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Paris – New York PDF Print E-mail

Hedonism, an exhaustive cult of beauty and a play of hidden meanings: these are the qualities which, in a vehemently anti-Romantic climate are hinted at in the Tombeau de Couperin. They are six original episodes which, in the piano version created between 1914 and 1917 after the composer had rendered war service at the front as a non-conscripted tank driver, were reduced to four, in different succession, in the score for Rolf de Maré’s Swedish Ballet. The debut of this version (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 1920) only preceded by a few months the definitive passing to the Pasdeloup Concerts. World War I had caused profound turmoil in the sparkling wellbeing of the Belle époque, giving rise to a crisis in the internationalism of avant-garde forces: as if by magic cultural exchanges, meeting places and arts centres vanished into nothingness. As for orchestra, it remains a mini-collection of epitaphs, in memory of those friends who had fallen in battle. Two pages per keyboard have gone missing, the Couperin Fugue and the Toccata of dazzling virtuosity, but concentrated on the core of four episodes, in rapid succession: a Prelude replete with ornamentations, the Forlane instilled with asymmetries, the Menuet coupled with a melancholy Musette and the sparkling Rigaudon. The idea dominates of gentlemanly and stylised 18th century, an oasis of serenity counterpoised to war’s horrors, in which linguistic defilement anticipates the neo-classical vein.
This is an exceptional contribution on the relations between Paris and New York crystallising itself in Gershwin’s An American in Paris, an unplanned symphonic poem which refurbishes the myth of the modern metropolis. Completed in 1928 at the Bristol Hotel in Vienna, the piece was influenced by recollections of Paris, made during a workstay. A pair of souvenirs which were then acquired, Debussy’s complete works and four trumpet-horns of Paris taxis, which were so different from American motor horns, merged in this score which saw the light of day at New York in the same year. The critic Deems Taylor drew up a detailed profile, commissioned by Gershwin. The outcome is a unique geo-musical itinerary flowing between smiling melodies and pressing rhythms. The stroll starts in chaotic quarters (motor car horn sounds), proceeds in front of a coffee-house (the trombone sounds a music-hall motive) and arrives at the Grand Palais (English horn), before plunging into the Rive Gauche; it is here that the tourist is approached by a fellow countryman (short violin recital) carrying him into a homely atmosphere wading through Charleston rhythms, blues and jazz allusions (muted trumpets). All this happens before the stroll starts again on the opening theme and closes in a festive uproar.

Luigi Di Fronzo