Ensaios para a estreia de "prelúdio, coral e fuga"

prelúdio, coral e fuga

for piano four hands

dur. ca. 12'

Premiered March 25, 2018

Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa

Duarte Pereira Martins and Philippe Marques, pf

Chamaram-lhe voz ouviram-na e é muda.

Jorge de Sena, Uma Pequenina Luz

Nenhuma voz me atinge por destino
dela (…)
as ouça claramente, na humihada,

ténue, profunda, vasta e dolorosa,
conquanto doce, humanidade alheia
Assim se escutam vozes.

Jorge de Sena, As Evidências, XIV

How does one lis­ten to voices?

prelú­dio, coral e fuga was con­ceived to be first and fore­most about light: shad­ow, col­or, reflec­tion. Or rather: about the ways light strikes or shines through a surface.

Almost all of the agog­ic mark­ings through­out the score refer to prop­er­ties describ­ing how a mate­r­i­al refracts light. Iri­des­cente — iri­des­cent — is the mate­r­i­al that changes col­or depend­ing on the angle at which it is struck by light: a metal­lic pane shift­ing its hue as one moves clos­er, or a labradorite spilling out the light it reflects into a rain­bow. In adu­lares­cence, on the oth­er hand, light seems to inhab­it the inside of a gem­stone instead, giv­ing off a warm inner glow. And caus­tic”, while more com­mon­ly under­stood as cor­ro­sive” — and the fugue it heads does indeed end up desin­te­grat­ing —, is also the name of a phe­nom­e­non in optics, in which a curved sur­face bends and con­cen­trates the light it receives. Caus­tics are those curved bright flour­ish­es that show light emerg­ing trans­formed after tra­vers­ing a mate­r­i­al. Caus­tics are light ani­mat­ed by con­tact, irrev­o­ca­bly changed thereafter.

My cham­ber music, par­tic­u­lar­ly from the peri­od that fol­lows this piece, usu­al­ly tends to fore­ground the inter­ac­tion between the indi­vid­ual agents in the music mak­ing process, thus hin­der­ing the for­ma­tion of a sub­ject-posi­tion that can be uncon­tentious­ly inhab­it­ed by the fig­ure of the com­pos­er. This piece, how­ev­er, is overt­ly lyri­cal — though not with­out some resistance.

I have been asked repeat­ed­ly why a pre­lude, chorale and fugue”? One of the three might have been palat­able in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but all togeth­er, in order? High­ly sus­pi­cious. The short answer is: as a joke”. The longer answer is a bit more con­vo­lut­ed, as one might expect — so much so, in fact, that it is only redeemed when fol­lowed by the ele­gant answer (in the math­e­mat­i­cal sense of unit­ing econ­o­my of pre­sen­ta­tion with depth of poten­tial­i­ty): as a joke”.

For­mal devices tend towards auton­o­my. Their push­ing and pulling — abstract­ing and reor­ga­niz­ing — of that which they con­strain fore­grounds its con­tents’ mate­ri­al­i­ty. In doing so, they pro­duc­tive­ly break apart the mean­ing con­veyed by the syn­tax of a sup­posed orig­i­nal mes­sage. This hap­pens dou­bly so with his­tor­i­cal forms (though aren’t they all?), loaded with sed­i­ment­ed rhetoric. It is from the resis­tance exert­ed against these that sub­jec­tiv­i­ty is affirmed. The speak­ing voice emerges when it is com­pelled to fend for itself.

It was through the son­net — albeit in all its dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble vari­a­tions on verse group­ing — that poet Jorge de Sena com­posed his large scale cycle As Evidên­cias, which he described as an anguish­ing­ly ripened fruit of a dif­fer­ent kind of sin­cer­i­ty; that which we owe to our­selves and to our own expres­sion, in those moments, as if rev­e­la­tions, of tran­scen­den­tal accep­tance, too harsh to be remem­bered every day, even in the pres­ence of poet­ry, and of objec­tiv­i­ty when fac­ing the world, too uncom­fort­able for the every­day con­ve­nience of sim­ply being ourselves”.

We have in the piece two par­al­lel pro­grams of a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty run­ning up against its respec­tive sys­tem: one declared — musi­cal mate­r­i­al using, rub­bing against, per­haps ulti­mate­ly dis­card­ing the forms that gave it shape —, one unde­clared — a com­pos­er using, rub­bing against, per­haps ulti­mate­ly dis­card­ing the struc­tures that gave him shape. A very fun­ny joke — like all jokes explained over para­graphs tend to be.

The two play­ers work to height­en the lyri­cal under­cur­rent of the piece. Their rela­tion­ship is often seem­ing­ly adver­sar­i­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pre­lude. But this oppo­si­tion — if attestable at all — dis­solves as they shift, res­onate, entan­gle. Hence­forth, the play­ers are often called upon to ren­der frag­men­tary lines — mean­ing not that the lines are frag­ment­ed, but rather that their rela­tion­ship to the line shifts. In a musi­cal­ly con­ven­tion­al deno­ta­tion, it is of utmost impor­tance to assure inde­pen­dence, integri­ty and uni­ty to voic­es; in one word: sub­ject­hood. This is true even — or espe­cial­ly — when they are tramelled in thick polypho­ny or in devices such as the hoque­tus. Here, we have no voic­es” to speak of, but we are hope­ful­ly in the pres­ence of some­thing that speaks.

The (at times) intri­cate phys­i­cal chore­og­ra­phy of the chorale is no dis­play of vir­tu­os­i­ty, but in fact a rather phys­i­cal fill­ing in” of space left open by the oth­er. In the fugue, the prop­er­ties that would allow the lis­ten­er to per­cep­tu­al­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ate the for­mal stra­ta are pur­pose­ful­ly denied and obscured. Because of this, so do the play­ers — and the lis­ten­ers — have to nego­ti­ate their posi­tion against the form: they are the sub­jects who inten­tion­al­ize and con­cede expres­sive pow­er to the form’s automa­tisms. More impor­tant­ly, they also have to face the voic­es” which emerge, bent and refract­ed, from the curved sur­face of form — and they can only do so obliquely.

It is as though one has ceased to be the hero or hero­ine in one’s own sto­ry”, writes Elaine Scar­ry in her essay On Beau­ty and Being Just. This liq­ui­da­tion of the con­cept of musi­cal voice (under­tak­en in a chorale and a fugue!) often feels like one has just suf­fered a demo­tion” (ibid.), so tied that it is to music’s uneasy rela­tion­ship to speech. “[A]t moments when we believe we are con­duct­ing our­selves with equal­i­ty”, pro­ceeds Scar­ry, we are usu­al­ly instead con­duct­ing our­selves as the cen­tral fig­ure in our own pri­vate sto­ry; and when we feel our­selves to be mere­ly adja­cent, or lat­er­al (or even sub­or­di­nate), we are prob­a­bly more close­ly approach­ing a state of equality”.

We cease to be the hero or hero­ine in one’s own sto­ry when alter­i­ty strikes — though not by des­tiny” — the win­dow­pane through which we peer out into the world, caus­tics bleed­ing from the dent impart­ed. Most come­ly / is always [the voice] I meet now, / just because I meet it […]. / And to hear them, I don’t exist”.

Assim se escu­tam vozes.