Re-imagine: Ravel and Beethoven

In 2017, I curated a piano festival called “Dialogues”, at UCLA. During this festival, students and faculty performed new works that responded to music of the past. I have been drawn to this “Response” genre since premiering the complete 13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg, responses to Bach’s Aria. This work was written for Gilbert Kalish, one of my teachers, and I am deeply grateful to him for introducing me not only to the piece but to the “Response” idea. I am drawn to it because it creates a bridge between the past and the present, illuminating the canon of the piano repertoire while opening the stage to bright new voices.

For the festival, I asked six composers from UCLA faculty – Peter Golub, Tamir Hendelman, Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, Mark Carlson, and David Lefkowitz –   to respond to 6 Bagatelles opus 126 – the last work Beethoven wrote for the piano. This group of six pieces fascinate me with their childlike wonder, their wit, moodiness, charm, rhythmic energy, transcendence and experimentation. The responses are tumultuously contrapuntal, multilayered, humorously whimsical, jazzy, sweetly sensuous and dark. Interspersing the new Bagatelles with the original felt like the most organic way to present them in performance and in this recording. I hope that the emerging dialogue between then and now highlights the unique character of the original while forming a wholly new sonic adventure.

Wanting to enlarge the scope of the project, I turned to an iconic triptych of the piano repertoire – Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit (Ondine, Le Gibet, and Scarbo), a work that I recorded in 2008 and have frequently performed.  Like the Beethoven Bagatelles, Ravel’s masterpiece is richly experimental and full of sonic contrasts and innovative effects. The original is itself a response to the poetry of Aloyisius Bertrand; it was interesting to continue the chain of responses to the evocative subjects:  Ondine, the sensuous water nymph,  Gibet, the hypnotic, almost minimalistic gallows, and the diabolical, virtuosic imp Scarbo. It is considered one of the most pianistically challenging works in the repertoire, and I wanted responses that would be challenging and rich, as well. With the help of Yamaha Artist Services and UCLA’s Davise Fund, I turned to three composers – Paola Prestini, Timo Andres and Billy Childs – who, I felt, would respond powerfully to the individual qualities in each of the Ravel pieces. The resulting pieces stand on their own as powerful additions to the piano repertoire. While responding to and elaborating on qualities singular to Ravel, they can be performed as individual works or a coherent suite.

I am humbled and grateful to these nine brilliant composers who have responded with such passion and dedication to these great work from the piano repertoire.

The recording was completed during the challenging time of the 2019-2020 Covid Pandemic Quarantine. Postponing initial sessions from March 2020, when the Quarantine began, to September 2020, I went ahead to continue the project in the only physically possible manner available to us. I recorded the music, both audio and midi versions, at UCLA, with the Disklavier Yamaha DCFX concert grand, while alone in the studio. Then, the midi files were edited over many Zoom hours, with me in LA and Aaron Ross at Yamaha Artist Services in NYC, and rerecorded in NYC with the help of my audio engineer, producer and long time friend Joseph Patrych. The resulting performance is a combination of midi and audio recordings, and many hours of cross-country Zoom calls. This complex, multi-layered response project came to be, despite the pandemic. It was deeply gratifying to musically and spiritually connect with so many, during a most lonesome and precarious time in our history. I am grateful to every person who has made this project possible.                             

-Inna Faliks, Feb. 2021

Click below for a short video on the project.
Billy Childs’ track, “Pursuit”, will be released as a single in May.
The full album will be released June 11, 2021.

FROM THE COMPOSERS:

Beethoven Responses:

Peter Golub: (Bagatelle 1) Writing the first piece of a set and not knowing what’s coming after is a little like leading an expedition without a map. So, knowing that the composers following me would be having intimate relations with their own Bagatelle, I decided to lead the way by weaving in and out of Beethoven’s first piece. This way there would be some likelihood that material I made use of would recur and resonate later in the set. I was especially interested in Beethoven’s use of what at first seem like odd phrase structures and truncated cadences but that are really moments distilled to an essence, simplicity that hides complexity.  This is how I hear this remarkable set; I tried to capture that in my hommage while providing a springboard for the pieces to follow.

Tamir Hendelman: (Bagatelle 2)  In my response to Beethoven’s 2nd bagatelle, I tried to tap into its miniature musical journey of contrasts: a humming, buzzing, whirling energy alternating with lyrical phrases.  I love how Beethoven alternates short, questioning phrases with extended, searching answers.  And so I began a simple, short 4-note motif that gains momentum like a spinning top, winding in and out of Beethoven’s harmonic world before taking a short respite.   I then let my fingers explore a more freely improvised and languid turn on the melodies that have been presented along the way.  Finally, the song climbs upwards until a quick echo of the theme returns and the momentum picks up again for one final spin.

Richard Danielpour (Bagatelle 3) This Bagatelle belongs to two sets. I composed it as a response, for Inna Faliks, to Beethoven’s 3rd Bagatelle opus 126, and have decided to include it my own cycle of 11 Bagatelles that are, in a sense, my “Scenes From Childhood.”  This Beethoven response is a ‘childhood nightmare’ , which while owing something to the beginning of the third Bagatelle of Beethoven’s opus 126, evolves into something considerably darker.

Ian Krouse: (Bagatelle 4)  My response to Beethoven’s Bagatelle, Op. 126, No. 4 in B-minor, was to compose an etude. The aspects of Beethoven’s piece that struck me immediately were its extreme speed, and its odd form (ABAB), in which the two sections have almost nothing to do with each other except a shared tonic and a common tempo.  Although my piece is not ‘tonal’ in any traditional sense, the non-octave-replicating mode upon which it is based does allow for tonal regions, enabling me to map my piece to the two most important tonal regions in Beethoven’s bagatelle, notably G-major in addition to the home tonality of B.  Notwithstanding, the listener who is familiar with the Beethoven, may hear several important rhythmic motifs that I lifted, as well as a brusque, at times violent spirit that I, for one, associate with some of his works, and most definitely, this one. 

Mark Carlson, Bagatelle # 5: I was so glad that Inna asked me to write a response to the very intimate Op. 126, No. 5 as I already responded strongly to its tenderness. In infusing the original with my own 21st-century sensibilities, and as a bagatelle is a trifle—or as one might say today, “Oh, it was nothing!”—the piece as it evolved evoked for me the sweet nothings new lovers whisper to each other, and thus, its title, “Sweet Nothings.”

David Lefkowitz, Bagatelle # 6: The last movement of the last composition for solo piano that Beethoven saw through to publication is peculiar.  The brief, framing fast sections seemingly unrelated to the larger, slower middle section; the frequent three-bar phrases; and the prolonged pause on a low submediant pedal nearly precisely at the geographic middle of the piece all contribute to the surprising sound of this Bagatelle.  I attempted to capture those features, but using an arithmetic mode that, in its “precipitando” potential, helps knit the outer sections with the middle.

Ravel Responses:

Paola Prestini (Ondine) Variations on s Spell is in two movements, Water Sprite and Bell Tolls, in two distinct sections. The work as a whole is a reimagining of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit (1908), and a response to Ondine, more specifically. Rave based each movement on poems by Aloyisius Bertrand from the collection Gaspard de la Nuit, fantasies a la manière de Rembrandt et de Callos, completed in 1836. “Variations” is a modern reimagining that takes as inspiration both Ravel’s music and Betrand’s poetry. “Each wave is a water sprite who swims in the stream, each stream is a foot path that winds towards my palace, and my palace is a fluid structure at the bottom of the lake, in a triangle of fire, earth and air.”

Timo Andres (Le Gibet): Old Ground:  Ravel’s Le Gibet fascinates and repulses me; it’s a brilliantly succinct textbook of harmonic possibility, but I’m simultaneously uncomfortable with its extramusical program, which depicts a hanged corpse at sunset. The music luridly romanticizes the already too-picturesque prefatory poem by Aloysius Bertrand, reducing the hanged victim to a scenic backdrop against which the poet projects his disturbed thoughts. Ravel represents the roles of observed and observer using an asymmetrical ostinato around which a palette of murky, ambiguous chords slowly churns. Old Ground reverses these roles. The opening ostinato is given agency and trajectory; the dark chords, which come in only at the end, accompany a silenced singer. 

Billy Childs (Scarbo): Pursuit, was commissioned by the great pianist, Inna Faliks, and Yamaha Artist Services, as part of series of “commentary” pieces on the masterwork, Gaspard de la Nuit, by Maurice Ravel.  Pursuit started out as an interpretive parallel to Scarbo, the third movement of Gaspard, but quickly turned into – in my mind – a sadly familiar American storyline, in which a black man is being pursued by either a slave catcher, a KKK lynch mob, or the modern day police.  There is no overly conscious formal structure, just two parts: a rapidly virtuosic repeated note section juxtaposed with a somberly lyrical passage.  The two disparate segments alternate back and forth, creating more of an intuitive sense of a dramatic arc than a fixed musical design. Inna Faliks’s interpretation of this work is extraordinary; her deft, sure-handed, and dynamic technique captures the edgy pathos of the pursuit, while her sensitivity and delicacy of touch brilliantly conveys the angst of the slower sections.    

  1. La Campanella, Paganini - Liszt Inna Faliks 4:53
  2. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  3. Beethoven Eroica Variations Inna Faliks 9:59
  4. Gershwin: Prelude 3 in E-flat Minor Inna Faliks 1:25
  5. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 10:27
  6. Gaspard de la Nuit (1908) : Scarbo - Ravel Inna Faliks 9:07
  7. Sirota by Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin Inna Faliks 7:45