Thursday, October 19, 2017

MUSICA 1 GYPSY: Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 (Gypsy Airs), Pablo de Sarasate, 1878

Of all the great versions of Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, the one that resonates most profoundly for me is by Rusanda Panfili on violin and Donka Angatscheva on piano, recorded live at the Bank Austria Salon in Vienna, Austria. Of course the focused intensity of Panfili is supreme, but also the elegant Viennese Salon, the enigmatic grace of Donka Angatscheva, their beautiful attire, the sense of the intimate presence of the sound. There is a hot blooded vitality to the interiority of the Zigeunerweisen here, a throbbing Pulse.

I hasten to add that I am mostly musically illiterate and my impressions are extensions and extrapolations from my understandings of poetry. And while I have a layman's appreciation for the mathematical virtuosity of Bach's music, it sings to my head and not to my heart. Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, with its virtuosic  evocations of a romantic passion, sexually charged dances around a fiery ring, whether this be some Western fantasy of the Romani or a more occluded archetype of desire that throbs in the spine, this music spins up the valence of the mind to the utmost limit of listening. At times (e.g. after the 2:00 mark, Lento), it feels as if the violin bow of time is being drawn over the taught strung and shivered nerves of the brain, lifting pleasure ever higher, higher and higher into the fractal flames of the infinite. The piece is a musical allegory of longing and desire, of ever reaching towards and never touching, even though the heat sears the flesh from your bones.

The rare recording of Sarasate himself performing the piece is wonderful, but it lacks, for better or worse, the chrome-like reflectivity of 21st century modernity. Sarasate's performance of his own piece registers on the ear as the flickering vignette of silent film works its nostalgic persistence upon the eye; whereas Panfili and Angatscheva's performance is in such a high definition that it seems supra-real, with diamond edges, whose notes pierce straight into the deep limbic areas of the brain, licking a forked tongue of fire over the core pleasure centers.

After Panfili, this particular performance by Sarah Chang works for me. Her haughty and icy demeanor combine with the rough whisky raspy tone in her violin to engage my fascination in the way a woman in an elegant gown and high-heels walking across a high-wire would. I was particularly moved by her performance of the third section, un poco più lento.

Anne Sophie Mutter's version is sublime, amazing in its precision. Of all the full symphonic versions, this has such an aching depth to it.

Itzhak Perlman's performance is stunning, endlessly listenable. But the recording itself, at least on my inferior equipment, seems muted, lacks intimacy. I feel the same way about the great Jascha Heifetz.

There's a magnetism to this intense performance by Bojidara Kouzmanova, the grin, smile and smirk of her mouth reflecting triumph and sorrow in the performance and the music. There are novels to be written on the facial expression of musicians as they perform difficult musical works.


There is a Kintsugi about the raw live performance of a piece of difficult music that spotlights a virtuoso musician. What flaws I notice only enhance the experience, imagining all the years of training, the hours and hours of practice of the piece, and the performance with it's inevitable human errors. There's a breathing being inside that performance, with sweat and tears and blood threading through the pristine perfections of the music like broken bands of gold.

From Wikipedia: Kintsugi:

"Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise." [...]
"Kintsugi can relate to the Japanese philosophy of "no mind", which encompasses the concepts of non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as aspects of human life.
"Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin.... Mushin is often literally translated as "no mind," but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.” 
- Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics

Kintsugi - source

Wikipedia: Zigeunerweisen

Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Op. 20, is a musical composition for violin and orchestra written in 1878 by the Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate. It was premiered the same year in Leipzig, Germany. It is based on themes of the Roma people, and in the last section the rhythms of the csárdás; this section uses a theme previously used in Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13, composed in 1847.
Zigeunerweisen is in one movement but can be divided into four sections, the first three in the key of C minor and the last in A minor, based on the tempi: 
Moderato – An imposing, virtuosic introduction with slow majestic energy by the orchestra, then a little softer by the violin itself. 
Lento – The violin plays in lugubrious lento 4/4. This section has an improvisational quality; the melody, which essentially consists of pairs of 4-bar phrases, is punctuated with difficult runs and other technically demanding figures, including flying spiccato and ricochet bowings. 
Un poco più lento – The muted soloist plays a melancholic melody with the so-called reverse-applied dotted note (1/16 + dotted 1/8 rhythm: sixteenth noteeighth note.), akin to the "Mannheim sigh" of the classical era; in 2/4 time. 
Allegro molto vivace – At this point, the piece becomes extremely rapid. The challenging solo part consists mainly of long spiccato runs, along with double stops, artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicato; in 2/4 time. 

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