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André JOLIVET (1905-1974)
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1945) [22:16]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1957) [19:53]
Cinq Danses rituelles (1939) [25:38]
Philip Adamson, piano
Recorded Von Kuster Hall, London, Ontario, July 2001
CENTAUR CRC 2641 [67:07]


Although many classical music enthusiasts find Jolivet's thoroughly dissonant music difficult to listen to, the composer was dedicated to humanistic ideals and presenting an alternative to what he considered the lack of serious artistry inherent in neo-classicism. Along with Olivier Messiaen, Yves Baudrier and Daniel-Lesur, he formed the group "Jeune France" in 1936 to instil spirituality into the then current musical establishment. The group didn't last very long, but the non-conformist Jolivet never abandoned his goals and continued striving to write music that he felt was uplifting and germane to the human condition.

The two composers who most influenced Jolivet were Paul Le Flem and Edgar Varèse. Jolivet studied with both gentlemen, Le Flem introducing him to the entire range of musical styles and Varèse teaching him rhythm and acoustics. From this reviewer's perspective, Jolivet's music has strong connections with the music of Varèse and Bartók as well as the mystical elements of Scriabin's late piano works.

Before moving onto the Centaur program, I'd like to comment on the issue of dissonance in regard to Jolivet's piano sonatas. Though it might not sound this way initially, the music has most of the features found in a typical tonal composition: introductions, identifiable themes, thematic development and variation, development sections, codas and appealing rhythms. What we won't find is our traditional sense of lyricism. However, once we get beyond that limiting boundary, Jolivet's music becomes clear as to texture, architecture, progression and coherence. Only at this point of clarity can the music be reasonably judged and appreciated.

Jolivet composed his three-movement Piano Sonata No. 1 in 1945 at a time when he was using more traditional forms than he had in earlier decades. The 1st Movement "Allegro" has a wonderful introduction based on two figures: the first, stern and decisive, is a six-note figure from the lower voices, the second a four-note figure that ascends in total disarray. With just these two figures, Jolivet ushers in a huge range of emotional content that he continues to mine throughout the movement. Once past the introduction, the first theme emerges in heroic and intense washes of sound over a bedrock of bass lines. The second theme is imbued with polyphonic mystery as it wanders through the sky trying to find a home. Both themes are expanded upon in the development section, and the coda finds Jolivet at peak energy and resolve.

The 2nd Movement is marked "Molto lento" and is similar to the 1st Movement's second theme in terms of tempo, mystery and confusion. This is thoroughly intoxicating music full of subtle surprises. The 3rd Movement has a Largo introduction followed by a first theme of rebellious and stern proportion and a hyper-active second theme that actually carries a trace of upbeat spirits. Particularly rewarding Jolivet’s accomplished incorporation of jazz and Latino rhythms into the body of the movement.

Like the Sonata No. 1, the 2nd Sonata has a three-movement form, powerful rhythms, and the mystery of wandering motifs. Its 1st Movement is in sonata-allegro form and has two themes. The first theme is energetic and highly demonstrative, while the second has an improvised veneer with irresistible and subtle dialogue. In the development section the dialogue becomes increasingly severe and the coda concludes the movement in a hostile frame of mind.

In the 2nd Movement, serialism rears its head as musical fragments are expanded through the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, first in the bass and then in the treble. As the movement concludes, notes quietly vaporize into the thin air. The final movement is a five-part rondo blending severity with playfulness in a jazz-infused environment.

The Cinq Danses rituelles for piano, later arranged for orchestra by Jolivet, was first performed in 1942 by the French pianist Lucette Descaves. Jolivet wrote the following about the meaning of the work:

"The Ritual Dances refer particularly to so-called primitive cultures in which the human spirit has been preserved in all its innocence. The titles correspond to the principal stages in social and religious life ... of all humanity. These are, in fact, dances of birth and puberty, of war and manhood, of love and marriage, of death and resurrection."

Jolivet, in going back to the roots of humankind, offers a sound-world of mystical proportion with little material that lends itself to dancing. The Initiation Dance opens the work with three themes, the Hero's Dance makes a powerful and militaristic statement, the Wedding Dance presents a macabre element through variation techniques and the Dance of Abduction is a short two minute piece full of foreboding and repetitive figures. The final movement, the Funeral Dance, is a slow procession expressing grief and eventual resolution; as the dance concludes, a series of drum-beats from the bass conveys the finality of life on earth.

The Canadian pianist Philip Adamson displays an expert affinity with Jolivet's humanistic and mystical sound-world. He also fully captures the strong and driving rhythmic patterns, making it viable for listeners to understand the dissonant musical canvas. Sound quality is superb with a crisp soundstage and exceptional resonance. The booklet notes are in English and French, providing ample information and insight concerning Jolivet's musical life and the programmed works.

In conclusion, this excellent production offers a clear picture of Jolivet's piano music and should make converts of those willing to extend themselves beyond traditional lyricism and enter the strongly dissonant sound-world of 20th century French music.

Don Satz



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