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le 20 juillet 2013
To be 20 ids enough in itself and then, never mind. As long as you are 20 you can gallop and gallop again along the road of discovery. You will always find something to stop you, even to arrest you, and you will contemplate it for a while. And he is multi-rhythmic with each hand having their own tempos, till the left hand tells the right hand to slow down and maybe contemplate. The right hand obeys and a silence precedes the contemplation during which the left hand is trying to follow but can’t really, to the point of stopping completely and the right hand can start trotting along the pleasure that contemplation is bringing to it. What on earth can that right hand be contemplating. The left hand is providing some slow tempo and the right hand, once finished contemplating, goes back to its galloping like a deranged frightened rat. And nothing will stop it for sure. The left hand just has to follow and try to build some kind of harmony that the right hand evades any time it wants. It is really a good thing to be 20. You can do more or less what you want and fully follow any folly at all.
To be 30 is a lot more dramatic. You have aged and you have done plenty of things but you have nothing left on your hands, except maybe some blood if you have gone to war. You can try to gallop again but you are not able to do that anymore So you start brooding, plotting, demanding, requiring, requesting from any one and any lord of this earth and life to give you what you can’t get all by yourself because you are now a middle age man and that is not good to go flirting with the wind of sexual desire. But Faust is not far away. So let’s ask him for guidance. He has the key to the door to Mephistopheles’ fortress and temple. And for sure you can get what you want. There is a condition, but who cares about it. What is important is to have access to unknown knowledge, unreachable knowledge, unreachable pleasures. Welcome Mr. Lucifer. I am so glad to be meeting you. There is some calm jubilation in this movement with just a few recollections of what it was to be young. Some time in the middle of the way you way ask a question, wonder what you will in the end get out of the deal, but that is no rebellion, just doubt, maybe fear to be rigged, fooled, trapped, stolen, hijacked to a catastrophe. But serendipity brings some serenity, and exhilaration. Doubt will go on forever but as long as we have the sugar of the excitement and entertainment we will ask the keyboard to provide the scales and the notes needed to enjoy in peace, detached notes, somber for sure, but in fact they are only very tired of running up and down. Maybe they can rest in the shade of a tree or a room with closed shutters and blinds rolled down. Then there might be some return of some violent desire, dissatisfaction, discontent, but it will bring some balanced harmony and calmer melody that will bring us to the acme of enjoyment. The enjoyment of what we know is perverse, but the perversion is hiding far behind the front of the melody, of the right hand. The left hand is definitely the wrong one, the bad one, the menacing one, the hand of the devil, though it is the hand of the heart. And some echo from big grand daddy Beethoven will close the drama.
To be 40 is maybe happy when you live with a calm partner, and the music is a lot slower and the right hand is jubilant while the left hand is peacefully pacing behind. The couple, because it is a couple, is happily married and united in some oily calm up at sea where there is no wind but a light breeze, no hurricane, no tempest, no tsunami. What a nice cruise under the pale sun of autumn. A pale sun anyway. But I am sure it is the fall because of the trajectory we have followed so far. And of course there is some serious time to gather the harvests and to valorize the incoming revenues and profits. To be 40 is the age of profitable balances in your life. Be sure you do not forget some negative assets and you don’t over-value the positive ones. An overvalued asset is like poison, like a rotten apple in the basket. But at 40 you have reason and security in your thinking, behaving and counting your golden pieces. You can then rest in the living-room sofa. In those days it was called a sitting-room or even a withdrawing-room to which only the males of the household could unite in cigar smoke and whisky fumes. And that moves slowly to some smooth ending that will have to be a flat line one day since we all are flat-liners sooner or later. But at 40 you just eventually think of it, but it has to be for later. So let the gentle wavelets caress the beach and the sand of this comfortable equanimous pleasure-soaked life of the fully-satisfied adult of 40. And Alkan makes this season of life the longest because enjoyment and pleasure make time last longer. We forget about time and only enjoy duration; We have gone back to being nothing but a molecule, a planet in this cosmos that does not ;count time but is carried away by duration, though at the end of this season we can hear nearing fate bang its fists on the door.
To be 50 is to get ready to the big voyage. It starts just like that. Man, there is nothing left to expect. It is all dark, somber, shady, shadowy, tenebrous and the left hand tells us what to think. The right hand then does not have the slightest vigor to run, even to trot. It is even here and there becoming the echo, the accompaniment of the powerful hammering left hand and its isolated notes tolling like a death bell, telling us the clock has stopped or is not far from stopping. And going up the keyboard is not exactly easy. The poor man is exhausted in spite of all the regrets that are squirming deep in him. You can always regret, there is not one chance these regrets will be anything else but regrets of something you can’t do any more, something you have not done and will not be able to do. Listen to the hammering of destiny that is not a female, not even a witch, but the worst possible monster. This season, winter of course, is dedicated to Prometheus chained on his rock and who is nothing but fodder for eagles, renewable and thus ecological fodder for eagles and other predators I guess. You stole some knowledge from Mephistopheles and then you enriched yourself with that knowledge and now you are punished by the gods who are making you suffer forever your lot that will never end because it is out of time and when we cannot measure time there is no beginning and no end. Prometheus met Dracula on his rock and has been made eternal by that Draculean god and transformed into a plain food store for little vampires of later centuries. True blood indeed.
The Symphony for solo piano is unluckily not full, only four movements. The fourth movement first, an allegro moderato has some problem getting started. The engine brake must have been kept on. We feel thus the revving up of the engine in the poor man who wants to go running after the sun, but he has shackles on his legs. He needs some good prison break to get free. But this contained energy creates a sentiment of reserve, an impression of restraint that is not very common with Alkan. So we can wonder if that restraint is not alienation, if that reserve is not enslavement, but from some outside authority. Systematically the right hand starts a musical sentence and the left hand finishes it and we can wonder which one is pulling the other back and down. The right hand opens up an eye from time to time and looks outside but the left hand closes the shutters and brings the right hand back into the room, back into the track and trail that leads nowhere really. The right hand can rebel some, not much, not too much, just some but what can it do when the fetters from the left hand are so powerful. We find here the best of Alkan’s art. He treats the two hands as two different instruments who have their own logics, their own tempos, or should I say tempi, their own alienations and their own limits but no sir, mister master sir, you will not escape the left hand’s control and tyranny, or is it just the weight and gladiator’s net of the lower part of the keyboard. A last moment of rebellion, of hope, of imagination, of expectation, but no, you cannot break the bars of your prison. You are to stay within the limits of your dungeon.
The fifth movement is necessarily a death march, funeral march, danse macabre. And you can hear the slow pacing of the horses pulling the hearse. And you go down, down, into the benighted depth of the big hole in which you are going to be thrown, rejected, disposed of. And the slow pacing of the horses again. Alkan’s technique to play one hand against the other is so beautifully cut up into a cubist construction that we feel this music should have been composed in the middle of the 20th century, but no, man, boy or whatever, it was composed in the deepest and stickiest romantic time, when everyone was crying for the past and cultivating ruins in their public or private gardens and parks. So the right hand just makes up its heart and decides to stand up to that ritual with serenity and tranquility and placidity and even repose, after all RIP in the quiet of the tomb or the burial chamber that looks so much like your own sick man’s chamber.
The next movement is a minuetto, so says Alkan, but it is in fact the Danse Macabre of all the bones in the sepulchre of that poor man. They dance their welcoming parade but they can’t really be very creative since they only remember a few notes and a couple of steps. So they seem to be singing, playing and dancing an extended version of a bolero, till at least the newcomer gives them a little bit of a wider melody. After all he is bringing some music from the outside world, outside the death chamber of course. But that turns rapidly to two or there notes turning around and around after a last attempt at opening the range. The bones tell the man what he has to do and he has nothing to expect except marching, or dancing if he prefers, in line like a row of soldiers going to die at the war. And he must not forget he is already dead. Dead sir, mister master sir, you are the slave of death, so stop pretending. And he answers of course positively.
And we come to the Finale that goes back to the brilliant virtuoso style of the composer and performer. At least a little bit and the cavalcade is getting crazy and gallops down the big avenues to some target, destination, goal that no one knows. The importance of running is in the running itself; I just wonder if this movement is not a pastiche, a mockery of numerous pieces of the 19TH century romantics that Alkan drags down into the mud of excess: look what is left when you run like blind crazy animals who have lost all consciousness of their fate. You can run in big or small circles. You will anyway not be able to escape the corral that does not even have a door. The bulls are running after the picadors but the picadors have wings and the bull is rather fooled and tricked.
To finish we have the third of the “Trois Grandes Etudes pour mains séparées et réunies,” precisely the one for both hands after the first one for the left hand and the second one for the right hand, or vice versa. I will regret not to have the three. Supposedly the one for the left hand is a real killer. I can’t know because I am not a pianist. I am a pedestrian. We have once again the two hands chasing each other but it sounds too abstract to me like some Juan Gris’s cubist collage that does not pretend to represent anything except maybe grey and triangles except if you look very hard and then you just wonder if what you see is not just that, what YOU see.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU