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Peregrina (1969) by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

“It’s another way of being creative. Performing music is more a question of serving. But painting is a dialogue from the start. You make only one stroke – and from that moment you are in discussion with your subject.” —Dietrich Fischer-DieskauOn being a performer




My friend Suzanne very kindly asked me to accompany her for her upcoming performance of Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder (Seven Early Songs), excerpts from Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi and a work of mine called Mãku (Where are we?) written during my postgraduate studies in the UK. We’ll have two performances this spring in Toronto.

I wasn’t that familiar with Berg’s vocal music, apart from his operas Wozzeck and Lulu, so I was happy to become acquainted with this early suite (written c. 1905-08).


Berg’s suite of seven songs are all based on the texts of these Romantic German and Austrian poets: Carl Hauptman, Nikolaus Lenau, Theodor Storm, Rainer Maria Rilke, Johanes Schlaf, Otto Erich Hartleben and Paul Hohenberg. The lyric quality of the texts is expressed masterfully in Berg’s writing, and although this suite is an early example of Berg’s compositional style, I can detect influences of Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy (particularly in “Nacht”) and Gustav Mahler.  These works are an effective synthesis of Schoenbergian rigour and Romantic/Impressionistic influences.



Harawi (1945) is a song cycle comprising the first part of Messiaen’s Tristan Trilogy, preceding the Turangalîla Symphony and Cinq Rechant, both completed before 1948. Influenced by the Tristan and Isolde myth, Messiaen uses the trilogy to explore themes relating to love and death.


The Berg and Messiaen (as well as my piece) are not difficult to learn; however, they do still require attentive and focused practice. There are small challenges. For instance, the Berg is easier than either my piece or the Messiaen because the rhythmic structure is conventional, and therefore can afford greater latitude in terms of how beats are placed. Messiaen’s use of asymmetrical rhythms, combined with the extremely slow tempo of the first and fifth songs (“La Ville Qui Dormait, Toi” and “L’Amour de Piroutcha”) can be more challenging because the singer and pianist have to be rhythmically exact otherwise the song loses its surface coherence.


Of the three works we are working on, my piece, Mãku (2006), is the most challenging.  It is stylistically very different from the Messiaen and the Berg; and although the rhythmic structure is straightforward, the vocal line and the piano accompaniment contain gestures that are challenging to combine. It is also challenging because the text is a transliteration of the original Persian from a work of Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.  But…both Suzanne and I are more than familiar with difficult contemporary works, so neither of us are worried-but it will take longer to get through my piece than the others.



Alban Berg ‘7 Early Songs’


Olivier Messiaen ‘Harawi’






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