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PICTURES AT A VAN GOGH EXHIBITION

Marcel Worms - piano

1.Claude Debussy (1872 - 1918) - Nocturne (1892)

2.Richard Wagner (1813-1883) - Introduction to 'Tristan und Isolde' (1854-59)
    (transcription for piano by Zoltan Kocsis)

3.Franz Liszt (1811-1886) - La lugubre gondola- second version (1885)

4.Emmanuel Chabrier (1841 - 1894) - From: Pièces pittoresques (1881)
    -Paysage
    -Idylle

5.Fré Focke (1919-1989) - Le tombeau de Van Gogh (1951)
    -1.Barques aux Saintes-Marie
    -2.Iris
    -3.La moisson
    -4.Le café de nuit
    -5.Les blés verts
    -6.La berceuse
    -7.La cueillette des olives
    -8.Le pont-levis
    -9.Les lavandières
    -10.Nuit étoilée
    -11.Verger
    -12.L'arbre
    -13.La route aux Cyprès
    -14.Champ d'oliviers
    -15.Tige d'amandier fleuri
    -16.L'Homme à l'oreille coupée
    -17.Jeune fille assise
    -18.Les paveurs
    -19.Paysage à Auvers
    -20.Champ de blé aux corbeaux

6.Erik Satie (1866 -1925) - Fantaisie-Valse (1885) Valse-Ballet (1885)

7.Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) - Printemps - Suite for piano (1915-1920)
    Premier Cahier
    - Modéré
    - Souple
    - Doucement
    Deuxième Cahier
    - Doucement
    - Vivement
    - Calme

8.Alexander Skriabin - 2 Mazurkas op.3 (1888-1890) (1872-1915)     - op.3 nr.9
    - op.3 nr.7: con passione

Selection from 24 Preludes op. 11 (1888 - 1896)
    - no.2: Allegretto
    - no.4: Lento
    - no.5: Andante cantabile
    - no.6: Allegro
    - no.7: Allegro assai
    - no.8: Allegro agitato
    - no.10: Andante
    - no.24: Presto

PROGRAMME NOTES

"Why am I so little an artist that I always regret that the statue and the painting are not alive? Why do I understand the musician better, why do I see the raison d être of his abstractions better?"
(Van Gogh to Theo, letter no. 664 [552], August 1888 *)

".. one feels instinctively that an enormous number of things are changing and that everything will change. We are living in the last quarter of a century that once more will end in an enormous revolution."
(Van Gogh to Theo, letter no. 562 [451], February 1886)

The words written by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) to his brother Theo turned out to be prophetic: round the turn of the century, sweeping changes were indeed to take place, particularly with regard to music and the visual arts. Van Gogh would be seen as a leader of the developments that took painting away from figurative modes of representation and towards abstraction. This spirit of innovation is strongly tangible in a number of the works on this CD, all of which have some kind of link with the work of the painter. This is particularly the case with the pieces dating from the short period from 1880 to 1890, when Van Gogh was active as an artist. In addition to these, there is a cycle of short pieces written in 1951 by the Dutch composer Fré Focke; in timbre, these are remarkably in keeping with the 19th-century French works they accompany, a living demonstration that, long after his death, Van Gogh still had the power to inspire other artists. The present selection also reflects Van Gogh's relationship with such important 19th-century movements as Impressionism, Expressionism and Symbolism, and also his great love for the French landscape.
The impetus for the compilation of this programme came with two important Van Gogh exhibitions, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (1998) and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles (1999).

THE WORKS

1.Claude Debussy - Nocturne

During his time in Paris, Van Gogh made his acquaintance with Impressionism, which was to have a radical effect on his use of colour. This period also saw the development of Impressionism in music, a movement whose leading exponent was Claude Debussy. This relatively little-known Nocturne is one of his earliest compositions for piano. It displays much of the tonal and harmonic richness of his later work.

2. Richard Wagner - Prelude to Tristan und Isolde

" But at present the palette is distinctly colourful - sky blue, orange, pink, vermilion, bright yellow, bright green, bright wine-red, violet. Yet by intensifying all the colours, one arrives once again at quietude and harmony. There occurs in nature something similar to what happens in Wagner's music, which, though played by a big orchestra, is nonetheless intimate."
(Van Gogh to his sister Wil, 593 [W3], March 1888)

Van Gogh repeatedly expressed his admiration of the music of Richard Wagner. In 1888, Theo van Gogh wrote, " Before he [Vincent] left, I twice went to a Wagner concert with him; we thought them both very beautiful. " (Letter fromTheo van Gogh to Jo van Gogh-Bonger, 1888, as quoted on page 27 of the 1990 edition of De brieven van Vincent van Gogh ). No doubt the dark and dramatic side of Wagner's music appealed to Vincent an aspect that is very tangible in his famous prelude to the opera Tristan und Isolde. This featured the first instance of a chord that has no unequivocal definition within the classical theory of harmony and is thus characteristic of the experimental phase on which music had embarked.

3.Franz Liszt - La lugubre gondola

In the final years of his life, Van Gogh suffered from a form of epilepsy that led to psychological complications. The late works of Franz Liszt express something of the angst the painter must have felt. Another reason for including this sober work in our selection is that, in it, Liszt largely abandons tonality. The parallel between the transition from figurative to abstract painting and from tonal to atonal music has often been noted by musicologists and art historians.

4.Emmanuel Chabrier - Pièces pittoresques

At the beginning of his career as a painter, Van Gogh was greatly influenced by the French landscape painter, Jean-François Millet. These refined Pièces pittoresques by Emmanuel Chabrier convey a strong sense of the French landscape. This music heralds Impressionism, and Chabrier's influence upon such composers as Debussy, Poulenc and Ravel is clearly audible in these pieces.

5.Fré Focke - Le tombeau de Van Gogh

This series of short pieces by the Dutch composer Fré Focke is a compact and expressive musical depiction of twenty Van Gogh paintings. The cycle gives voice to such masterpieces as Iris, L'homme à l'oreille coupé and Champ de blé aux corbeaux.
The composition owes its inception to a friend who visited Focke during his residence in Chile, giving him a book containing reproductions of twenty works by Van Gogh. Seized with homesickness for Holland, Focke was inspired to write this tombeau.

6. Erik Satie - Fantaisie - Valse / Valse - Ballet

During Vincent's stay in Paris from February 1886 to February 1888, the two brothers were patrons of many cafés in Montmartre, particularly Café du Tambourin. Here Vincent painted the portrait of Agostina Segatori, the café's proprietress, who for a short time may also have been his lover. In the same period, Erik Satie worked as a pianist in the cafés of Montmartre.
Written in 1885 and published two years later, these two waltzes are, as far as can be established, his earliest compositions.

7. Darius Milhaud - Printemps

The French composer Darius Milhaud grew up in Provence, the region in southern France where Van Gogh painted the greater number of his later works. The colours and themes Vincent encountered in this landscape inspired him to a multitude of canvases. Milhaud, too, repeatedly spoke of the profound influence on his music of the intense, bright colours of the Mediterranean landscape, and particularly on the harmonic aspects of his work. His suite Printemps is a clear of illustration of this.

8. Alexander Skriabin - Mazurka's op.3 / Preludes op.11

While Van Gogh was influenced by Impressionism, his late work also contains Expressionist elements. The highly sensitive, nervous and very personal mood of Expressionism is also present in the music of the Russian composer, Alexander Skriabin. A disciple of theosophy, his work manifesting a tangible religious intensity, Skriabin is also regarded as the most important musical exponent of Symbolism. While the representation of thoughts and ideas so characteristic of this movement is less prominent in Van Gogh's work than in that of such contemporaries as Odilon Redon, many elements of his later paintings are open to a symbolic interpretation. For instance, in the work of both artists, light and sun played an important role in symbolising the higher and the divine.
Skriabin had very precise ideas on the relationship between sound and colours in music. It is therefore striking that Van Gogh once embarked upon piano lessons, as he wished to study the principles of colour theory. These had been halted by his teacher "when, during the lesson, Van Gogh sat comparing the tones of the piano with Prussian blue, dark green and bright cadmium, the good man thought he was dealing with a madman "
(Anton Kerssemakers, Herinneringen aan Vincent van Gogh II, 1912).

*[ The letter references are those used in the 1990 edition of De brieven van Vincent van Gogh. ]

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