The Unstoppable Musical Adventure Of Eliane Rodrigues

There is hardly a pause between the many releases that the pianist Eliane Rodrigues keeps surprising us with. It is as if the exquisite interpretations of the scores she takes in hand wish to transport us to a timeless universe.

Meticulously selected music, sparkling in a version that invites us to see the composer in an unusual, original, and new way, is given her loving attention. Rodrigues takes us in search of connections, exchanges, and unsuspected influences that are often far from obvious.

Once again her peerless interpretations – you might safely call them “re-creations”– of Beethoven and Bach make this clear. We are the privileged witnesses of a thoroughly surprising meeting.

 

The Intriguing Link Between Bach And Beethoven

We are of course all familiar with the impact of Bach on Mozart, but how are we to understand –albeit at a greater distance– the active, even intimate connection between Bach and Beethoven in terms of evolving musical language?

This is just one of the remarkable insights which this new album by Eliane Rodrigues enchants us with – precisely by aiming at a reduction to the essence, a new exploration of the essential musical grammars that have given rise to one another. Rodrigues has thus done much more than merely work out a personal transcription suffused with her own vision. What comes to the fore is a brand-new “authentic” Bach, and a hitherto unheard “elementary” Beethoven.

Let us first trace the route from Bach to Beethoven. Afterwards we shall examine how Rodrigues allows us to feel this adventure in her interpretations of Bach’s staggering spirituality, which was borne by a firm belief in eternity, and Beethoven’s musicality, ever shuttling between hope and despair. First, though, we should examine how and when Bach became the benchmark for Ludwig van Beethoven.

 

The Legacy Of Bach – The First Phase

Johann Sebastian Bach rarely travelled north of Thuringia or Saxony and published very little of the music he wrote. Even so he had a greater influence on the composers who followed him than any other composer in the history of Western music.

This influence was particularly important for Ludwig van Beethoven. He was first exposed to Bach at a very early stage of his musical development. The fact that Beethoven could play almost all of Bach’s “wohltemperierte Klavier” by heart when he was only 11 is hardly a coincidence. It was at this same age, in about 1781, that the young Ludwig worked out his first compositions.

 

Beethoven’s Return To Bach

Shortly after his death in 1750 Bach was renowned, primarily among professional musicians, for his unrivaled keyboard skills and as a composer who shone for his immense musical depth and intelligence. The general public, on the other hand, showed a preference for more fashionable composers, such as Handel, Telemann, and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, although this was soon to change. Bach’s music and musical theory was disseminated by a flood of copies of his work to other musical centres – first to Berlin and later to Vienna, Zürich, and Bonn, where a first public mention of Beethoven is directly linked to Bach. Shortly after his move to Vienna in 1792, Beethoven was caught up in a circle of lovers of baroque music that met every Sunday in the apartments of Baron Gottfried van Swieten to play music by Bach and Handel.

In the fallow period following the triumphs of his middle period, Beethoven stopped examining everything he had achieved; he apparently felt that there was something missing and returned to Bach, the unsurpassed master of counterpoint and fugue. By returning to Bach he started to mine unexplored continents of spirit and heart.

 

Eliane Rodrigues And Her Search For New Ways

Rodrigues is able to surprise us with her peerless interpretations at precisely the point where mind and heart meet, which in itself bears witness to an immense and unsuspected creative power.

Her dynamic interpretation, which is certainly not lacking in emotional intensity, brings greater sharpness and penetration to the spiritual force that for both Beethoven and Bach serves to raise the material content to new levels.

Both composers bridged the conflict between earthly violence and spiritual serenity. Rodrigues understands this perfectly and opens new paths of connectedness between the spiritual and the material.

Beethoven too, just like Rodrigues and all the rest of us, asked himself repeatedly what makes Bach the father of music, a composer who has influenced virtually everybody who has followed him and enriched them with a treasury of musical ideas.

 

Bach’s Reputation

Let us again recall that Bach’s name in those days was founded on his reputation as a virtuoso organist and composer of advanced contrapuntal music. Bach embraced all styles and genres and investigated inspiring possibilities, not merely blending them together but also developing them further. The result was music of a hitherto unseen and astounding diversity. Although Bach was obliged by force of circumstance to write music that catered to the needs of his patrons (for a long time this meant liturgical music), he found the time to indulge himself in scores intended primarily for his own use and entertainment. He wrote for organ and keyboard instruments and in doing so concentrated on toccatas, fantasies, preludes, and fugues that combined an outstanding knowledge of harmonic musical language with the free experimentation he had so admired in Buxtehude and Böhm in Northern Germany, in Pachelbel and Froberger in Southern Germany, in France’s organists, and Italians such as Frescobaldi. By mixing and surpassing his models he developed an entirely personal style characterized by a prolific imagination, perfect control of counterpoint, impressive virtuosity, and extensive pedal work. Improvisation was Bach’s true gift. Improvisation was always the basis for an astounding composition that pursued unity and efficiency.

 

An Inspired Feeling For Improvisation Underlies Eliane Rodrigues’s Vision Of Bach

It is this feeling for improvisation, the basis of so many of Bach’s scores, that Rodrigues uses to create “her” vision of Bach. In her transcriptions she recreates the composer and makes use of his own compositional insights, which allows her to alloy Bach’s music with the vast store of knowledge she has acquired during a career of piano performance.

In doing so she carefully integrates the dance rhythms that creep even into the preludes, respects (and graces) the lovely melodies which wind like garlands through the sturdy musical architecture, and ensure that we are able to appreciate the music at so many different levels.

Rodrigues also respects the accessible and very human features of the otherwise incorrigibly perfectionist Bach. Humor, sadness, and care infiltrate her view of the composer. In this way she avoids the indigestible gravitas of an excessively ethereal, exalted vision. For both Bach and Rodrigues, dance and music coincide. They are inseparably joined, and it is precisely this entanglement that makes her interpretation so astonishingly enjoyable. Eliane’s enjoyment is evident in every bar of Bach’s  “driving power” without following any particular example but simply by searching for a highly convincing 21st-century “sound.”

Rodrigues’s approach to Bach aims at greater freedom. Bach is an inspired tailor, not a well-oiled sewing machine, even though his creativity is often unjustly smothered by an old-fashioned mechanical approach. While respecting Bach’s “robust backbone” Rodrigues deliberately chooses a flexible musculature, a further differentiation of the infinite wealth of Bach’s nervous system.

Nowhere is her dynamic vision of Bach better illustrated than in her interpretation of the renowned Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a piece of Bach’s juvenilia, which announced the full range of his astonishing artistic talent to the world.

 

The Magic Of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

When a composer creates a symphony he is obliged to meet certain expectations. He is supposed to produce a voluminous score, containing numerous surprising elements, which is divided into movements that keep each other in balance.

Beethoven emerged from the tradition established by Mozart and Hadyn which he so admired. He learned the art of symphonic composition from Haydn and Salieri, but his main teacher was Albrechtsberger. His First Symphony remained in the classical tradition as established by Haydn and Mozart, but in his Third Symphony, The Eroica, Beethoven extended the entire concept of the symphony to embrace a much grander language.

The Fifth Symphony is remarkable in many ways. The clarinets and violins sketch out a theme, which Beethoven goes on to develop throughout the entire movement, something that was unheard of for the time. As one listens one is not even aware that the theme is ongoing. One is not even aware of where it comes from. The subconscious picks up the familiarity of it from under the wild energy that unleashes a storm of activity. It seems as if Beethoven is busy making a string of lively notes and comments. An impromptu introduction is experienced by the listener as the first theme. Once it has sufficiently developed, the wind instruments take center stage to present a second theme. While this is happening, a bass chimes in. Beethoven then returns, develops the original theme again, and repeats the entire section. Clearly Beethoven is a born developer, a man who expands his art by improvising.

 

The Panache That Eliane Rodrigues Brings To Beethoven

Eliane Rodrigues lets us hear this organic development very nicely on her piano, with the greatest respect for the desired tempo. After all, tempo plays an essential part in Beethoven’s music. Beethoven’s unique “narrative art” is closely linked to the progression of his sound in time. Other parameters too, such as dynamics and articulation, are given special treatment in his work. Rodrigues maintains strict precision in marking tempos and dynamics, which results in a much closer understanding of the ideas of the composer.

The versatility of Rodrigues in her vigorous and vital treatment of the substance of the music is apparent from the very first four doom-laden notes of the symphony. She respects the sense of insecurity that Beethoven establishes, the daring way in which he deals with the dark tone that sets the mood, the mood from which a crystal-clear, heavenly melody is born. Rodrigues allows a lighter sound to arise in the ongoing development of the theme at hand. She is astonishingly inventive in the way she handles, with a thin sound, the strings and wind and when the horns come in, the listener has the feeling that her piano has returned to its essential core. With improbable nuance, from pianissimo to forte, the piano seeks a way through the labyrinth of existential feelings that Beethoven invokes in his symphony.

Beethoven’s Fifth was not guided by any programmatic intent, but is in general interpreted as music that embodies the struggle against fate, a struggle that culminates in triumphant victory. The score depends on the integration of formal elements, which have been worked out in the finest detail, such as the obsessively rhythmical themes— which some people interpret as fate knocking on the door of our fragile existence, and which in fact even Beethoven himself is said to have acknowledged— that dominate the first movement and which return in the third and fourth movements; the continuous transition between the third and fourth movements (reminiscent of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach) with the repetition of segments from the third movement in the fourth, and then above all, a powerful finale with trombones, piccolo, and bassoon, all of which were making their debut in the symphonic context.

 

Inspiration

The inspiration for this glowing piano version of Beethoven’s Fifth arose initially as the result of a request by Robert Groslot for a treatment of the first movement. If Liszt was convinced that all scores could be brought to the general public via his piano, why not this magnum opus of Beethoven? Rodrigues immediately saw its unique potential. In her explorations of Beethoven she discovered unanticipated moments, often in the intermediate themes, milder Schubert-like passages, in which the brisk Beethoven tempers himself with a lyrical, comforting sensitivity. This is where the true challenge of a piano interpretation lies: to reveal a new world full of unused subtlety to the general public – not a supernatural world chock-a-block with angels and devils, but existence such as revealed to each one of us, with all its inviting qualities and discouraging defects.

 

Never Treading Water

Beethoven never treads water. He does not feel any need to conform to the formal expectations of his time at any price. Rodrigues creates space for Beethoven’s Debussy-like sensibility, which at times points with the clarity of a clearing in a forest forward to a new future of sensitivity in which syncopation and jazz affinities will have a chance. In this way Rodrigues releases Beethoven from his old reputation, which had him down as a heavy, difficult and oppressive composer. In Rodrigues’s vision the sound may never get in the way of the energetic feeling of freedom and improvisation, which are the very essence of Beethoven’s compositional style. If Bach is the earth, then Beethoven is the human who walks upon it.

— Bart Stouten, radio KLARA (VRT) presenter and author

Find him on the web at schrijversgewijs.be/schrijvers/stouten-bart/

Translated to English by Translation Agency Van Lokeren

 

photo above: KARINE GONDIM

 

 

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