Bach – Busoni, Chorale Préludes

  • Viens maintenant, Sauveur des païens BWV 659
  • Réveillez-vous, le veilleur nous appelle BWV 645
  • Je crie vers toi, Seigneur BWV 639

Bach – Siloti

  • Prélude en Si mineur BWV 855a du Clavier bien tempéré
  • Sicilienne de la sonata pour flute et clavier BWV 1031

Bach – Myra Hess

  • Jésus, que ma joie demeure BWV 147

Enrico Pace, piano

‘The absolutely modern does not exist’, wrote Ferrucio Busoni in 1907: ‘only that which arises at an earlier or later moment of time … “Modern” and “old” have always existed’. Busoni’s ten Chorale Preludes (1907-1909) attest to the special and life-long respect he accorded the music of J.S. Bach. Bach’s Eighteen Chorale Preludes themselves proved that ‘“Modern” and “old” have always existed’: in them, sixteenth-century chorale tunes by Martin Luther are transformed into fugues and inventions, Bach simultaneously paying homage to earlier composers such as Buxtehude and Pachelbel as well as to contemporary trends such as the Italian concerto. In his reworking of the Bach, Busoni undertook a similar process of melding history with the present: according to Erinn E. Knyt, he aimed to ‘recreate the powerful sound of pipe organs in reverberant cathedrals on the piano’.

Other early twentieth-century musicians were also keen to introduce audiences to Bach. In the era before ‘historically-informed performance’ that meant adapting his keyboard works for the modern piano. Ukrainian-born Alexander Siloti studied and then taught at the Moscow Conservatoire. He was an internationally renowned conductor, an editor, and pianist, who fled Russia in 1917, eventually living and teaching in New York City. His transcriptions of Bach were acclaimed during his lifetime – especially the Prelude in B minor. British pianist Myra Hess’s 1926 arrangement of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, the chorale from Bach’s 1723 Advent cantata, Herz und Mund und Tat BWV 147, was similarly celebrated. She played it often on her tours of Europe and the USA. These transcriptions, as always, reveal as much or even more about how they are heard and played by their arranger as they do about Bach.


Beethoven, Sonate pour violoncelle et piano No. 4 en Do Majeur Op. 102 No. 1

Sung-Won Yang, cello
Enrico Pace, piano

Beethoven enjoyed the greatest financial success of his career during the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Several of his works were performed as part of the entertainments laid on for the diplomats and dignitaries determining the future of Europe after the capture of Napoleon. On New Year’s Eve, the Russian ambassador Count Razumovsky’s palace was burnt to the ground: not only did the Count lose a priceless art collection, he disbanded his house quartet. Its cellist, Joseph Linke, retreated to Countess Erdődy’s estate in the village of Jedlesee. Beethoven composed the two Cello Sonatas op. 102 for his old friend Linke, who gave the first performance at the hotel Römischer Kaiser, with Carl Czerny at the piano, on 18 February 1816.

Op. 102 no. 1 originally had the unusual title of ‘Free Sonata’. It consists of two movements: the first begins with an Andante that does not quite seem like an introduction; more a meditation on an idea. The contemplative mood is broken by the rumbustious Allegro vivace. The second movement is in three parts: tension builds through an Adagio introduction but dissipates with the introduction of the beatific Tempo d’andante. A questioning four-note motif becomes the theme of the final Allegro vivace, cello and piano chasing and challenging each other, until then join together in the jubilant last bars.




Messiaen, Quatuor pour la fin du Temps

Liza Ferschtman, violin
Han Kim, clarinet
Sung-Won Yang, cello
Enrico Pace, piano

Olivier Messiaen said that among his few consolations during his time as a prisoner of war were pocket scores of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. An officer also gave him music paper, pencils and erasers, which enabled him to continue composing. Messiaen wrote for the other musicians in the camp: cellist Étienne Pasquier, clarinettist Henri Akoka and violinist Jean le Boulaire. The instruments they played might have lacked strings and been out-of-tune, but the prison guards encouraged them to practice every evening. The first performance took place on 15 January 1941, in front of 5000 prisoners from all walks of life.

Messiaen claimed to have begun with the ‘Intermède’ that became the fourth of the eight movements of the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps. He also reused music he had composed for organ or ondes Martinots for the third, fifth and eighth movements. It seems likely that the opening ‘Liturgie de cristal’ was finished last. The full ensemble only plays in the first, second, sixth and seventh movements of the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps; otherwise instruments play in different combinations or alone. Birdsong is featured throughout, clarinet and violin imitating nightingales and blackbirds. Messiaen continued to draw on his interest in plainsong, Indian, and Russian music to explore modes, repeated pitch and chord sequences, and extended rhythmic patterns. Energetic fury in the loud, unison writing of ‘Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes’), precedes the Angel who announces the end of time (‘Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps’). The central, fifth movement for solo cello was entitled ‘Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus’. Its pendant, ‘Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus’, is a violin solo, marked to be played extrément lent, which draws the quartet to an ecstatic close.

Messiaen quotes from the Book of Revelation in his preface to Quatuor pour la fin du temps, inscribing on the score: ‘in homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises a hand towards Heaven saying: “There shall be time no longer”’. Messiaen explained to the first audience that ‘this quartet was written for the end of time, not as a play on words about the time of captivity, but for the ending of concepts of past and future: that is, for the beginning of eternity’. Decades later, the composer remembered that he had ‘never … been listened to with such consideration and understanding’.


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