A Conversation with the dead
(A concert paraphrase of Ricardo Viñes performing Granada, op. 47 by Isaac Albéniz)
Håkon Magnar Skogtad
Live performance at Dokkhuset in Trondheim, Norway at November 18, 2021:
This piece was performed (and premiered) at my final artistic presentation at Dokkhuset, Trondheim in Norway on October 18, 2021. I had for a long time prior to this been thinking about a performance that could artistically say something about this “grey area” between the Ricardo Viñes style and my own transformed way of playing. The Debussy “extrapolations” I played at the same concert could indeed be seen as a dialogue between Viñes and myself – taking our turns in the performance. But because these Debussy pieces were intended to be “extrapolations,” they were always on “Viñes’s terms.” The composition A Conversation with the dead, takes this idea of playing together with Viñes, which is indeed what I had been doing for the most part of the research, to the next stage – where our playing styles go into dialogue with each other and merge together. However, because my own playing style was at this point very much transformed by the Viñes style, this is also a “grey area”, where it (hopefully) becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. The composition itself can also be regarded as a dialogue between Isaac Albéniz and my own harmonic language as a composer. The piece intentionally follows both the form, character, tempo and mood of Albéniz's Granada Op. 47, albeit in a paraphrased manner.
The artistic presentation at Dokkhuset started with the screening of the film Playing in the Manner of Ricardo Viñes, where Granada was the first piece I played. The film ended and transitioned into my live performances, where I started with the Conversation with the dead piece. The intent of this was to bridge the two performances together, and to make a sort of “artistic reflection” on the journey between these two stages.
Although my other compositions and arrangements are more carefully notated with regards to the performance practices, I chose not to do so in this case – both because A conversation with the dead was meant to mirror the original Granada score, but also because I wanted to have more improvisational freedom when performing it. I have therefore included an annotated score where I have marked the romantic practices which are not indicated in my original one. I have marked this in the same manner as with the annotated score of Granada. The most important romantic practices I applied to my performance is in line with the recreated performance of the Granada piece and can be divided into four categories:
- Tempo modifications (rushing/slowing)
- “Polyphonic rubato”
- Sonority (pedaling and brisk articulation)
In A conversation with the dead, the tempo modifications are mostly evident in sections such as bars 21-24. This way of playing is in line with the “rubber ball” principle discussed earlier. The phrase accelerates towards its highest point, lingers for a bit, and then falls down again – in a gravitational manner. “Polyphonic rubato” can be heard when the melody rushes ahead of the accompaniment, such as in bars 5 and 7, or in a similar manner in bar 48. “Dislocated attacks” occurs throughout my performance, usually very subtly between the melody and the accompaniment, in order to clearly separate the voices. This “dislocation” works together with the pedaling, and just like in the recreated Viñes pieces, it is by using “dislocation” and brisk articulation that it is possible to have a rich use of the sustain pedal while still avoiding “muddiness.” This can also be heard in the octave scale runs, such as bars 21-26. “Dislocated attacks” are also used to delay the melody notes at the beginning of the phrase for a more “tenuto feel,” such as in bar 3, 10, 17 and 46.
I also found it interesting, with regards to the discussion on Ricardo Viñes's interpretations being "true" or not to the intent of the composer, that in this dialogue between myself (the performer) and myself (the composer), I “deviated” from my own text in service to the piece.