17/01/2016

New viewpoint for Franck's Premier Choral

Recently, Kees van Houten commented on previous videos of my performance of (fragments) from Franck's Premier Choral. He did not agree with my performance of the piece and had interesting arguments to support this. Basically, he critisized the lack of a vivid discourse which is essential for the sonata form in the 19th century. Although the Premier Choral appears to be a series of lied forms, it has all the dynamic qualities of a sonata form building up to a huge climax. In fact, a certain discrepancy between form and content/character is the achilles heel of the piece and makes it very difficult to perform. He added that only once he had heard a completely satisfactory performance of the Premier Choral, in the Saint Sernin in Toulouse, as a member of the jury for a student's final exam.

Interestingly enough, Kees van Houten related this quality of the sonata form to rhetoric in baroque music; both deal with the art of discourse. I had never realised this connection, but could agree with it as in many respects music from the 18th century is the fundament of music from the 19th. In addition, that especially German/Austrian composers find a build up in the line of Bach - Beethoven - Brahms essential. French and Italian composers tend to find satisfaction in the beauty of a moment. In this respect, Franck is more northern than southern.

Kees van Houten's comments became even more interesting when regarding my personal qualities as a performer and improvising composer. Many of Messiaen's pieces have exactly the kind of static quality that does not fit rhetoric or sonata form. N.B. in "Technique de mon language musical" Messiaen describes how "Les enfants de Dieu" was composed according to the development section of sonata form, but the rest of the book makes clear that this was more of an exception. Of course, the first movement of "Combat de la mort et de la vie" parallels sonata form, with the very rhetoric principle of coming to the point at the third repetition.  Generally, however, Messiaen sticks to mosaic structures. 

My own music is very repetitive/contemplative and in this respect resembles more certain music from Asia and Africa, based on entirely different principles than European rhetoric and sonata form. Kees van Houten rightly pointed out that this might negatively effect the performance of a piece like Premier Choral. It is true that as a student my first choice was Reger and not Franck and with Reger the "click" was there from the very start (how this relates to sonata form I can not yet explain)

After these comments, I made a new recording of Franck's master piece. The first part (without pedal) has hardly improved, but the second part is better than before. However, I got out of control twice and stopped playing. Normally, I would not have published such a performance, but given the above comments I hope the blog may give an interesting presentation of the process of practising, for instance for a younger generation.