Night pieces by Schumann, Zuidam & Ravel
Nox, the Latin word for ‘night’. In the world of art, the night of Schumann’s Nachtstücke, Robert Zuidam’s Nox and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit opens its doors like a haunted castle for romantic poets and composers.
Night-time visions became the foundations of a pre-Freudian subconsciousness in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Some of the great writers discovered their dreams and anxieties, seeing themselves and the magic of imagination in the mirror of fantasy. In music, the nocturne became a mode of expression for composers such as John Field and Frédéric Chopin, while in prose and poetry, the night is subsumed into the DNA of Hölderlin’s night poems, Novalis’ Hymnen an die Nacht and the Nachtstücke of E.T.A. Hoffmann and Jean Paul.
It was no coincidence that their work provided intellectual sustenance for the literary gifted Robert Schumann. His earliest works, which were entirely for piano up until his Nachtstücke, originated in psychological impressions gained from literature. They are poetry translated into sound.
For Dutch composer Robert Zuidam (b. 1964), night is the night of toil. Nox (2020), his first large-scale work for solo piano since the Tanglewood Concerto for piano and orchestra, dating from 2015, is a night owl’s ode to the hours of his creativity. The first piece was indirectly the genesis of the second. The Tanglewood Concerto, which had been written for Emmanuel Ax, was given its Dutch premiere by Minnaar in Amsterdam in 2016, and Zuidam was so impressed by his playing that he wrote two Nocturnes for Minnaar. Eventually there were five of them, all but one dealing with aspects of darkness.
In his piano cyclus Jeux d’eau and Miroirs, Ravel took major steps towards de-romanticising the 19th century piano sketch, but his quantum leap in terms of idiom and virtuosity became Gaspard de la Nuit. In essence, Gaspard is a symphonic poem for piano. The work is subtitled Trois Poèmes pour piano d’après Aloysius Bertrand, whose poems are also printed out in full in the score. The infernal degree of difficulty is a metaphor for their contents; as Ravel himself stressed in one of his letters, Gaspard is in fact the devil. But the most striking similarity among the three poems is the richness of their sound and imagery. – From the booklet notes by Bas van Putten
‘Everything comes together perfectly in this deeply layered and evocatively designed, fascinating recital. The almost scorching directness that characterises his playing is just as striking for Minnaar as the enchanting suppleness in rhythm, voicing and intonation.’Opus Klassiek