The first book of Vexierbilder (Vexierbild might be translated as "trick" or "puzzle"), written in 1991, exploited the idea of the misleading image, out-of-phase referent, and concentrating on intentionally impoverished material. In these three new pieces, the music seeks to construct itself round a gesture, a systematic figuration, a form cutting any development short.
In an "années de pèlerinage" vein, Rome provided the matter of coded images in the first three Vexierbilder. At the centre of the present work is the art of the American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) and particularly his first collection, Harmonium (published in 1923), in which he attempts to find, with narrowed means, "the transcendent character inherent to music" (Claire Malroux). In sum: replacing the great organ of poetry, which has become unsuitable, by an instrument less noble in appearance, whose inspiration and impact would result from stubborn, concentrated but almost derisory, activity. Stevens, practicing the sacred, occasionally ironic, recall through an astounding play of degrees of refinement, has taken the art of making something new with memory to its peak.
Speech of clouds
Two notes - a simple third (C-A) in the middle register - are solicited by a shuttle of two hands acting as one, with neither melody nor harmony, and sound like a muddled peal of bells. In the second part of the piece, following a short recitative set with silence, these virtuoso trajectories, pyrotechnician's rockets for "concert solo", regress and "involute", or shrink, towards a formula simply run through obstinately by the five fingers, in shadow, ppppp possibile, like a worn-out weft or a back side showing the poorness of its knots - and threads - on which a descant is placed, in the same place on the keyboard, as if these two hands in the middle register no longer belonged to the same body - an invention re-embroidered note upon note wherein one voice counterpoints the other by subtraction.
...An uncertain green,
Piano-polished, held the tranced machine
Of ocean, as a prelude holds and holds.
A slow piece coming back to this arte povera sought after in the first set of Vexierbilder. Here, the harmonic object is laid bare, like a fore-figure whose obvious character would turn round in interrogative ambiguity and from which several ostinati are built and exhausted without development, echoing the eponymous poem by Stevens:
Hi! The creator too is blind,
Struggling toward his harmonious whole,
Rejecting intermediate parts,
Horrors and falsities and wrongs,
Incapable master of all force,
Too vague idealist, overwhelmed
By an afflatus that persists.
As the title indicates, a short sequence constructs the piece in refrains, borrowing from the descant of the first piece. Some strophes let us hear a precipitate of the ostinati from the second piece, but pushed back to the far ends of the keyboard. Does the low register then come to ornament and fire the upper register, against type? These clusters must sound like sacks of grain being dropped on the ground. It is like a tribute placed at the foot of rhetoric, a gesture of hugging and kissing that would naïvely want to put a full stop to pianism. Other, more fleeting strophes suggest different sorts of birdsong of which the mechanism would have jammed. After a final return of the refrain, fringed with resonances, the piece ends with a livid, dancing, iterative clausula, a counterpart to the skeletal "Bone Games" that end the first Vexierbilder:
Mow the grass in the cemetery, darkies,
Study the symbols and the requiescats,
But leave a bed beneath the myrtles.
The skeleton had a daughter and that, a son.
And that one was never a man of heart.
The making of his son was one more duty.
When the music of the boy tell like a fountain,
He praised Johann Sebastian, as he should.
translated by John Tyler Tuttle
Born in Torteron, in central France, in 1958, Gérard Pesson studied at the Sorbonne, where he obtained his doctorate with a thesis on The Aesthetics of Aleatoric Music. In addition, at the Paris Conservatory, he studied composition with Ivo Malec, orchestration with Marius Constant [...]