« La grande galerie de l’évolution stylistique »
avec Elisabeth Brisson, historienne,
Bruno Mantovani, directeur artistique
du festival et Emmanuel Reibel, musicologue
animée par Tristan Labouret, musicologue
Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco


Auditorium Rainier III

Durée approximative 1h20 

22H30 – AFTER

avec Jean-Efflam Bavouzet,
Marko Letonja et Bruno Mantovani
Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco

Programme du concert

Guillaume de Machaut

Ma fin est mon commencement

Ensemble Gilles Binchois

Peter Eötvös
Siren’s Song

Sergueï Prokofiev
Concerto pour piano et orchestre no 1 en ré bémol majeur, op. 10
Concerto pour piano et orchestre no 5 en sol majeur, op. 55

Béla Bartók
Le Mandarin merveilleux, suite d’orchestre, op. 19, Sz. 73

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
Marko Letonja, direction

Circular timelines

Machaut: in the beginning is the end

The mystery of origins is here expressed in song. In the 14th century, the poet and musician Guillaume de Machaut wrote a fascinating composition, entitled Ma fin est ma commencement (My end is my beginning). The work is in rondeau form – a strict medieval form that involves cyclical repetition of both the verses and the musical lines. Three voices intermingle in a joint melodic flow. Conforming, generally, to the norms of the genre, the piece is set apart by the composer’s wit. The text raises an enigma, which is mirrored in the music “My end is my beginning/and my beginning my end”, the second musical phrase turning out to be the first phrase sung backwards! Musicians being fond of this sort of trick in the 14th century, the term ars nova was adopted for the period’s music. Machaut was one of its most talented representatives. Much later, innovators of modern times would hark back to the “new art” of the Middle Ages in their own exploratory compositions.

Prokofiev: a pianistic circle

Sergey Prokofiev was an innovator from as early as his 1st Concerto for piano and orchestra. Written between 1911 and 1912, this is a student work, yet its vitality and boldness set it apart from typical symphonic productions of the time. A “bad student”, Prokofiev utterly rejected post-romantic pathos, symbolic decadence and shimmering impressionism. His music baffled and divided the audience. Was this composer a dunce or a genius? Posterity would come down in favor of the latter.

Comparison of the 1st and 5th Piano Concertos highlights the differences between the beginning and end of Prokofiev’s output for piano and orchestra. While reflecting the maturing of his style, these differences were also linked to the political context, since between the writing of the first and last piano concertos, Russia had become the USSR. Soviet censorship was suspicious of a sophistication that it associated with the Western world. In the 5th Piano Concerto, dated 1932, Prokofiev tried to respond to the regime’s requirements. However, his “new simplicity” remained misunderstood and, modern despite himself, he once again became the bad student. In the 5th Concerto, traits whose seeds were present in the 1st Concerto are now fully fledged, such as the reuse of musical depictions (parodied marches, nocturnal atmospheres, etc.), the return of the initial theme from one movement to another, the muscular and insolent pianistic writing and, above all, the particular mix of grotesqueness and lightness that is Prokofiev’s signature.

Eötvös and Bartók: the end of the origins

While it is hard to define the “signature” of Peter Eötvös – a composer and conductor nourished by many influences – we can nonetheless find recurring themes in his output. In 2015-2016, he addressed the myth of the sirens for the first time, in The Sirens Cycle, based on texts by Joyce, Homer and Kafka. Five years later, Siren’s Song revisited the vision of these three authors but without the words. What remains is the metaphysical aura of the texts and Kafka’s questioning – did the sirens really sing for Ulysses, or did they lull him by their silence alone? In Eötvös’ handling of the myth, we also sense the temptation of every musician to surrender to the song of the sirens, even if it means tasting their fatal kisses.

The ingredients of darkness, eroticism and the supernatural underlying the work of Eötvös prove fundamental to Béla Bartók’s expressionist ballet The Miraculous Mandarin. From the spellbinding voices of the sirens to the lascivious dance of the girl, from surrender of Ulysses’ to the mandarin’s insatiable desire, there is just one step but, at the same time, a whole world. Bartók’s siren takes the form of a prostitute (“the girl”). Helped by three crooks, she lures clients to her sordid little room, so as to rob them. Unlike the noble Ulysses, the mandarin is a lustful character: murdered three times over, he can only find rest after assuaging his desires in the girl’s macabre embrace. Considered immoral, the ballet caused a scandal when it was premiered in Cologne, in 1926. The stage version was banned in Hungary, which led Bartók to adapt it, in 1927, as a concert suite. For this, he removed the final section, interrupting the drama before the triple murder of the mandarin. Intensely narrative, the score demands frenzy and vulgarity from the orchestra. The protagonists are represented by specific instruments, the caresses of the clarinet depicting those of the girl, the hesitations of the oboe imitating the awkwardness of a timid customer, the trombone’s glissandi portraying a solemn and grotesque mandarin, etc. The obsessiveness of the characters is expressed by the cyclical nature of the music which can only reach culmination in the embraces promised at the start of the work.

Louise Boisselier

Photo ©Charlotte Aleman