Monday, December 29, 2014

Clair de Lune

Were you one of those teenagers whose piano repertoire had to include Clair de Lune (along with the Rachmaninoff Prelude in C# minor)?  Of itself it made no sense to me except as delivered in an overly maudlin state by other players.

It wasn't until many years later that I realized it was part of a Baroque-inspired suite of dances.  I have been fascinated with the Suite Bergamasque ever since.
The more I perform it the closer it gets me to the feeling that, while all the other movements bear appropriate names: Prelude, Menuet, Passepied, that one alone has the wrong title.

It must be for a reason.  The Verlaine poem of the same title (Clair de Lune) is all about not knowing what is real and what is imagined, remembered, or no longer alive.  The movements are usually played with metric strictness in all the movements except this one.

The other evening it was as if the suite played itself in exactly the opposite manner, with all  the movements except this one played freely, conversationally, lyrically. This movement seems to have its lyricism notated right into it: no freedom required.  It comes to life on its own terms in what has to be one of music's most colossal ironies.