Release Date: 1983
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Producers: Hanno Rinke / Wolfgang Mitlehner
Recording place: Hochschule für Musik, Munich
Total playing time: CD [52:11]
Copyright: © 1983 Deutsche Grammophon
— RAVEL & PROKOFIEV
Maurice Ravel composed his cycle for piano Gaspard de la Nuit in 1908, at the same time as he was working on his opera L’ Heure espagnole. There is an affinity between the psyches of Gaspard and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, while the execution of the nocturnal hauntings demands a virtuosity such as Ravel never otherwise asked for from a pianist, comparable to Liszt’s Gnomenreigen or Paganini Etudes, or to Dukas’ Rameau Variations. The subject of the pieces derives from three poems by Aloysius Bertrand (1807–41), which were published in 1835 under the title Gaspard de la Nuit, Fantaisies a la memoire de Rembrandt et de Callot, The Lorrainese engraver Jacques Callot (1592–1635) was also invoked by E.T.A. Hoffmann in the title of his earliest collection of stories, Phantasiestiicke in Callots Manier. The first piece, “Ondine”, is about the legendary water nymph who falls unhappily in love with a mortal and finally returns beneath the waves, the motion of which is pictured in the movement of the music. The second, “Le Gibet” (The gibbet), evokes another picture with the sound of a bell tolling from the walls of a town in the background, while the skeleton of a hanged man is coloured red by the setting sun. The third piece, “Scarbo”, is a portrait of a dwarf, a goblin who is everywhere and nowhere, who is to be seen in the midnight sky, who lurks in a dark corner of the room, grinning and sniggering, spinning round on one foot. Here the affinity is with Kafka’s “Odradek” – and above all with “Gnomus” (The gnome) from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a work which made musical portrayals of this kind one of the staples of late Romantic piano music.
After a break of 16 years, Prokofiev returned to the piano sonata in about 1939, when, under the influence of Romain Rolland’s Beethoven, he wrote three sonatas – the Sixth, the Seventh and the Eighth – simultaneously: if he got stuck with one, he worked on the others. His brilliant early sonatas, nos. 1–5, had been written between 1909 and 1923, some of them while he was still at the Conservatory. Their style was at once virtuoso and “barbaric”, showing scant respect for tradition, and they got the precocious young composer talked about even before the Russian Revolution, at the evening concerts for young artists promoted by the civic authorities in Moscow – where, however, the prevailing taste was for a very different, late Romantic, Scriabinesque style. In his autobiography Prokofiev portrays himself as a musical equivalent of Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus, whose vigour, naivety; and innate, uncorrupted musicality drove him to challenge the assumptions of a museum culture: Futurism, after all, was in the air. He was probably the first person to apply the term “new simplicity” to his work, in about 1932. Between those early sonatas and no. 6 lay the years of emigration and his return to Russia. He resorted to essentially the same motoric language as in the early sonatas, with the same disregard for academic traditions; the manner may have been more “mature”, more concentrated, but the general direction was unchanged. The manuscript at one point has the marking “con pugno” – “with the fist” – which, as he told his friend Boris Volsky, was intended to “frighten the grandmothers”. Even during the storms which followed the decree of the Communist Party’s central committee in 1948, condemning and suppressing all forms of musical innovation, Prokofiev refused – as Shostakovich testified – to change a single note in this sonata (cf. S.S. Prokofiev: Autobiography, articles, reminiscences, ed. S. Shlifstein; trans. R. Prokofiyeva, 2nd ed. 1968). The Sixth Sonata was finished on 11 February 1940. The composer, a brilliant pianist, performed it on the radio on 8 April 1940, and its first performance in a concert hall was given by Sviatoslav Richter in Moscow on 26 November 1940.
© Detlef Gojowy / Deutsche Grammophon