What it is to be multi-talented.
The Russian composer Lera Auerbach is
making a name for herself not only as
prolific composer and very fine pianist
but also as a poet. Why write poetry
and music? They say that one appeals
to the left side of the brain; the other
to the right. It’s also true that where
words end music begins. With words you
can, if you wish, be direct; music can
be and often is ambiguous.
Freely formed poetry
is not as common as freely formed music.
Anything with a title such as ‘Dreams’
offers a composer a free hand. Rhyming
poetry and music entitled ‘Fugue’ offers
a composer a straitjacket, which can
in itself be a creative stimulus or
a nuisance. Creative people need space
to manoevre and yet need also a framework
and architecture to prevent rambling
How I would love to
read some of Lera Auerbach’s poetry.
Has any been translated? If the dark
and mysterious music is anything to
go by perhaps her poetry may be similar
to that of Anna Akhmatova (d.1966),
another dark and brooding Russian.
It would be good to
see Lera Auerbach perform. She uses
the whole piano and clearly loves vast,
sonic spaces as well as contrasts between
extreme registers. Her long hair, as
she darts around the keyboard, would
add to the spectacle - she is glamorously
featured on the booklet - rather like
Jacqueline du Pré.
What a productive year
she had in 1999. The 24 preludes are
op. 41 and the ‘Ten Dreams’ are op.
45. What came in between? I haven’t
been able to discover. She must compose
quickly. Perhaps the poetry is written
alongside the music. How does she find
time to do other things: love and live?
Yet surely music comes out of loving
and living. Yes, I know, so many questions.
But why not; that is in the nature of
this extraordinary composer to provoke
questions but not to provide answers.
Auerbach traces through
the twenty-four keys, the cycle of fifths
like Bach and Chopin – C major followed
by A minor then G major and E minor.
But these are surely - and it must be
remembered that I don’t have access
to the scores - only tonal centres.
For example No. 7 in A major has definite
melody acting as the ‘A’ section in
the ternary structure but the ‘B’ section
is tonally very ambiguous. Indeed it
can be difficult to tell the difference
between a Prelude, said to be in a key
and one of the ‘Ten Dreams’ for which
no key is stated. Added to that, each
piece, a Prelude or a Dream, is a miniature,
the longest movement being the last
Prelude in D minor at over five minutes
bringing the cycle to a satisfactory
conclusion. The average length of a
Prelude is not much more than two minutes.
The opening prelude
sets the sonic space. A vast and wild
chord, top and bottom, then jagged lines
and arpeggios; but C major? It’s not
easy to find the key.
The first Dream sets
another agenda. The ‘Allegro ma non
troppo’ is said to be ‘As in a nightmare’.
But most of the Dreams have a similar
soundworld. The word ‘misterioso’ is
a favourite, but not only in the Dreams;
also in the Preludes. Fast music is
exceptional and where it comes it is
short-winded. The A minor Prelude swings
through vast scales but for just sixty
seconds. The F# sharp prelude is marked
Presto; its violence is over after just
sixty-seven seconds. A spent force,
worked out? Or is the composer unable
or unwilling to sustain the mood.
The ninth Dream is
a mixture ‘Allegro (but) misterioso’.
It’s fast and deep. The bass clef throws
off a brief melody then there are over
forty repetitions of a broad and ecstatic
chord. The next movement, marked Allegro,
seems to be going in a different direction
but those hammering chords come again
only a minute into the Dream like a
The Chorale, Fugue
and Postlude show the composer in another
light again. This is a formal structure
with historical baggage. Of course J.S.
Bach is alluded to again. This time,
at over twelve minutes and its three
sections inter-connected, we find Auerbach
making a grandiloquent statement. Vast
tonal harmonies are contrasted in the
‘Chorale’ with massive chord clusters
again utilizing the entire keyboard.
The music hammers at you, shouts at
you and is then almost apologetic in
its solitude. The ensuing Fugue is quite
strict and formal with a chromatic melody
reminiscent of Shostakovich. The shorter
Postlude gently winds up the composition.
So, am I impressed
with this music? Yes. Is this an important
CD? Yes. Do I like it? No. For some
reason I find that it does not appeal.
The moods are always dark. The composer
realizes also that she can make an impression
by sheer power and by extraordinary
contrast which are not always logical.
It is disturbing and keeps me at arms
length, never inviting me in, not even
in sections where an attempt to lure
with something approaching a key or
a conventional tune is made. Warmth
is difficult to find, but fear lies
at its heart.
accompanied by and a wonderfully waffly
booklet note that manages to say nothing
in lots of exotic sentences.