As a child, Romantic music was the one genre that I had the closest connection to and the one I felt I understood the most. Having always been more of an “emotional listener,” I remember becoming very upset when adults told me I was too young to understand the true expression and meaning in that music. As I got older, and started my training in conservatoires, I started losing that connection I had with Romanticism, for we were told that everything that was “expressive” - like the use of rubato and slides was un-tasteful. We were supposed rely merely only on the what the composer had written - his so-called “intentions.”
I lost that love for Romanticism for a very long time, and it was not until I began investigating the world of art and literature, that I started “feeling” again what used to be so instinctive for me as a child. Not only has this research helped me intellectualize what this movement is all about, but it has also reignited my passion for it when I perform the repertoire.
When it comes to improvising pieces based on something that is supposed to be Romantic, of course, we imagine the language of the great composers from that era, which requires quite a sophisticated understanding of harmony on one’s instrument.
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats demonstrates my attempt to perform something in that style. I tried to follow the structure of the poem with my music, in order to take the listener on the journey that the poem presents. Keats speaks to us about the images on this Grecian urn that have been for thousands of years frozen. I tried to represent these different images, for example, around 2’, I performed a sweet melody, like that which is talked about in the poem. In the last stanza, Keats makes us realize that when we die, this Grecian urn will still be on Earth, reminding us of our short-lived time, in contrast to art’s longevity. Around 5’ I start a series of arpeggiations that shows the emotional weight of having made that reflection.
My trio, Kalea, worked in collaboration with poet Andrew Mitchell on his long-narrative poem, Written in Water, a response to John Keats’ life and work. I have included 2 larger sections from it, that show how we have worked together to bring out the Romantic qualities of the words.
In “Fall of Hyperion,” Andrew Mitchell talks about the point in Keats’ life where he questions the meaning of poetry and whether it served a purpose or not. We translated that, by chance, by having a Wagnerian-like trajectory, with the extended phrases and a sensation of never resolving. Keats was faced with questions that do not have an immediate answer nor solution, so we thought this music that we improvised could fit with the idea behind Andrew Mitchell’s work.
We also performed “Ode to Autumn” by Keats with Andrew Mitchell, and though the harmonic language is not technically Romantic, we felt that this image of Autumn required a different aesthetic which could evoke a sense of peace.