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«Le marin c’est moi» PDF Print E-mail

by Luigi Di Fronzo

What do Concerto dell’albatro by Ghedini, La Tempesta di mare by Vivaldi, the overture of Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage by Mendelssohn and La Mer by Debussy have in common if not the acre, regenerating perfume of sea water? On earth, as we know, there are enormous expanses of water, lagoon mirrors and profound spaces of many kinds. There is the obscure sea, dark, sometimes violent in the quarrelsome movement of waves that submerge us, as in the narrative pages of the Typhoon by Conrad. At the same time there is the quiet, still sea, that injures our look as a dazzling plain with the sun in the Zenith, as happens in La Mer. Actually, music offers us an important sample: the Mediterranean sea of Verdi’s Othello, the cold and Nordic sea described by a romantic Brahms, (in Lieder and chamber music), the exotic sway of a schooner in Ravel’s Shéhérazade and the restless, leaden, obscure sea of the Peter Grimes by Britten. Certainly it is difficult to imagine the precise perception of the sea of a composer as Debussy, that looked at water with an utopian and far-away point of view (L’isle joyeuse, Reflets dans l’eau, Sirènes, La Cathédrale engloutie), in an impressionistic atmosphere strongly conditioned by the waves by Hokusai and by Turner’s sailboats. Indeed, in 1889 Debussy was questioned – as in the celebrated Decalogue by Proust – about what would have been his professional choice if he had not become a musician. Debussy did not have any doubt: he was “a sailor”, maybe influenced by his father’s nomad character and by the aspiration of sailing in the Southern seas. Probably he did not know Salgari, but surely he knew Gauguin’s paintings, Poe’s Gordon Pym e and Stevenson. In any case in 1903, during the creation of La Mer, Debussy wrote a letter to André Messager and said: «Maybe you do not know that I was destined to the excellent career of sailor and that I have been brought away from this will only by life’s vicissitudes». Maybe his thought went to the light of the Mediterranean and to his permanence in Brittany. The most natural result is a palette of light effects, a landscape sketched by wise brush strokes, where we can breathe the force of wind and the perfume of the sea. Music «absorbed by paper» as in an album of Japanese engravings, so popular at the time. «La musique est des couleurs» he will write on one of his autographs. Indeed in Paris, after having experienced decadent taste thanks to the symbolist text of Pélleas by Debussy, the extremely conservative public had been educated to the complex operas by Wagner (as Tristan, premiered finally in 1904) and afterwards introduced to the Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky, premiered in 1906. In La Mer the composer draws our attention on a world of pictorial suggestions, in a complex texture of sounds alluding to open spaces and to the sea’s movements. The allusions to paintings help us recall the three episodes – From dawn to noon on the sea, Play of the waves, Dialogue of the wind and the sea – and create the occasion for a mysterious sway of fifths during the first episode, for the creation of mobile and playful figurations in the second episode and for the unending energy flowing in the third one. The score was premiered during the Concerts Lamoureux in an atmosphere of favourable surprise. For the chronicles, the conductor was Camille Chevillard.
Maybe Volkov (editor of Shostakovich’s Memories) was right when he underlined the crazy jurodivij role of the musician; just tolerated by Stalin, as a bloodthirsty Renaissance king could tolerate the impertinence of his jester. He had been pardoned by a dictator who was not aware of how the epic dimension of his compositions could denounce the false optimism of the time. Indeed they did not hide, without the need of going in depth, the tragedy of Stalinism interpreted with keen lucidity. With the grotesque mean of satyr and a corrosive humour, extremely effective, with a lyrical dignity that emotionally awakes, the Symphony no. 8 in C minor op. 65 is dated 1943. Premiered in Moscow, on November 4 of the same year, it was conducted by Evgenij Mravinskij. The composer says: «I wanted to recreate the human tragic condition during the hammering of war, trying to describe sufferance, anguish, courage and joy. All of these emotions have a particular vividness, put in evidence by the turmoil of war». Interior but explicit program, made up of a sequence of five movements: an Adagio, an Allegro non troppo extremely dramatic, an Allegretto humoristic and brutal, an Allegro non troppo, a Largo with a theme of a funeral march and a more rejoicing final Allegretto.