by ritual, composition by composition in a huge overall concept. The main goal is to link of mundane and the ethereal, the terrestrial and the superterrestrial worlds. At the tangent of these areas conflicts may rise between the orientation towards the superterrestrial and the burden of everyday reality. Five years after Re, Patrick De Clerck is still equally obsessed with this problem. At the basis of the scenic cantata Angelo lie seven sonnets by Michelangelo. “These sonnets deeply touched me when I read them. They showed deep sadness, which according to me sprang from a pure soul, who gave himself to the higher and who dreaded that his life, his ideas and his work might not reach the highest level.” Fear, the primitive fear of failure, is inextricably bound up with the cult of the absolute. The inaccessibility of the absolute brings about anguish, nostalgia and sadness. In the extreme, that cult might well lead to a kind of “culture of complaint”, if the absolute is definitively accepted as inaccessible and the mundane, as the only accessible end. In spite of a large degree of sadness in his music, Patrick De Clerck certainly does not drown in a culture of complaint. The music of Des Passions, a theatre piece by Thierry Salmon, after Dostoevsky’s The Devils, had to turn “towards God, towards a mental state, towards a search for the good, towards a better life. I would like this music to have a pure and transparent simplicity, turned towards the higher and leave this dark and humid world; I would like God, if he exists and hears this music, to fill himself with devotion.”
De Clerck’s striving for the absolute springs neither from an obstinate modernist point of view nor from the blind belief in progress in the continuation of Enlightenment. But he is certainly not a child of his time, a postmodernist who has relativized every absolute. His absolute is his belief in man and the higher. The cult of music is a cult of admiring the higher with the acceptance of its inaccessibility. The musical performance is the ritual of turning towards the higher world, the ritual of linking the terrestrial and superterrestrial worlds.
The expression of ideas can easily take place through an opera, a cantata or a lied, where the text acts as a support to the ideas. This is much less obvious with the pieces of chamber music in question. The sounds of the strings and the piano will be integrated within the cult. Therefore Patrick De Clerck has strived towards a most intense cooperation with the musicians who perform his music.
In the Danel Quartet he has found a group of faithful fellow-workers who through a transparant rendering of the message, perform the music in an excellent manner. Therefore, one should not be surprised that the String Quartet Sferen (Spheres), ( commissioned by San Gemignano), is dedicated to the Danel quartet. In the String trio (1990) a prologue is followed by five movements. The prologue, Cinque Prospettivi, has five short musical pieces which anticipate the five parts of the work. Each of those parts elaborates an idea while alluding more or less strongly to one or more ideas from the other movements. The concept of the composition cannot be reduced to a prospective prelude followed by the unequivocal elaboration of what the prelude had announced. Here each part is related to the composition as a whole. This complex cyclical structure of the work is such that the listener keeps hesitating and asking questions. The Adagio from the first movement suddenly and promptly turns into the short and shrewd rhythm of the fourth part, the Allegro vivace. The polyphonic Lento is not always lento nor polyphonic. As a central part, the Allegretto has a simple and playful rhyme, but it lapses morendo and cantante in a lente and adagio gesture. This is also the case for the Allegro vivace (no. 4) which follows. The finale is again Lento, which causes the slow movements to prevail in the whole of the composition. The last measures are morendo and senza colore. These indications, together with the sadness and the Lento, naturally recall of the prevailing plaintive atmosphere, but the quicker parts, as they are sharp and playful, account for a considerable counterbalance.
In his String Trio De Clerck clearly shows his preference for the use of structure and concept as an important element which is more than a structural framework. The various spheres that are tangled up refer to man who finds himself balanced between his spheres, his emotions. The prologue already heralds the emotions which will be brought up in the parts that follow: in a way, they acquire their final shapes, which makes them unavoidable; mankind has indeed always wavered between the same emotions. It is in their particularly consonant and tuneful concepts and in the romantic and melancholic features of the outer movements that the lento passages acquire their voluptuous characters: the preference for the sound of the bass tessitura produced by the three strings is De Clerck’s hedonist trait. On the other hand, the concise aspect of the structure acts as a break: the short duration of each part and of each phrase within these parts never leaves the listener with an opportunity to become absorbed by a certain atmosphere, wether negative or positive. Thus, both the structure and the concept are not onlyexpressive elements but also psychologically important from an auditory point of view. There are disruptions, which prevent the listener from immersing himself in and snuggling up to music which only appears to be easy. Every sketching out remains without practical effects, there is an outright refusal of De Clerck to elaborate, achieve or finalize his work, which makes it impossible for the listener to be self-assured. There are simply a number of fractures, which in the present case end senza colore, but this part too is only a temporary finale. There only appears to be romanticism.
In the String Quartet Sferen (Spheres) (1992) the same basic elements appear: five parts with prevailing slow tempi. The first part is a Cantus & Variations which predicts the tempi of the following parts in several variations. The atmosphere of each of the parts filters into all of the others. Thus the Allegretto (no. 3) starts with some quick figures by the violin, whereas the other instruments still go on playing the Grave, lento from the previous movement before progressively reaching the actual allegretto movement. We find that same conciseness in each part, as well as the outright refusal of development which might “imbue” the listener. The central part again is the fastest one: the Allegretto is giocoso and with molto colore, as an oasis amid the sobriety of the whole. This time, the cult has chosen Pythagoras both as a starting point and as an objective. In Pythagoras’ philosophy, man and the mundane world are linked to the ideal of the cosmos through music. The music of the spheres is an ideal “consonance” which is produced by vision of a circular movement of the planets. The distances between the planets, or between their orbits, are circles, spheres, which can be reduced to simple numerical proportions (1:2:3:4:5 etc.) which are also used in music (in the natural harmonic tone the numerical proportions 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, and 4:5 respectively refer to the octave, the fifth, the fourth, and the tierce major). Pythagoras thus managed to express the cosmic order through figures. The divine cosmic order (musica mundana) is transmitted to mankind through music (musica instrumentalis). Man’s task is to apply this harmony onto himself and his environment (musica humana). Patrick De Clerck composes his music according to the Pythagorean numerical order: it is indeed the octave, the fifth and the fourth which prevail from a harmonic point of view. Patrick De Clerck equally transposes the numerical proportion 1:2:3:4:5 for the values (by respectively introducing crotchets, quavers, triolets of quavers, semiquavers and quintuplets of semiquavers). One rhythmic value then prevails in a musical phrase or passage, or the changes in rhythm – be it acceleration or deceleration – are dictated by this numerical proportion. In this music, which is mainly supported by consonance itself, the pregnancy of every dissonance is painfully and poignantly vigorous. But to De Clerck, a “dissonant” is not determined only by harmonic friction: the performance of the music without vibrato on the strings, which results in a poor timbre, also has a “dissonant” effect. The very slow and simple character of part 4, Adagio, with its accentuated, slowly descending lines represents the depressing, the failing human aspect. The striving for the cosmic world is repeatedly made audible in the high and ethereal sounds produced among other things by the flageolets in the third and fourth variations of the opening piece. These same flageolets must sound like small crystal bells in the finale, a sound which seems to reach the cosmic order – be it only for a while – through stressing the fourth, the fifth and the octave as tuneful and harmonious intervals and through the games it plays with the proportions described above.
The explicit character of cult and rhythm are deepened even more strongly and concretely in his String Quartet Sferen (Spheres) than in his String Trio.
In the most recent composition on the CD, the Piano Quintet of 1993 dedicated to Juliette Danel ( commissioned by the Association Rencontres Anjou Musique), this tendency towards explicit formulation is continued. Whereas the Trio and the Quartet could easily be considered abstract music, this is certainly not true for the Piano Quintet. This latest composition is explicitly expressive, the five parts of which confirm the already ‘classical’ structural conception of Patrick De Clerck. The fast and low tempi balance each other, the positive and negative poles are equivalent. The culture of complaint has given way to confidence in the future. Emotion and expressivity are far more extreme in the Quintet. Extreme works in two directions. On the one hand, the simple language is consistently pursued to a few meagre, scanty moments of pain. There is not one superfluous note; the angles and harshness are deliberate. On the other hand, the phrases con espressione and con colore sound hopeful and comforting. The music maintains its harshness until it lapses, when the dissonant voices lose every contact with each other (part no. 2), where anger and exasperation turn into fury, like in the consistently morbid passages of Alfred Schnittke; while, the passages con calma e espressione (e.g. in part no. 2, right before the lapse) show less sadness than reserve, they are less melancholic than sustained. There are certain passages alluding to dance which do never actually work and fall into sugariness (e.g. the end of part no. 1); they are sometimes looking for a rounded cadence without finding it (part no. 3, the solo for piano which reminds of Conlon Nancarrow), and they sometimes present ironic situations like in Bela Bartok’s work (beginning of part no. 5) as there are quotations and allusions which substantially increase the expression’s intensity. The sadness of the Bach motive (B-A-C-H or B flat, C, A, B) is confronted with the humble prayer for a little love, incarnated in Wagner’s Tristan (part no. 4). A phrase from Beethoven’s Pathétique was subject to the building of a climax (part no. 2). Not only did Patrick De Clerck accept the ideas of elaboration and construction, even in the various canons, but the concise aspect, the planes of fracture and the broken episodes were also retained. The predominant idea constituting the principle of variation, which Patrick De Clerck had already used in the String Trio, is to observe the major motive from all its angles. The part no. 4 is the most suggestive and expressive one and constitutes the central part of the Quintet. It develops into a bell-like sound, which is maintained in canon throughout the last phase and dominates the part no. 5, the finale. The bells are a leitmotiv, the expression of hope, in Arvo Part’s work. Here too the bells are symbols of hope. The finale displays a constant rise around Bach’s closed motive which the piece alludes to – without quoting it literally, however. This constant rise leads to a canon, which changes into obstinacy and obsession before ending in a bell-like sound. This finale, Andante energico, shows that Patrick De Clerck’s world is on the move, that the distance between the mundane and the higher worlds is getting smaller, and that his vision of the future is full of hope and confidence.
The last composition on the CD, Già, for piano and violin (1993, 3rd version) confirms everything written above. It is a lighthearted little piece, which could serve as a finale for each of the three previous parts. It spontaneously and powerfully relativizes and objectifies the other works. It is a capriccio, which under a certain kind of ‘madness’ accepts the mundane world and experiences it intensively.