Vytautas BACEVICIUS (1905-1970)
The Complete Mots
Premier mot, op.18 (1933) [8:49]
Deuxième mot, op. 21 (1934)* [13:53]
Troisième mot, op.27 (1935)* [6:35]
Quatrième mot, op.31 (1938)* [6:05]
Cinquième mot, op.59 (1956)*
Sixième mot, op.72 (1963) [11:02]
Septième mot, op.73 (1966) (I. Allegro moderato; II. Larghetto misterioso; III. Allegro con fuoco)
Gabrielius Alekna (piano) (1,3-9), Matthew Lewis (organ) (2), Ursula Oppens (piano) (7-9)
First complete recording. *First recording
rec. Great Hall of the Lithuanian National Philharmonic, Vilnius, Lithuania, 28 January 2010 (3, 6); 31 January 2010 (1); 24 March 2010 (4, 5); Church of the Incarnation, New York, USA, 25 January 2010 (2); American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA, 28 October 2009 (7)
Born in Lódz, Poland in 1905 to Polish-Lithuanian parents, Vytautas Bacevicius moved to be with his father in Kaunas, Lithuania at the age of 21. The other three children remained in Poland with their mother, one of his sisters becoming the well-known pianist and composer Grazyna Bacewicz (the Polish spelling of the family name). Becoming a virtuoso pianist he travelled widely in Europe and also studied in Paris. He found himself performing in Argentina when the Germans invaded Lithuania. This rendered him an exile which he remained for the rest of his life. One would have thought that fortune had smiled on him given that the kind of avant-garde music he wrote would not have been tolerated in what became Soviet Lithuania after 1945. In fact he was living in New York. Unfortunately for him he struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to have his music recognised and performed, let alone recorded. He even experienced problems being an alien. He never achieved the status of US citizen and was in danger of deportation. It is unclear as to why this should have been the case when one considers all the composers from Europe who flocked there after the war and who did well. In any event that explains why this disc is the first complete recording of these works and the first ever recording of four of them. For me, as with so much ‘modern’ music, it takes a little time to attune my ear to accept it. However, there are considerable rewards to be gained once it has. At that stage I was a positive convert eager to seek out other recordings of his music, some of which are detailed in the booklet notes. The music can appear strident and spiky at first but this feeling lessens with repeated listening. You then wonder why you’d thought it difficult in the first place. Bacevicius spent much time settling on a style of his own having examined and rejected many other contemporary styles such as Schoenberg’s twelve-tone music, serialism (Nono, Berio) and aleatoricism – the music of chance (John Cage, Stockhausen and Boulez). He can in fact be more easily identified in terms of influence by Scriabin and Varèse, whom he greatly admired. The Premier mot is certainly Scriabinesque in character. As an early work it is easier to come to terms with than some of the later ones. The Deuxième mot, the only one for organ as well as the longest, is easier on the ear from the start. This is probably due to the nature of the organ which has a less harsh sound than the piano can have when music of this kind is played. Its magisterial sounds seem to smooth off any harsher resonances the piano may have. For detailed analysis of the way these works are constructed the notes by Malcolm MacDonald are extremely helpful and thorough. The Deuxième mot was not published until 2004 which fact only serves to underline the difficulties Bacevicius had in having his music recognised. It is a great shame and one that reflects badly on a ‘musical establishment’ that couldn’t bring itself to give the music a chance. The Deuxième mot is very tuneful and could be the best way to get into this disc as a whole. Following quickly on, the Troisième mot is immediately more accessible as if one’s ears have been broken in by the soft, rounded tones of the organ. In fact to quote MacDonald’s notes it has ‘the most regular, almost neo-classical, rhythmic profile. It puts one in mind to some extent of the keyboard works of Prokofiev and Leo Ornstein’. Yet again this work remained unperformed and unpublished until 2006, despite having been written in 1935 – what a disgrace. This was the same for the Quatrième mot, the last written prior to Bacevicius’s enforced exile. It remained unperformed until late 2005, thanks to the principal pianist on this disc Gabrielius Alekna. Once again after a few hearings this work is nowhere near as complicated as it first appears. It again recalls Scriabin, a composer who today causes no alarms to most people, unlike the time when his works first saw light of day. The Cinquième mot similarly holds no difficulty once heard a few times. It was written in New York in 1956, but remained unpublished during the composer’s lifetime. Like the Quatrième, Cinquièmes mots is especially Scriabinesque in character. Considering that the Sixième mot is more wayward in nature than the previous ones it is surprising to learn that not only did Bacevicius play it in public fairly often he also recorded in 1966 on a Delta Corporation LP. It was published too by Mercury Music Corporation in 1967. This indeed begs the question as to why the previous four had such a hard time of it. The Septième mot, the only one written for two pianos and the only one to contain more than one movement, was composed in 1966, receiving, as far as is known, its first performance in Vilnius in 1984. As MacDonald explains in the notes, this work is akin to the late Messiaen of the Catalogue d’oiseaux. It certainly contains some fearsomely challenging piano playing that is mysterious and exciting by turns. It is a fitting climax to this disc of undeservedly neglected works by a composer who, as MacDonald explains, achieved the forging of ‘... a genuinely individual idiom, and creating music of such uncompromising radicalism, energy and – yes elegance ...’ No-one who enjoys Scriabin and Messiaen not to mention Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen and Conlon Nancarrow, should shy away from giving this a listen. Others who may feel afraid to try it could find, as I did, that their music appreciation has undergone a further stretching from which they will emerge with great admiration for a composer who ploughed a true independent musical furrow and with a new view of ‘modern music’. The performers on this disc show that they have come to respect this neglected composer and have done him sterling service in the process. Toccata are to be congratulated for championing this composer and others should follow suit.
Steve Arloff
No-one who enjoys Scriabin and Messiaen not to mention Boulez, Cage, Stockhausen and Nancarrow should shy away from giving this a listen.