Thierry Escaich (organ)
Alexander Toradze (piano)
The Mariinsky Orchestra
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Concerto No 1 for organ and orchestra
Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un faune, L 86
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
Music was made for the inexpressible...
L’Après-midi d’un faune (1894) by Claude Debussy (1862–1918) bears the secondary title of Prélude à l’églogue de Mallarmé.
In Ancient Greek and Roman and, later, European poetry an eclogue was a poem on a theme about country life, close to an idyll or a pastorale. Stéphane Mallarmé’s eclogue was initially intended for declamation, to be depicted by dance. It was an attempt to revive the Ancient tradition where the aulos-player (the aulos being an Ancient two-pipe flute), as well as playing the instrument, would also dance or move to the rhythm of the music.
In Mallarmé’s poetry Debussy was looking for the harmony and the syncretism (meaning the union of art forms) that had been lost since Ancient times.
Try then, instrument of flights, O malign
Syrinx by the lake where you await me, to flower again!
I, proud of my murmur, intend to speak at length
Of goddesses: and with idolatrous paintings
Remove again from shadow their waists’ bindings:
So that when I’ve sucked the grapes’ brightness
To banish a regret done away with by my pretence,
Laughing, I raise the emptied stem to the summer’s sky...
There survives this explanatory text, probably compiled by Debussy himself or at least with his involvement. “The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poetry. It makes absolutely no pretence at synthesis with the poetry. It is more of a series of scenes, one after another, among which one can see the faun’s desires and daydreams in the sultry heat of the afternoon. Fatigued by his pursuit of the nymphs who flee in fright, he then surrenders to an enticing sleep which is filled with dreams of the :fullness of conquering nature that have finally come to be.”
Mallarmé himself admitted that Debussy’s music conveyed his poem with great precision. When the composer played his prelude to the poet on the piano (specifically the piano, without any of the wonderful orchestral timbres!), this is what the latter said: “I never expected anything of the kind! This music is a continuation of the emotion of my poem and draws it with greater passion than any colours could ever convey.” In 1912 Vaslav Nijinsky staged L’Après-midi d’un faune for Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, he himself performing the lead role. Debussy had the good fortune to see the ballet performed.
The Piano Concerto occupies a special place in the composer’s legacy – it turned a new page in Stravinsky’s creative and performing career. His first work written in the concerto genre, it was also the first opus where Stravinsky appeared before an audience as a soloist.
The incredibly bold and anti-romantic character of the idea of the concerto presupposed a predominantly “percussive” treatment of the piano and the wind instruments (moreover, double basses and percussion instruments feature in the score). Such an unusual ensemble provided the composer with an ideal model for the interaction between the timbres: according to a remark made by Stravinsky, in contrast with the percussion solo, the wind section prolonged the sound of the piano and created an effect akin to human breathing. Calling on the lofty traditions of the baroque era, the composer combined techniques of Bach and Handel with sharp differences in pitch that sound truly “à la Stravinsky” and results in a completely original composition, which stands out for its genre and stylistically diverse semantics.