The Speaking Pianist

Where musicians, performers and composers speak

Tag: Rzewski

Speaking Rzewski #1

Prison is never a good place to be whatever the reason is for being there.

American pianist and composer Frederic Rzewski is a pioneer of music for speaking pianist where the performer plays and recites at the same time. Two of his greatest pieces for speaking pianist are based on poignant letters written by prison inmates.

In “Coming Together” (1971), Rzewski uses Sam Melville‘s letter written while he was imprisoned in Attica (New York). Steve Ben Israel premiered the piece with an instrumental group formed by the composer, Alvin Curran and Garrett List among others. His breathtaking performance interlaces the text with a music metaphorically evocative of life in prison by its repetitive yet forever changing (growing and shrinking) pattern. “Coming Together” is followed by its sister piece, “Attica”.

In “De Profundis” (1992), the composer uses part of Oscar Wilde’s break-up letter written while imprisoned in Reading (UK). The letter is a long reflexion on life in prison, isolation, being an artist, love and spiritual change. This half an hour piece requires the pianist not only to say the text, but also to perform various actions like whistling, playing body percussion, barking, etc. In his own performance, the composer exhibits incredible vocals underlining the anxiety of imprisonment.

I am going to Hades. I walk into the darkness like a god who wrote his own destiny. My protagonist and I disappear into the darkness together.

People are being imprisoned today for many reasons, criminal and political. Prison is never a good place to be whatever the reason is for being there. Turkish journalist and writer Ahmet Atlan was sentenced to life imprisonment a few days ago for political reasons by a ruthless dictatorship. He wrote a letter which was published in the New York Times.

Upcoming Speaking Rzewski Performances by Stephane Ginsburgh

I will perform “Coming Together” and “De Profundis” at several occasions in the coming months, together with “Dear Diary” (2014), a cycle written for me by Frederic Rzewski based on his notebooks. The piece was commissioned by Ars Musica festival and premiered in Brussels.

17.3.2018Festival Variations – Le Lieu Unique, Nantes (France)
17.4.2018Café OTO, London (UK)
10.5.2018Nuits du Beau Tas/Sonar, Cellule 133a, Bruxelles (Belgium)
5.11.2018Rzewski at 80 Festival, Spectrum (NY)

Photo by Michael Wilson

Speaking Pianist @ Ars Musica

Speaking Pianist @ Ars Musica / 22.11.14 – 19:00 / BOTANIQUE

Un pianiste parlant, un récitant pianiste.

En combinant subtilement musique, voix, électronique, actions et percussion, Stéphane Ginsburgh joue à intervertir les rôles, à les mélanger, à créer l’ambiguité : la musique et le texte ne sont plus superposés, mais s’enchevêtrent, pour se mêler plus intimement. Tout devient plus vivant, les gestes, les regards, les sons et les mots prennent une autre dimension, et l’on imagine les situations les plus originales, les plus neuves. Le piano revêt soudain une résonance singulière, et le concert, une tournure plus personnelle : le musicien s’exprime, il parle en jouant, et sa manière de parler ne peut être que la sienne, unique.

À travers des œuvres de Vykintas Baltakas, Jean-Luc Fafchamps, François Sarhan, Matthew Shlomowitz et une création de Frederic Rzewski – l’un des pionniers de la musique pour ‘speaking pianist’ -, Stéphane Ginsburgh propose une nouvelle approche de l’expérience musicale.

Frédéric Rzewski, Dear Diary (2014)
Création mondiale – commande d’Ars Musica

Matthew Shlomowitz, Popular Contexts vol. 2 (2010) For piano, sampler, voice and physical actions

François Sarhan, Ô piano (2012), for a speaking pianist and prerecorded sounds

Jean-Luc Fafchamps, Rap & Tap (2011), for speaker and sound-effect pianist

Vykintas Baltakas, Pasaka (1995-97) for piano and electronics

Captation par la VRT | Captatie door de VRT


Frederic Rzewski plays Rzewski

Frederic Rzewski will perform his music in the Sonar series Amériques à la Maison du Peuple (Brussels) on february 14, 2014 at 8 pm.

He will play recent pieces entitled Dreams (2013) inspired by Akira Kurozawa’s film and older ones entitled Four Pieces (1977).

Here is the interview he’s given me last week at his home (in English, sound becomes stronger after a minute) :