“Prayers of Steel”
Commemorating 100 years since the end of the First World War
Daniel Ciobanu – Piano Solo
The opening concert of the International Neamt Music Festival reflects on the tragic events taking place during the First World War in Europe, echoing the unseemly bearings of the armed conflicts and the condolement of the human catastrophe.
Beginning with the lamentation of Beethoven’s renowned opus 27. no.2, known in his homeland Germany as Mondscheinsonate– a name code used for the infamous series of bombing raids carried out by the Germans in 1940 on the English city of Coventry, the piece introduces the listener into the feelings of loss and despair caused by the war. The three movements of the Moonlight Sonataform a triptych: a first ” nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance” (Carl Czerny), a second relatively calm movement revealing the divine breakthrough the human chaos and finally a third movement launched dramatically with an outburst of unstoppable rage and turmoil. As Charles Rosen suggests, ‘even today, two hundred years later, its ferocity is astonishing.”
Progressing to Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante, we are inviting the audience to explore Frédéric Chopin’s artistic illustration of the November Uprising (1830-31), the Polish armed rebellion against the Russian Empire in the heartland of his native country. Never to return to Poland again, diverted by dangerous political unrests in Italy and finally seeking refuge in Paris, Chopin relates on the fiery uprising taking places just a month after his parting from the homeland.
The Andante Spianato reimagines the moonlight theme, with a part nocturnal, part lullaby like character. The piece inspires a dreamlike mood “from which the listener is only released by the fanfares of the horns announcing the polonaise. Spianato means evenly, without contrasts, without any great agitation or anxiety. Thus interpreters are put in mind of the mood of a harmonious moonlit night, a landscape dominated by the reflecting surface of a lake, or even the singing of sirens on gently rocking waves or the immersion in a state of unwavering meditation.”(Miczyslaw Tomaszewski)
The polonaise remains the dominant offering of the piece with its luminous grandeur and impressive amplitude, gracefully conveying a sense of hope amid the tragic times faced both by the composer and his country at the time when the piece was conceived.
A tonic for the nationalistic spirit that should never be allowed to fade in moments of conflict and despair, the polonaise exalts with its flaming passages and bold phrases, with its vigorous musical patterns and its monumental expressions.
Crossing the valley of tears meditating on the Polish-Russian conflict, the performer leads the listener into a musical truce by partnering Chopin’s and Alexander Scriabin’s preludes, taking us on a graceful journey from Beethoven’s and Chopin’s Central Europe to the faraway lands of Russia to celebrate peace and reconciliation.
Chopin’s influence on the early works of Alexander Scriabin is utterly important and largely recognised, however by the time this passionate Russian composer reached the age of fifteen, “he had fragmented Chopin’s already ornate arabesques into new kaleidoscopically shifting patterns and colours.” (Bryce Morrison). Innovative and controversial, Scriabin takes a leap in musical language and harmonic vocabulary by associating a colourful visual language with darker harmonic undertones.
We continue our commemorative journey imagining a spiritual march from the material destructions of the war to the emotionally charged torments of the human psyche. And therefore we progress with Prokofiev’s Sonata no.2 into the realm of inner sufferance to contemplate at the struggles of the human conscience.
Prokofiev premiered his second sonata in February 1914, under the tensions leading to the outbreak of the First World War. The piece is dedicated to his beloved friend and fellow musician Maximilian Schmidthof who committed suicide in 1913 shooting himself in a forest in Finland. On the 27thof Aprilof that year, Prokofiev receives the following note from Max: “relaying the latest news to you- I have shot myself”.
On the 9thof May, Max’s grieving friend writes in his diary: “ Max had been sure of himself; he had not batted an eyelid and his hand was steady. The bullet went straight through the right temple and out through the left. A good shot. Bravo”.
In this sonata, Prokofiev often builds his themes on short motifs, taking them apart and combining them with other material from elsewhere in the movements. The third movement, a requiem andante, retains a chanting element as a foretelling of death and loss, suggestive maybe of the Dies Irae hymn in the opening of a funeral mass.
Our spiritual venture reaches Stravinsky’s Firebird, a masterpiece unfolding as the accent of the concert. The composer imagines his ballet opera around the Russian folktale of the Firebird, a powerfully good spirit whose magic feathers channel kindness and protection. Reminding us of the legend of the Phoenix, the magic bird periodically combusting to revive from its own ashes, this concluding piece launces with an ‘Infernal Dance’, a spectacle of flames and explosions, a tumultuous scenario of amalgamated musical geographies. Descending with a big bang, primitive rhythm elements and unrestrained harmonic clashes, the piece illustrates a spontaneous bond with the chaos itself and recovers with an extremely volatile and celestial section as a one last prayer of the concert. The performance of this section is an invitation to contemplate on the history of our world, to examine the full force and the significance of our actions, to witness the reverberations of the past in our present and to confront the terrors of the war.
The ‘Finale’ exalts the awakening of the human joie de vivrewith a triumphant and invigorating progression towards a solid steel climax that speaks of strenuous prevailing over the devastations of the war and reclaiming our faith and hope.
The architecture of the concert articulates Daniel Ciobanu’s artistic investigation of the phoenix symbolism as reflected in our cultures and traditions, examining how the subject of death and rebirth are illustrated in some of the greatest musical compositions on the theme of war. He concludes his performative journey with a meditation on the future, envisioning the musical tale of the Firebird into a mystical resurrection and a transition from chaos to order.