L'Afrique d'après Tiepolo
23/04/2005 - Festival de Witten - Ensemble Recherche, Laurent Cuniot (conductor)
During the 18th century, Tiepolo was one of the principal representatives of religious and decorative Rococo painting. He turned Catholicism into a painterly apotheosis. Reality dissolved into transfigured visions, into ingenious devises of magnificence. Of the world, there remained only a silvered sky where elephants are perched on the clouds, where rings of angels twist into floating coils. Tiepolo belonged to the tradition of Rubens at the time Poussin's supporters begin importing it into Europe. His sky forms an improbable allegoric arch where Pheme rolls in an abyss of silence and solitude.
Between 1751 and 1753, Tiepolo painted the decorations of the colossal Würtzburg Residence for Balthasar Neumann, the most important architect of the late German baroque. In particular, he produced the frescos that decorate the ceiling of the grand stairway, which occupied a special place in the particular layout of the residence. The propos is of a "theatre of light". The stairway of a baroque castle held a particular symbolic importance because it represented both a synopsis of the world and the emblem of power. There, Tiepolo laid out an immense narrative, proposing a five-station promenade to reveal the Four Continents.
Africa, situated on the eastern side of the ceiling, receives the harshest as well the most complex light, which enters through the embrasures of the western windows opposite, and that of the northern windows, on the left. We perceive groups of merchants and smokers, a camel, pearl vendors, an immense blue and white striped tent, and then Africa in person with the god Nile. This frieze is presented as the unfurling of a unique process that produces the structures, carrying them off immediately in its flow. Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall write: "The follow of light is represented as the breath of wind. Fabrics float, clouds race overhead, lances bend, figures incline". The space successively swells or contracts, spreads or twists, stretches or breaks.
Africa, already captive of the European predators, is strangely haloed by a pale light. We no longer recognise in these livid clouds, the sunny whiteness of paradise's pastoral culture. The sky is a stranglehold.
The music evokes the pale sun of Tiepolo's Africa with its sulphurous thick clouds. The musical work is defined by the use of colour. The sound substance possesses its own dynamic organisation, polarising and giving rhythm to the space well before it becomes an object of composition. Composing consists of suggesting dynamic impressions containing movement without moving. The new dimensions of the music are depth, transparency, fluidity and luminosity.
Twentieth century music has essentially constructed its continuance on abstract edifices, trying to distance itself in this way from the empiricism of inner meaning. Africa after Tiepolo marks a return to the intuition of time and of the concrete perception of change. The contents make up a reality more profound than the apparent discontinuity of the phenomena.
Space is no longer the manifestation of immobility. It is a form endowed with power. Change is no longer related to trajectory, it takes on insensitive transitions, unattributable passages. The musical form becomes a model of masses and voids, a flow of forces and of values.
Nothing is better suited to evoking space than colour, which becomes the musician's true means. In music, colours are dependant on complex writing systems from which they are the highly integrated result. The same chord can seem homogonous on the surface and heterogeneous in depth, lively and translucent initially, and rough and dark in the sinuosity of its windings, in the image of a growing tension. Music is an art of alteration.
Written for Ensemble Recherche, which together with the WDR commissioned the piece, this work includes a flute doubling on piccolo, a Bb clarinet doubling on bass clarinet, a piano, a vibraphone and a string trio.
1 CD Kairos (KAI0013142)
Hugues Dufourt: L'Afrique et l'Asie d'après Tiepolo