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Claude Debussy: The 100 most inspiring musicians of all time
The works of French composer Claude Debussy (Achille-Claude Debussy) (b. Aug. 22, 1862, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France—d. March 25, 1918, Paris) have been a seminal force in the music of the 20th century. Debussy developed a highly original system of harmony and musical structure that expressed in many respects the ideals to which the impressionist and symbolist painters and writers of his time aspired.
Debussy showed a gift as a pianist by the age of nine. He was encouraged by Madame Mauté de Fleurville, who was associated with the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, and in 1873 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he studied the piano and composition, eventually winning in 1884 the Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata L’Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Child ).
While living with his parents in a poverty-stricken suburb of Paris, he unexpectedly came under the patronage of a Russian millionairess, Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck, who engaged him to play duets with her and her children. He traveled with her to her palatial residences throughout Europe during the long summer vacations at the Conservatory. In Paris during this time he fell in love with a singer, Blanche Vasnier, the beautiful young wife of an architect; she inspired many of his early works.
This early style is well illustrated in one of Debussy’s best-known compositions, Clair de Lune. The title refers to a folk song that was the conventional accompaniment of scenes of the love-sick Pierrot in the French pantomime; and indeed the many Pierrot-like associations in Debussy’s later music, notably in the orchestral work Images (1912) and the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1915; originally titled Pierrot fâché avec la lune [“Pierrot Vexed by the Moon”]), show his connections with the circus spirit that also appeared in works by other composers.
As a holder of the Grand Prix de Rome, Debussy was given a three-year stay at the Villa Medici, in Rome, where, under what were supposed to be ideal conditions, he was to pursue his creative work. Debussy eventually fled from the Villa Medici after two years and returned to Blanche Vasnier in Paris. At this time Debussy lived a life of extreme indulgence. Once one of his mistresses, Gabrielle (“Gaby”) Dupont, threatened suicide. His first wife, Rosalie (“Lily”) Texier, a dressmaker, whom he married in 1899, did in fact shoot herself, though not fatally, and, Debussy himself was haunted by thoughts of suicide.
The main musical influences on Debussy were the works of Richard Wagner and the Russian composers Aleksandr Borodin and Modest Mussorgsky. Wagner fulfi lled the sensuous ambitions not only of composers but also of the symbolist poets and the impressionist painters. Wagner’s conception of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total art work”) encouraged artists to refi ne upon their emotional responses and to exteriorize their hidden dream states, often in a shadowy, incomplete form; hence the more tenuous nature of the work of Wagner’s French disciples.
It was in this spirit that Debussy wrote the symphonic poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894). Other early works by Debussy show his affinity with the English Pre-Raphaelite painters; the most notable of these works is La Damoiselle élue (1888), based on The Blessed Damozel (1850), a poem by the English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
In the course of his career, however, which covered only 25 years, Debussy was constantly breaking new ground. His single completed opera Pelléas et Mélisande (first performed in 1902) demonstrates how the Wagnerian technique could be adapted to portray subjects like the dreamy nightmarish figures of this opera who were doomed to self-destruction.
Debussy and his librettist, Maurice Maeterlinck, declared that they were haunted in this work by the terrifying nightmare tale of Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher. The style of Pelléas was to be replaced by a bolder, more highly coloured manner. In his seascape La Mer (1905) he was inspired by the ideas of the English painter J. M.W. Turner and the French painter Claude Monet. In his work, as in his personal life, he was eager to gather experience from every region that the imaginative mind could explore.
In 1905 Debussy’s illegitimate daughter, Claude-Emma, was born. He had divorced Lily Texier in 1904 and subsequently married his daughter’s mother, Emma Bardac. For his daughter he wrote the piano suite Children’s Corner (1908).
Debussy’s spontaneity and the sensitive nature of his perception facilitated his acute insight into the child mind, an insight noticeable particularly in Children’s Corner; in the Douze Préludes, two books (1910, 1913; “Twelve Preludes”), for piano; and in the ballet La Boîte à joujoux (1st perf. 1919; The Box of Toys). In his later years, it is the pursuit of illusion that marks Debussy’s instrumental writing, especially the strange, otherworldly Cello Sonata. This noble bass instrument takes on, in chameleon fashion, the character of a violin, a flute, and even a mandolin.
Evolution of His Work
Debussy’s music marks the first of a series of attacks on the traditional language of the 19th century. He did not believe in the stereotyped harmonic procedures of the 19th century, and indeed it becomes clear from a study of mid-20th-century music that the earlier harmonic methods were being followed in an arbitrary, academic manner.
Debussy’s inquiring mind similarly challenged the traditional orchestral usage of instruments. He rejected the traditional dictum that string instruments should be predominantly lyrical. The pizzicato scherzo from his String Quartet (1893) and the symbolic writing for the violins in La Mer, conveying the rising storm waves, show a new conception of string colour. Similarly, he saw that woodwinds need not be employed for fireworks displays; they provide, like the human voice, wide varieties of colour.
Debussy also used the brass in original colour transformations. In fact, in his music, the conventional orchestral construction, with its rigid woodwind, brass, and string departments, finds itself undermined or split up in the manner of the Impressionist painters. Ultimately, each instrument becomes almost a soloist, as in a vast chamber-music ensemble. Finally, Debussy applied an exploratory approach to the piano, the evocative instrument par excellence.
In his last works, the piano pieces En blanc et noir (1915; In Black and White) and in the Douze Études (1915; “Twelve Études”), Debussy had branched out into modes of composition later to be developed in the styles of Stravinsky and the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. It is certain that he would have taken part in the leading movements in composition of the years following World War I. His life, however, was tragically cut short by cancer.
(0:00) Rêverie (4:54) Pour le piano: Sarabande (11:29) Suite bergamasque: Clair de lune (17:21) Estampes: Jardins sous la pluie (20:49) Deux Arabesques: Andantino con moto (24:45) Images Book 1 – Reflets dans l’eau (29:45) Childrens Corner: Golliwogg’s Cakewalk (32:43) Preludes: Cathedrale engloutie (39:13) Danses sacree et danse profane (49:20) Printemps: Modere (55:29) Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1:05:20) Sonata for Cello & Piano: I Prologue (1:10:32) Violin Sonata: Intermède- fantasque et léger. II (1:14:39) Nocturnes: Fetes (1:21:17) Images for orchestra – 2a. Iberia- Par Les Rues (1:28:27) La Mer – 1. De l’aube à midi sur la mer. Très lent (1:37:02) La Mer – 2. Jeux de vagues. Allegro (1:43:15) String Quartet No. 1, Op 10. Assez vif et bien rythmé
The rhythmic traits for which jazz is known and at which it excels—groove, swing, speed, heat, cool, polyrhythm, conversational interaction among players, dense and irregular improvised motives and phrases, antiphonal call and response, and more—are all but absent in ISC. Most modern jazz group performance emphasizes strict periodicity with terriﬁc forward momentum created by players’ rhythmically propulsive contributions. Formidable mastery, poise, and virtuosity are needed to play.
Tempi are characteristically either fast enough to scare off would-be pretenders, or, just as daringly, cooled off to an unruffled “ballad” speed, and steady in either case. The metric backbone is the succession of harmonies with the beat usually actualized and propelled by the walking quarter notes of the bass and the drums’ “ride” cymbal. Though harmonies change on measure downbeats and sometimes middles, the beats in between—beats and in a four-beat measure—are stressed to create a driving backbeat.
Solo performances and recordings are almost exclusively the provenance of pianists, who could use the left hand to simulate the roles of the rhythm section, with either walking bass lines or the evocation of earlier styles such as stride or boogie-woogie. Monk himself made extensive use of these latter techniques on his own solo records, as well as on the unaccompanied numbers that were generally included in his live sets. Solo performers such as Art Tatum would also “extemporize,” straying from steady time in introductions, quasi-cadenzas, and so on. For Monk, though, a solo ballad like ISC was an opportunity to stretch time in a far more radical manner, eschewing steady time almost completely.
Swing, an idiomatic variation of the timing of the subdivided beat, depends on underlying regularity. It involves a dynamic relationship between measured periodicity and the realm of unmeasured music, rhythmic freedom that can be implied through soloists’ styles. This dynamism in turn references a melodic vernacular—the sense that a soloist is “speaking through their horn.” Some would argue that this has to do with the lyricism of the human voice, others that it represents some kind of middle ground between a discursive, rhetorical European way of making music and a more interactive, poly-rhythmic African approach. Others might say that both are true or that it simply feels good, and that, having been discovered and developed at the turn of the twentieth century, it proved irresistible.
Monk’s ISC can be said to swing only in the colloquial sense of being compellingly musical, that is, simply because he is saying something in a distinctive way. But strictly understood, swing can exist only against a conception of steady time, and in this recording nothing keeps time.
Except ﬂeetingly in a few spots, it is impossible to move the body in any regular pulsation to Monk’s playing. He is clearly not keeping steady time internally—or else he has a very different clock. If we listen intently for the regularity most bodies crave—and which we expect from familiarity with more standard versions of the song—we must jolt in and out of time with him. The slow regular beat of the tune’s harmonic progression remains impassively present, a law both obeyed and mocked. Monk often played solo ballads in this manner, a meditation with outbursts, with an aﬀect both reverent and ironic. In live performance with a group, this number would be surrounded by tunes that swung hard. In other words ISC’s rubato is heard—and is meant to be heard—in terms of the absence of jazz’s most authentic rhythmic traits, and of Monk’s abandonment of them in the service of other qualities.
One of the most ergonomic inventions in human history, the piano and its eighty-eight-key action are among jazz’s essential European legacies. Its technology has empowered musical cultures as distant as Burmese and African American to adapt it to their own idioms, extending out from the panoply of European approaches to the instrument on completely unforeseen trajectories. Jazz piano’s trajectories crisscross and meld into a great tradition of their own.
No one gains entrance into the pantheon of jazz pianism without a strongly identiﬁable voice on the instrument. The differences among pianists are bread and butter to jazz lovers, from earlier era virtuosi like Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, and Art Tatum through beboppers like Bud Powell and Mary Lou Williams and on to a diversity of post-bop players far too numerous to cite or describe. But, as we have said, even among these names Monk comes in at a different angle due to a tightly bound combination of pianistic idiosyncrasies, harmony, and rhythm.
Yet we cannot properly appreciate these elements outside the context of what his peers developed for the instrument. Keyboard concept, technique, and historical currents conspire to shape pianists’ approaches. All pianists have to consider multiple aesthetic issues determining what kinds of textures to favor in developing a style.
Individual tunes suggest their own approaches, but players develop idioms that carry over from tune to tune. Voicings can be played with from one to ten ﬁngers—or sometimes, in Monk’s case, with ﬂattened palms. Overall motion can be dense or sparse. The hands can be independent or interdependent. One can move freely around the entire keyboard or stay closer to its more conventional, “vocal” center. Nuances of touch, phrasing, and dynamic are essential.
Piano styles also group historically. The “orchestral” ways of playing that developed in jazz’s ﬁrst few decades were strongly inﬂuenced by brass band marches and ragtime, and by the fact that before World War II jazz was primarily dance music. Pianists of those years tended to provide a clear beat and full harmonic support. Some, like bandleader Count Basie, favored economy of notes and texture. In contrast, there was nothing in piano technique or harmony that Art Tatum could not execute astonishingly, nor did he hesitate to infuse most everything he played with the encyclopedia of approaches at his disposal, in all kinds of combinations and throughout the entire range of the keyboard.
Bebop was for listening, not dancing, and its speed an excuse for cutting—that is, outplaying and stumping cohorts. The competition nudged piano technique to become lighter, ﬂeeter, and sparser. The walking bass and drums safeguarded the time so pianists needed to do less in that regard, and the bass register was to some degree forsaken. Bud Powell’s style often rested on a chassis of insistent, rhythmically irregular, somewhat grating left-hand “shells” (the root of the chord played in the bass register, plus the seventh directly above it). Jutting from below, they cut in under single-line right-hand melodies that looped around the upper two-thirds of the keyboard, equaling Charlie Parker’s saxophone lines in their density and irregular phrasing.
In the 50s, jazz cooled off, tributaries of eclectic styles blossomed, and it became necessary to know how to play in many ways. Red Garland could imitate the fast-moving close harmonies of big band saxophone sections in passages featuring thick, parallel, two-handed chords moving with melodic gestures. Wynton Kelly emphasized idiomatic blues riffs. Inﬂuences of Cuban and Brazilian styles, and of modern European composition, gradually took root. But in the main, Powell’s saxophone-like approach to the right hand prevailed, while in the left hand many developed harmonically richer voicings, deployed somewhat like Powell’s shells.
Analysis of Two Peers
Compare ﬁgure 4.4’s transcriptions of the opening of I Should Care as played by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, two strikingly different but equally iconic pianists of the time. Peterson, stylistic and technical heir to Tatum, plays solo here with mid-range voicings of up to eight notes, some with left-hand shells, most containing all triad tones and the seventh. As mentioned earlier, he doubles the harmonic rhythm to quarter-note speed, which allows interpolation of tritone substitution dominants preparing the V and the I chords of mm. 1-2. The Eb7 at m. 1, beat 4 is voiced with a pungent #9 in addition to the seventh chord itself. Peterson exploits the hidden presence of an F# major triad within this sonority, playing it with the right hand to separate it from the Eb major triad
Figure 4.4a. Opening measures of Oscar Peterson’s version of I Should Care (transposed to D from the original key of Bb). From Soul-O!; Oscar Peterson, solo piano. Figure 4.4b. Opening measures of Bill Evans’s version of I Should Care (transposed to D from the original key of C). From How My Heart Sings!; Bill Evans, piano, Chuck Israels, bass, and Paul Motian, drums.
Figure 4.4a and 4.4b
he places in the left. The left-hand triad then slides down in parallel motion to the downbeat of m. 2, but in the right the A# moves to A while the other tones remain in place. This reveals an F# minor triad comprising the third, ﬁfth, and seventh of the DM7. The superpositions of triads and impeccable voice leading of this chord change are of a special richness in this region of the keyboard.
Shooting up in register, the F#7 chord on the second triplet eighth of m. 2, beat V is V of the B7 chord on beat 3, itself an applied V to the Em7 of m. 3. The F#7 is notable for its #9 (A) and the #5 (D), which is perhaps there only because Peterson has omitted the ﬁfth of the chord (C# ; see also ﬁgure 4.3, middle column and second row under “Chromatic Tones”). On the next beat, where he brings the melody to a local peak, the ﬁfth (F#) is again omitted, but both thirteenth (G#) and b thirteenth (G) are included. This B7, voiced with the root as an afterbeat, contains additional extension tones C and F that, combined with the others, conceal G# major, F major, C minor, and A diminished triads all at once. This sequence of lavish chords, texturally full and smooth, steady and propelled in rhythm and with a legato touch, give ISC sumptuous treatment.
Evans’s bass player Chuck Israels provides all the chord roots in metrically secure positions, so rather than double them or their rhythm, the pianist parries them with the left hand, playing deft offbeat rhythmic punches that converse polyrhythmically with the right hand’s intricate embellishment of the melody. Beyond this, however, Evan’s chord structures are similar to, albeit thinner than, Peterson’s. He remains in the piano’s central register, and he is equally fastidious about voice leading: the majority of the chord-to-chord connections proceed by step.
The elegantly contoured right-hand line begins by hugging the original tune, but transforms it completely after m. 4 (while still brushing the original C, B, and A in mm. 5-7). Evans sometimes uses melody to enrich the voicings, as when A–F# –D (thirteenth, #eleventh, ninth) is heard over the C7 chord in m. 8. He also gingerly clashes with them by using avoid tones, as with the F (#7) over the F#7b5 in m. 4, or the Eb similarly related to its Em7 harmony two measures later (see ﬁgure 4.3, left column and top row under “Chromatic Tones”). In both cases, though, Evans is careful to promptly lead by step to a more consonant resolution: the former moves up to F# at the end of the measure, while the latter goes directly down to D.
As we take up analysis of Monk’s ISC, we will ﬁnd that features creating continuity in these two short excerpts—stepwise motion, propulsive rhythm, mid-range voicing, and a consistent level of density and dissonance—are missing. Monk did not by any means invent the notion of favoring discontinuities in these parameters. He did not come from nowhere, and it is well established that his style is part of a lineage extending from before Duke Ellington, through Monk, and on to later ﬁgures like avantgardist Cecil Taylor, not to mention the many who deliberately emulated Monk in recent decades. To hear those connections is a project for another time that would enable a crucial historical and stylistic narrative. But to frame Monk against the prevailing, more conventionally tasteful modern jazz aesthetics illustrated by ﬁgure 4.4 is to hear him at his most inimitable and strange.
Charlie Rouse (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Edward “Butch” Warren (b) Ben Riley (d)
Four In One I’m Getting Sentimental Over You Straight No Chaser Well, You Needn’t Epistrophy Blue Monk Sweet And Lovely Hackensack Rhythm-A-Ning Bright Mississippi Epistrophy(reprise)
Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of first creators of modern jazz.
Who Was Thelonious Monk?
Thelonious Monk is one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and one of first creators of modern jazz and bebop. For much of his career, Monk played with small groups at Milton’s Playhouse. Many of his compositions have become jazz standards, including “Well, You Needn’t,” “Blue Monk” and “Round Midnight.” His spares and angular music had a levity and playfulness to it.
Thelonious Monk was born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. When he was just four, his parents, Barbara and Thelonious, Sr., moved to New York City, where he would spend the next five decades of his life.
Monk began studying classical piano when he was eleven but had already shown some aptitude for the instrument. “I learned how to read before I took lessons,” he later recalled. “You know, watching my sister practice her lessons over her shoulder.” By the time Monk was thirteen, he had won the weekly amateur competition at the Apollo Theater so many times that the management banned him from re-entering the contest.
At age seventeen, Monk dropped out of the esteemed Stuyvesant High School to pursue his music career. He toured with the so-called “Texas Warhorse,” an evangelist and faith healer, before assembling a quartet of his own. Although it was typical to play for a big band at this time, Monk preferred a more intimate work dynamic that would allow him to experiment with his sound.
In 1941, Monk began working at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where he joined the house band and helped develop the school of jazz known as bebop. Alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, he explored the fast, jarring, and often improvised styles that would later become synonymous with modern jazz.
Monk’s first known recording was made in 1944, when he worked as a member of Coleman Hawkins’s quartet. Monk didn’t record under his own name, however, until 1947, when he played as the leader of a sextet session for Blue Note.
Monk made a total of five Blue Note recordings between 1947 and 1952, including “Criss Cross” and “Evidence.” These are generally regarded as the first works characteristic of Monk’s unique jazz style, which embraced percussive playing, unusual repetitions and dissonant sounds. As Monk saw it, “The piano ain’t got no wrong notes!” Though widespread recognition was still years away, Monk had already earned the regard of his peers as well as several important critics.
The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was established in 1986 by the Monk family and Maria Fisher. Its mission is to offer public school-based jazz education programs for young people around the globe, helping students develop imaginative thinking, creativity, curiosity, a positive self-image, and a respect for their own and others’ cultural heritage. In addition to hosting an annual International Jazz Competition since 1987, the institute also helped, through its partnership with UNESCO, designate April 30, 2012, as the first annual International Jazz Day.
If anyone might be said to have had music in his blood, it is Johann Sebastian Bach. In the central German region of Thuringia where he was born, the Bachs were known as musicians, and had been for generations, in the same way that other families might be known as bakers or shoemakers. Sebastian’s father Johann Ambrosius was a professional musician-director of the Stadtpfeifer, or town musicians, at Eisenach-and the family home must have been a veritable beehive of musical activity, filled with the sound of practising, tuning, instrumental repair work, and music-making of all kinds.
Great versatility was expected of the Stadtpfeifer: despite their name (literally ‘town pipers’), they were expected to master string, wind, and brass instruments alike.
This cannot have escaped the notice of the child Bach, who might even have learned the rudiments of a variety of instruments himself. In any case, it is likely that he learned the violin, which he is said to have played as a youth ‘cleanly and penetratingly’, from his father, who was first and foremost a violinist.
Bach’s childhood musical experience
was by no means restricted to instrumental playing, however. As a member of the chorus musicus at Eisenach (presumably), Ohrdruf, and Liineburg, he would have taken part in elaborate polyphonic and concerted music at church services, thereby gaining experience that would prove invaluable in later years. And in view of his natural musical talent and ‘uncommonly fine soprano voice’, he was no doubt at some stage assigned the role of concertist (soloist).
The repertoire of the chorus musicus at Eisenach included fifteenth- and sixteenth-century a cappella music by Walter, Senft, Josquin, Obrecht, and others, as well as seventeenth-century German music by Michael Praetorius, Schein, Schutz, Hammerschmidt, and Johann Christoph Bach. Still greater riches were available to the Michaelisschule, which Bach attended in Liineburg. Its great choir library is lost, but according to an inventory of 1695 it contained over a thousand pieces drawn from seventeenth-century Germany and Italy. Composers represented include Schiitz, Hammerschmidt, Buxtehude, Rosenmiiller, Krieger, Strunck, Weckmann, Monteverdi, and Carissimi.
Since the Mettenchor (Matins choir) of which Bach was a member drew its repertory from this library, he must have become familiar with a vast amount of music both ancient and modern, from a cappella motets in the polyphonic style of the sixteenth century to relatively up-to-date concerted music for voices and instruments.
It is against this background of constant vocal and instrumental activity that we must view the young Bach’s decision to specialize in the organ and harpsichord. This should not be regarded as a sign of narrowing interest, but rather as the emergence of a specific focus amid ongoing wide-ranging musical experience. Between the ages of ten and fifteen (1695-1700) he received a thorough training in the playing of keyboard instruments in Ohrdruf from his elder brother Johann Christoph, who had studied with the family friend Johann Pachelbel in Erfurt and might be supposed to have passed on what he had learnt.
The younger Bach seems to have made astonishing progress: ‘In a short time he had fully mastered all the pieces his brother had willingly given him to learn’; and in 1702, at the age of seventeen and only a couple of years after leaving Ohrdruf, he was unanimously elected to the post of organist at the Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen (an alternative candidate was, however, imposed by the reigning duke). In the following year he gave the inaugural recital at the new Wender organ in the Neuekirche, Arnstadt, and so impressed the local citizens that he was offered the post of organist there. Before the recital, he had been invited to examine the new organ-a testimony to the reputation he had already established, at the age of eighteen, as an organ expert.
The question arises how he had acquired that knowledge when so young. The organ at the Georgenkirche, Eisenach, which his uncle Johann Christoph played, and the two organs at the Michaeliskirche, Ohrdruf, played by his elder brother (also Johann Christoph) were in constant need of repair; and the child Bach no doubt learnt much from discussing the problems with his relatives ( and perhaps with organ builders called in to carry out repairs) and from assisting them with routine maintenance work. Later on, at least by 1708, this direct, ‘hands-on’ knowledge would be backed up by detailed study of Werckmeister’s Orgelprobe of 1681, the best-known authority on the organ of the time, covering organ building, renovation, testing, tuning methods, and the duties of the organist.
It is not at all clear when Bach began to compose,
or to study composition, nor what form that study took. It seems reasonable to pinpoint the period of formal keyboard tuition in Ohrdruf, but there is no evidence that his teacher-brother Johann Christoph was a composer; and C. P. E. Bach told Forkel that ‘the instruction [he] received … in Ohrdruf may well have been designed for an organist and nothing more’. It has even been suggested13 that the young Bach might have sought primarily a virtuoso organist’s career rather than that of a composer.
On the other hand, he might have been inspired to pursue keyboard playing and composition in tandem by the example of two illustrious relatives of his father’s generation, the brothers Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach. Johann Christoph was not only church organist and court harpsichordist at Eisenach, where the child Bach, before the age of ten, would have come into close contact with him, but a ‘profound’, ‘great and expressive’ composer. Johann Michael, whose daughter Bach later married, was both church organist at Gehren and an ‘able composer’ of sacred vocal music and organ chorales.
A still more illustrious model for the young organist-composer was Bach’s brother’s teacher Johann Pachelbel, organist at Erfurt and Gotha during Bach’s childhood. Furthermore, during the first five or six years of the eighteenth century Bach would encounter three highly significant role models in the North German towns of Luneburg, Hamburg and Lubeck: Georg Bohm, Jan Adam Reincken and Dieterich Buxtehude. Reincken and Buxtehude, in particular, were versatile musicians of great professional expertise-at once virtuoso organists and erudite, technically accomplished composers.
Bach could hardly fail to observe that, unlike his Thuringian relatives-who earned their living simply as humble servants of town, church or court-these two North-German masters commanded considerable status and independence as artistic personalities in their own right. Nor, incidentally, could he have remained unimpressed by the rich musical life of the Hanseatic trading cities in which they dwelt, Hamburg and Lubeck. Hamburg, which Bach visited several times in 1700-2, was not only a great centre for organ and church music but home to the first German civic opera house, founded in the Gansemarkt in 1678.
Lubeck was the scene of Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken, events in which sacred works on the scale of oratorios were performed publicly in an extra-liturgical context on five successive Sundays each autumn. On 2 and 3 December 1705 Bach must have heard, and possibly taken part in, two such performances: Buxtehude’s funeral music for Kaiser Leopold I, Castrum doloris (Bux:WV 134), and his homage music for Kaiser Joseph I, Templum honoris (Bux:WV 135).
As for the study of composition,
there is no evidence in Bach’s case of formal tuition such as Handel received from Zachow; and C. P. E. Bach may well be stating no more than the truth when he declares that his father ‘learned chiefly by the observation of the works of the most famous and proficient composers of his day and by the fruits of his own reflection upon them’.
His insatiable curiosity, which he attempted to satisfy by the time-honoured method of copying music by hand, is illustrated by the well-known story of his copying out by moonlight a book of keyboard pieces by the South-German composers Froberger, Kerll and Pachelbela book that belonged to his teacher-brother Johann Christoph and that for some reason had been withheld from him. The book presumably reflected something of the repertoire that Pachelbel taught his pupils, for all three composers are also represented in a tablature manuscript belonging to another pupil, Johann Valentin Eckelt.
In Llineburg, at the very beginning of the eighteenth century (1700-2), Bach must have encountered the music of Georg Bohm, organist at the Johanniskirche; and in a letter C. P. E. Bach at first described him as his father’s ‘teacher’ before crossing the word out and replacing it with ‘the Liineburg organist’. C. P. E. Bach can hardly have conjured the word out of thin air, and it might perhaps hint that Bohm occupied some kind of informal supervisory role.
In any case, it is clear from Bach’s early music how much he must have learnt from Bohm, as well as from the other North-German composers he encountered around the same time, in particular Reincken, Buxtehude, and Bruhns. Many of their keyboard works are included alongside the early works of Bach himself in two manuscript volumes compiled by his Ohrdruf brother Johann Christoph between about 1704 and 1713, namely the Moller Manuscript and the Andreas Bach Book.
It is more than likely that the young Bach was himself responsible for bringing these works south to Thuringia upon his return from Liineburg in 1702, and again, perhaps, after his Lubeck visit in the winter of 1705-6. In addition to North-German works, the two volumes include music from other parts of Germany, notably by Kuhnau, Zachow, Telemann, Pachelbel, and J. C. F. Fischer, as well as a certain amount of French and Italian music. Again, much of this music might have been made available to Johann Christoph by his younger brother, who seems to have had a voracious appetite for acquainting himself with music written in as many different styles and genres as possible.
The presence of Albinoni trio sonatas in the Moller Manuscript ties in with the youthful Bach’s study of Albinoni, Corelli, and Legrenzi, to which his works of the time bear witness. The French ensemble works in the two volumes, by Lully and Marais, are no doubt similar in style to the music Bach heard at Liineburg Castle, played by the French orchestra kept by the Duke of Celle. From this experience the young Bach is said to have ‘acquired a thorough grounding in the French taste’.
Moreover, in works by him, Bohm, and Telemann in the Andreas Bach Book we encounter the contemporary German vogue for transferring the Lullian style to the keyboard. At the same time, works by Lebegue and Marchand in Johann Christoph’s volumes show the youthful Bach making the acquaintance of original French keyboard music.
All these works, whether French, Italian, or German, contributed to the formation of Bach’s style and technique; and their gradual assimilation helps to explain the extraordinary richness and density of his mature music in all its manifestations.
Describing Bach’s first attempts at composition,
his first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel talks of his tendency ‘to run or leap up and down the instrument, to take both hands as full as all the five fingers will allow, and to proceed in this wild manner till he by chance finds a resting place’.
Despite the obvious element of caricature (like many later writers, Forkel tended to denigrate Bach’s early works, comparing them unfavourably with his mature masterpieces), one can recognize here a certain type within Bach’s early music: that which has its roots in his own developing virtuosity as a player and improviser. But contrary to Forkel’s implication, these works seldom degenerate into empty passage-work. For the young Bach, as for other playercomposers, ideas emerged from the very possibilities of his instrument, and from his own skill at exploiting them.
Thereby he made contact with a rich vein of fantasy that, pace Forkel again, imparts ideas of genuine value to the early keyboard works. There is an obvious affinity here with the so-called stylus phantasticus, or fantastic style, as exemplified by Buxtehude’s praeludia.
Here again, the composer’s own free fantasy, called forth on the spur of the moment by direct contact with his instrument, is the decisive factor. North-German praeludia of this kind no doubt made a powerful impact on the youth from Thuringia; but free fantasy is too spontaneous to be easily imitated, and the rhapsodic effusions of the D major Toccata, BWV 912, for example, are highly personal, which perhaps explains why they sound so romantic to our ears.
It is easy to see how this ‘most free and unrestrained manner of composing’ might have emerged of its own accord out of Bach’s training as an organist under Johann Christoph at Ohrdruf, particularly as improvisation would have been involved as an essential prerequisite for an organist’s career. But his aspirations to be a composer also have another, quite different source.
At an early stage he seems to have shown a remarkable aptitude for fugal and contrapuntal writing-though it must be confessed that we find nothing in early Bach to approach the contrapuntal achievements of the 25-year-old Frescobaldi in his Il primo libro delle fantasie of 1608, or of the 21-year-old Purcell in his ensemble fantasias of 1680. And although subject-based music, such as fugues and chorale arrangements, were often improvised at the time, their advanced pursuit in the long run required tuition or, at the very least, a careful, patient study of models.
This the youth willingly undertook, according to C. P. E. Bach: ‘Through his own study and reflection alone he became, even in his youth, a pure and strong fugue writer’.
Here we catch a glimpse of the studious Bach who, rather than using his fingers to call forth fantasy, set his mind to the art of construction in sound. From an early age he seems to have been drawn towards the learned, academic side of music-never for its own sake, however, but in the service of a strong, expressive content, for, as we are told by his son, he was ‘no lover of dry, mathematical stuff’. The development of the mind plays a key role here, and the young Bach showed exceptional intellectual ability, his school work repeatedly outperforming that of his older fellow students at the schools in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg where he was educated.
The two opposing elements of intellectual control and spontaneous fantasy tend to jostle for the upper hand in Bach’s early music. In time, however, the intellect would increasingly predominate to the extent that the composer’s reliance on his own instrument for inspiration gradually diminished. No weakening of fantasy was involved in this process, but that element no longer arose primarily from the interaction between player and instrument; instead, it emerged from within.
Even the player-composer of Bach’s early years, however, must have composed according to his own inner lights, so it is worth asking what personal resources he could call upon beyond agile hands and feet and a fine intellect.
Already we find some evidence of the personal characteristics that we tend to associate with Bach in his maturity. Considerable independence and single-mindedness are shown by the long, arduous journeys he undertook in pursuit of his educational and musical goals. Leaving his native Thuringia, home of the Bach family of musicians, in March 1700, just before his fifteenth birthday, he travelled over 200 miles north to Liineburg in order to complete his education.
On several occasions during his stay there he traversed the 30 miles from Liineburg to Hamburg in order to hear Reincken play the great four-manual organ of the Catherinenkirche. And later on, after his return to Thuringia, he journeyed over 250 miles on foot from Arnstadt to Lubeck in order to hear Dieterich Buxtehude, organist of the Marienkirche, and his famous Abendmusiken, lingering there for about three months ‘in order to comprehend one thing and another about his art’ despite having been granted only one month’s leave of absence. We encounter here a single-minded determination to further his personal aims as a musician, even at the expense of his public obligations.
The other side of this purposefulness, however, is an obstinacy and truculence, a tendency to take offence, which makes itself felt much later in Leipzig, but is already evident in his first post at Arnstadt (1703-7) in difficulties with students and the church authorities: he ‘had a reputation for not getting on with the students’, and even got involved in a brawl with one of them; and he fell foul of the local consistory for refusing to perform concerted music with the students, and for outlandish chorale playing (by local standards) during services.
We are told that he played for too long, but after being reproved by the superintendent, ‘had at once fallen into the other extreme and made it too short’. Again, in Bach’s letter of resignation from his second organist’s post, at Miihlhausen (1707-8), he complains of the ‘hindrance’ and ‘vexation’ he had experienced during his year there -words that bring to mind his endless disputes with the Leipzig town council in later years.
Although it may be right to impute Bach’s sense of annoying impediments at least partially to a municipality that ‘clung to old fashions and customs’, it seems most unlikely, in view of what we know of his failure to get on with the authorities elsewhere, that he was entirely blameless in the matter. And it seems natural to suppose that this stubborn, pugnacious side of Bach’s personality-his fighting spirit, to put it in a more positive light-was to some extent sublimated into the immense energy of his music. As a child Bach was no stranger to sorrow.
When only six years old,
he had to come to terms with the death of his eighteen-year-old brother Johann Balthazar, whom he must have looked up to as an apprentice of his father’s; and only three years later, at the age of nine, he had to confront an even greater calamity when he lost both parents within the space of about nine months (May 1694-February 1695). It is reasonable to assume that the deeply moving expressions of grief and meditations on death in his music, from the early Actus tragicus cantata ( Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, c. 1707) onwards, had their roots in these devastating childhood experiences.
They may also have contributed to that ‘serious temperament’ that ‘drew him by preference to music that was serious, elaborate and profound’. Bach’s capacity for serious thought and feeling must have fostered the spiritual depth that we recognize in his mature music, but which is already apparent in some of the early cantatas, especially the funeral cantata No. 106, mentioned above, and the Easter cantata No. 4, as well as in certain early organ chorales, notably Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 741. This deeply spiritual side of Bach’s nature was, of course, channelled into the Lutheran Church, with which he was intimately associated from his earliest years and almost continually throughout his life.
He would have gained early familiarity with the liturgy of the main service, the Hauptgottesdienst, structured around the Mass Ordinary (including German paraphrases such as ‘Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr’ and ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’), with the words of the Lutheran Bible, and with the rhythm of the church year. And he would have become aware that the church, whether in words or music or in both combined, was capable of giving expression to our deepest feelings, either on occasions of great sorrow, such as the family funerals he had to attend, or of great joy, such as the wedding of his elder brother Johann Christoph in October 1694.
The church, whether in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Liineburg, Arnstadt, or Miihlhausen, was beyond question his spiritual home, and it is in this light that we should understand his almost continuous involvement in church music from Eisenach onwards.
The divorcing of Bach’s sacred music
from its liturgical context and even from the meaning of its words is a modern, secular phenomenon that bears no relation to its true origins. The very depth of response, which cannot be overlooked in his church music, testifies to the intimacy of his involvement with the texts and with what they signify. From early childhood he must have dwelt on the meaning of the increasingly familiar biblical words he heard in church, begun to evaluate and compare different musical settings of them, and in time noticed that, in the context of the whole church year, they covered the entire gamut of states of the soul in relation to the divinity.
We approach here one of the most profound sources of Bach’s life as a creative artist. Through regular and intimate involvement with the church and its music, he must have learnt by experience that music, linked to appropriate words, could reach the very depths of our being and thereby offer fulfilment to the soul.
In the various churches where Bach was active in the 1690s and 1700s, he would have encountered a vast quantity of music, whether for organ, congregation, a cappella choir, or combined vocal and instrumental ensemble. At the heart of this music lay the Lutheran chorale, the German congregational hymn, with which he would have been acquainted from a very early age, having grown up with the Eisenach hymnal of 1673, the Neues vollstiindiges Eisenachisches Gesangbuch, which contained no fewer than 612 chorales. Hymnals of this kind formed the staple diet of Lutheran church music, and the child Bach must have been struck by the association of the old familiar melodies with sacred verse that constantly echoed the Bible and tied in with the specific occasion, the readings, and the sermon.
Much of the more elaborate church music that he heard or participated in, either for organ or for choir, would have been based on a chorale cantus firmus, employing time-honoured techniques of deriving a new composition from an existing melody.
The most popular chorales were employed in this way countless times by various composers, and at a very young age Bach must have learnt to evaluate and compare the different versions. This would no doubt act as a spur to his own creativity, for he must have been filled with a desire to emulate the best composers and their work. An organist’s duties typically included not only accompanying the congregational singing of chorales but introducing them with an improvised or pre-composed piece of music based on them. Bach would have learnt this art of ‘preluding’ from his elder brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf; some of his very earliest compositions, such as the organ chorales attributed to him from the Neumeister Collection, might have been written with this function in mind.
Organists also had to play preludes, fantasias, fugues and the like at the beginning and end of the service, and some of Bach’s early non-chorale-based organ music must have been designed to serve this purpose. Not all of it, however, for some of the preludes and fugues, alongside the suites, sonatas, capriccios, and toccatas, must have been written for performance in the home. It is impossible to draw clear dividing lines here, either in the function served by the music or in the instrument for which it was written.
The sources, rather than naming a specific instrument, merely describe the work concerned as ‘manualiter’ or ‘pedaliter’-that is, playable on manuals only, or requiring a pedalboard. Thus Bach, like his older contemporaries, was in many cases not writing with a particular keyboard instrument in mind, but for whichever instrument the player had to hand, either in church or in the home. All the composer had to do was to stipulate whether or not pedals were required; the player could then choose whether to perform the music on church organ, house organ, pedalharpsichord, manuals-only harpsichord, spinet, or clavichord.
The elaborate vocal music in which Bach participated at Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg was of two kinds: on the one hand, a cappella motets in a traditional polyphonic style; and on the other, concerted vocal and instrumental music (sacred concertos, cantatas and so on) in a much more up-to-date idiom. Motet style and the closely related stile antico clearly made a deep impression on him, for he would return to it for certain movements of his church works throughout his career. But it soon became clear that his aspirations as a composer lay primarily within the field of concerted vocal and instrumental music.
Opportunities for this were limited in Arnstadt and Miihlhausen, mainly because, as elsewhere, concerted music was primarily the responsibility of the local cantor, while the organist, by contrast, was normally able to perform it only at weddings, funerals, or other special occasions. However, there were also local difficulties. At Arnstadt Bach found the student choir unruly and hard to get along with, and he consequently failed to perform concerted music with them-an omission for which he was repeatedly taken to task by the church authorities.
He may have done so, however, towards the end of his tenure: the two cantatas he would have had to submit for his Miihlhausen application might have been drawn from a stock he was building up in Arnstadt, rather than newly composed for the purpose. At Miihlhausen, Bach not only composed and performed occasional cantatas himself (among them, BWV 71, 106, and 131); he also ‘acquired from far and wide, not without cost, a good store of the choicest church compositions’ by other composers, for use not only in his own town church, the Blasiuskirche, but in local village churches too.
Here in Miihlhausen, as later in Weimar and Leipzig, his central goal was, in his own words, the provision of ‘a well-regulated church music to the glory of God’.40 It is obstacles to that goal that he cites, without going into details, as the grounds for his resignation after only one year.
THE BEST OF BACH Johann Sebastian Bach 1. Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 Allegro (00:00) Adagio (4:43) Allegro (9:10) 2. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 Allegro (13:40) Allegro assai (19:11) Allegro (24:05) 3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 Presto (31:42) Andante (36:37) Affettuoso (39:32) 4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 Allegro (45:02) 5. Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060 Allegro (50:38) Largo (54:59) Allegro (59:32) 6. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Menuet (1:02:35) 7. Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: Air on the G String (1:05:35) 8. Cantata BWV 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (1:10:07) 9. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (1:13:32) 10. Harpsichord Invention No. 1 in C major, BWV 772 (1:22:23) 11. Harpsichord Invention No 8 in F major, BWV 779 (1:23:43) 12. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Badinerie (1:24:42) 13. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in G major, BWV Ahn. 114 (1:27:24) 14. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Musette in D major, BWV Anh.126 (1:28:59) 15. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: Bourée (1:30:06) 16. Sonata for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord, BWV 1028 (1:31:48) 17. Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059: 2nd Movt. (1:35:44) 18. Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010: Courante (1:38:54) 19. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012: Gavotte (1:42:32) 20. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012: Prelude (1:46:42)
1.”The Night We Called It A Day” 2.”I love you” 3.”Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” 4.”Sound” (K. Jarrett) 5.”I Loves You, Porgy” 6.”There Is No Greater Love” 7.”‘Round About Midnight” 8.”Solar” 9.”Then I’ll Be Tired Of You” 10.”Sweet And Lovely” 11.”The Wind” 12.”Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” 13.”I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” 14.”Summertime”
Captured live at Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, renowned piano virtuoso Keith Jarrett performs some of his most memorable and haunting standards before an enthusiastic crowd. Performed entirely solo, these numbers clearly reveal the breadth and power of his immense musical skills.
Keith Jarrett’s discography embraces solo improvisation, duets, trios, quartets, original compositions, multi-instrumental ventures, masterpieces of the classical repertoire and wide-ranging explorations of the Great American Songbook.
Jarrett was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in May 1945. He took his first piano lesson before his third birthday and gave his debut solo recital aged seven. “I grew up with the piano,” he has said, “I learned its language while I learned to speak.”
His earliest training was classical, but by the age of 15 his piano lessons had ceased and Jarrett’s interest in jazz was burgeoning. He turned down an opportunity to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and in 1964 took the decisive step of moving to New York to establish himself in the jazz world. After a spell touring with Art Blakey’s New Jazz Messengers, Jarrett joined Charles Lloyd’s quartet in 1966. He also played organ and electric piano with Miles Davis in 1970 and 1971.
Jarrett’s association with ECM dates from November 1971, when he and producer Manfred Eicher first collaborated on the hugely influential solo piano album Facing You, eight short pieces which, in Eicher’s words, “hold together like a suite”. The album also prefigured the solo piano concerts which would be such a defining aspect of Jarrett’s career.
In 1973 ECM organised an eighteen-concert European tour, consisting solely of Jarrett’s solo improvisations. The Köln Concert (1975) has unsurprisingly passed into legend: a multi-million-selling album that has been the subject of books and a complete transcription. But Köln should not eclipse the achievement of the whole sequence of improvised concerts, a genre which Jarrett effectively created. After the success of that first solo tour, Jarrett has continued to pursue the improvised solo concert format, the decades of his career studded with records of his endlessly fertile imagination, usually referred to simply by where they took place: Paris, Vienna, Lausanne, Carnegie Hall, La Scala…
Jarrett has been a member of several outstanding groups. In the mid-1970s he began recording with his so-called “European Quartet” consisting of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. Their recordings include Belonging, My Song, Nude Ants, Personal Mountains and Sleeper. No less essential is his contemporaneous “American Quartet” work with Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums) and Dewey Redman (sax), whose output included The Survivors’ Suite and Eyes of the Heart (both 1976). The American Quartet extended the range of Jarrrett’s trio with Haden and Motian. The early trio’s work is documented on Hamburg ’72.
In the early 1980s Jarrett formed his “Standards Trio” with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, which proved to be one of the most fertile and long-lasting partnerships in jazz history. Over the years they have toured and released an unparalleled series of albums of standards and freely improvised sets, including the 6-CD set At the Blue Note, an extraordinary record of three extraordinary nights in June 1994, about which the New York Times wrote: “Jarrett makes each new note sound like a discovery… The music whispered and glimmered, seeking a pure, incorporeal song.”
In 1987, Jarrett initiated a series of recordings of some of the great monuments of the classical keyboard repertoire with Bach’s Wohltempierte Klavier, Book I, which was followed by the Goldberg Variations (1989) and the second book of Wohltempierte Klavier (1990). For a pianist with such a fine command of voicing, Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, was perhaps a natural next step: “It didn’t feel like I was playing someone else’s music,” Jarrett said of his first encounter with these works. “[The pieces] are coming from some strange quirky place that I’m familiar with.” The New York Times was just one of many to hail this award-winning recording: no mere crossover curiosity, “Jarrett has finally staked an indisputable claim to distinction in the realm of classical music”.
On January 10, 1963, for his final contracted studio date for Riverside Records, Bill Evans made an abortive attempt at recording a purely solo album. The resulting material was ultimately not sanctioned for release, becoming commercially available only after Evans’ death in 1980.
Leaving aside any analysis of the reasons behind the decision to shelve the session, the recorded material itself is an extended document of Evans’ solo pianistic facture during what was at the time a transitional point in his career. Although Evans had included a number of solo tracks on his earlier trio albums New Jazz Conceptions (1956) and Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1958), and four tracks exist from another earlier abortive attempt to record a solo album in April, 1962, the 85 minutes of music from The Solo Sessions provide the most comprehensive opportunity both to examine his approach at that time to solo realisation (in general, as well as across a single recording date), and to define the various factural characteristics of his early solo style.
Additionally, as much of Evans’ selection of material for these sessions comprises the mix of standards and contemporary popular songs typical of his repertoire base, with several of these numbers subsequently re-recorded in trio or solo contexts over the following decade, these recordings also form a benchmark in charting the progress of his solo style, before its consolidation with the Alone album at the end of the 1960s.
Evans’ biographers have also recognised the significance of this session within his discography. In Pettinger’s interpretation, it is an opportunity to view the ‘artist’s workshop, to survey the tools of his trade, piles of sketches, scattered maquettes. Everything has a raw, unfinished aspect and there is much craziness besides’. Although more dismissive of the session from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint, Shadwick declares that ‘this set of recordings is fascinating to fellow pianists or students anxious to penetrate the Evans process of creation’.
In order to contextualise the process, from which Evans’ pianistic facture is created, it is necessary to examine a number of salient stylistic features prevalent throughout the recordings that comprise The Solo Sessions, in which various physical considerations in performance often play a generative or influential role. There are two elements, which perhaps exert the most fundamental influence upon Evans’ pianistic facture – a theoretical one, arising from the principles of voice-leading in fifth-based harmonic movement, and a physical one, stemming directly from the flexibility Evans was able to demonstrate by possessing a very wide handspan.
This physical capacity is particularly exploited to the full in his solo work, enabling him to utilise an open-voiced and resonant style of harmonic scoring, incorporating stretches in the left hand up to an eleventh and regularly inclusive of an inner note, usually the seventh. Connecting these two elements together is Evans’ decision to consistently maintain the root of a given harmony as an anchoring presence, creating a characteristic harmonic texture present throughout all of his solo recordings during this period.
For these left-hand chord shapes, Evans overwhelmingly utilises a standard triadic structure of tonic, third (or tenth) and seventh, featuring fifth-based root movement in the lowest voice, coupled with stepwise movement (inclusive of suspensions) in the upper two voices. Indebted to the physical stretch obtainable from his hands, this can be considered as Evans’ standard realisation of movement through the cycle of fifths, and is also approached with a standard pattern of fingering. Ex.1 presents a short ii-V-I turnaround from ‘All The Things You Are’, as one example amongst many, to illustrate this characteristic texture: Ex.1. ‘All The Things You Are’, bars 75 – 78 (2:24 – 2:29).
In progressions not based around the cycle, these left-hand triadic structures are often simply transposed as required, maintaining a harmonic foundation built around the parallel motion of root position sevenths. When moving by step, especially within the context of a harmonised (and especially chromatically) ascending or descending bassline, they may also appear as an inverted passing chord within a progression, a role explaining many appearances of localised inverted harmony within Evans’ solo style.
Regardless of harmonic functionality, this kind of rigid shifting of a chord shape emphasises in turn the physical parameter behind Evans’ progressions, where the automatic physical placement of the hand and harmonic voicings arising from the hand position itself exercise an influential (or even determinant) effect on the resulting facture.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the level of physical ‘automaticism’ in respect to facture, a theoretical framework behind the progressions is often strictly maintained, demonstrating Evans’ intellectual discipline in respect to the consistency of voice leading and harmonic structures at points where material is transposed en bloc. This can be shown in a segment of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’, in which the same left-hand voicings from the first four bars (bars 117 – 120) are retained for the sequential transposition a tone higher, commencing in the fifth bar (bar 121), working to consolidate the phrase structure here during the harmonic modulation concurrently in progress.
Ex.2. ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’, bars 117 – 125 (2:57 – 3:09).
These theoretical foundations to the harmony are at their most exposed within left-hand accompaniments to a solo line, where often sparser textures and varying distances in tessitura between line and accompaniment tend to highlight the motion of the underlying chords. However, the extent of Evans’ absorption of these chord shapes as a basis for constructing much of the overall texture found in The Solo Sessions is also demonstrated in instances where texture is influenced by the stylistic considerations of particular songs, or where the harmonic scoring is more fragmented or divided in various ways between the hands.
For ballads in slow tempo and in other more lyrical settings, Evans often utilises a standard pianistic texture involving simple arpeggiations of the left-hand chord structures, which is then balanced by a harmonisation of the melodic line within the right hand. An archetypal example is offered in the second section of the head from ‘What Kind of Fool Am I (Take 2)’.
Although the desire to unambiguously establish the background harmony usually results in directing the motion of the arpeggio upwards from the root note, the presence of arpeggiated left-hand chord shapes within the texture is made less apparent by regularly shifting the root note onto and off the beat, an effect supported in conjunction with the rhythmic profile and particular doublings of harmonic pitches found in the right hand.
Within the right hand itself, the thumb reveals its standard role in Evans’ facture as an anchor for sustaining or emphasising selected pitches beneath the melodic line, as well as (in this case) for also providing localised octave reinforcement.
Ex.3. ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Take 2)’, bars 20 – 30 (0:54 – 1:23).
A second context demonstrating the way in which these standard left-hand chord shapes are integrated concerns Evans’ perhaps most commonly used texture during statements of the head, or within other sections where the elaboration of the melodic line requires more extended harmonic support.
Excepting instances of doubling, Evans habitually situates the melody exclusively in the highest voice; the harmonisation meanwhile is often divided between both hands working in close proximity, usually homophonically, with the lower fingers of the right hand allocated to voicing extended harmonic pitches (focused particularly around the ninth) and at times also the upper note from the standard left-hand triadic progressions outlined above.
The head of the Gershwin song ‘Love Is Here To Stay’ shows one effective realisation of this kind of texture. Its extensive fifth-based root movement fits neatly within the corresponding natural framework of Evans’ harmonic preferences, while short phrase lengths finished with sustained notes in the melody allow for the motion of inner parts at these points to be brought to the foreground. In the right hand, the second and third fingers have a dynamic function through voicing chromatic passing figurations, in which suspensions are stated and resolved, while the thumb is regularly anchored in its complementary sustaining role.
This method of dividing up the fingers according to a specific pre-determined functionality can again be described as typical of Evans’ approach to facture in its combination of theoretical and physical considerations.
Ex.4. ‘Love Is Here To Stay’, bars 1 – 16 (0:00 – 0:29).
Evans’ realisation of this Gershwin song is notable for the way in which variations in texture are used structurally to clearly delineate the form as it unfolds. A further example (see Ex.5 below) from the second solo section of the song, corresponding to the recommencement of the 32-bar form, again utilises simple arpeggiations to help disguise the standard harmonic scoring, but is now presented as a texture homophonically unified with the right hand.
The employment of fixed hand positions is again pivotal in this texture, with the motion of the right hand dyads in particular almost ‘resolving’ ultimately onto a natural hand shape anchored on each occasion by the thumb. This example also contains a number of Evans’ almost routine textural signatures, already well-established in his earlier solo work, and encountered often throughout The Solo Sessions.
These include a three or four-part texture of close position inverted chords, progressing in common similar motion or in oblique motion with the inner parts and often prolonging a central harmony using neighbour chord figurations (see bar 76 in Ex.5), and the arpeggiation of a more extended harmony, usually centred on a ninth chord, within the span of one hand position and scored as two 7th chords at the distance of a tenth between the hands, as found here stating a Gm9 across bars 70-71 (2:05 – 2:07). This last textural signature is a device that by this point in Evans’ improvisatory style had become almost ‘automicised’ as a standard (if not clichéd) prolongation technique.
Ex.5. ‘Love Is Here To Stay’, bars 64 – 77 (1:54 – 2:18).
A similar mix of theoretical and physical principles guides the construction of Evans’ solo lines. As a general rule, elaborations within the line at a given point can often be reduced back to identify one particular harmonic note as a localised focus. The background voice-leading that connects these ‘focus notes’ together is often readily apparent and creates an implied four-part texture in combination with the triadic harmony in the left hand. Although by no means quantifiable as a list of mannerisms, there are certain tendencies within Evans’ method of solo elaboration around these focus notes, in which particular melodic shapes (and by extension hand shapes) play an integral role.
In Ex.6 below, from ‘Ornithology’, a number of standard characteristics within Evans’ solo elaborations are stated in succession. Over the first two bars, the focus note ‘D’ in the right hand is emphasised through repetition within a number of chromatic and ornamental neighbour figures. The fleeting broken chord in the third beat of the second bar (right hand) works to re-anchor the hand position after this material by engaging the thumb at a point (F4) beneath the solo line.
This is a standard and fundamental technique within Evans’ right-hand linear elaborations, where an exterior note, usually taken by the thumb (and thus operating below the tessitura of the main line, creating at times the effect of an otherwise implied additional harmonic voice), is used to interrupt the momentum of scalic (especially chromatic) motion, and has a tendency to steer the overall direction of a line downwards.
This same procedure can be seen at the end of bar 131 in Ex.6, with the same figure again stated in transposition a tone lower during the penultimate bar.
Octave transference of a pitch is also common and is often connected in conjunction with an arpeggiation of the current harmony (or its extension), observable in this case within the third (C5 down to C4) and fourth (A4 up to A5) bars of Ex.6. In the third bar, downwards transference of the focus note C leads the solo line to interact with both the harmonic schemata and textural layer of the left hand. This manner of interaction between the hands is a feature often exploited within Evans’ solo sections, reinforcing the cohesion between solo and accompanimental layers while providing points of structural punctuation both within the flow of the solo line and through variation of the overall textural width.
The figurations of the fourth and fifth bars in the example display other standard improvisatory figures from Evans’ catalogue, especially well-suited for improvisation within a rapid tempo – groups of four-note arpeggios spanning a seventh chord within one hand position, often preceded by an ornamental chromatic inflection, followed in this example by ornamental crushed notes (bars 130 – 131), a colouristic gesture again dominated by the physical process of shifting hand position and movement down through the fingers towards the thumb (and as a common gesture of Evans’ style, overwhelmingly in descending motion to the given goal note, further emphasising the thumb’s dominant role). Bars 133 – 134 again demonstrate octave transference via the automicised use of an ascending embellished four-note arpeggio, in effect a transposition of bar 129 a tone lower.
Many of these characteristic solo elaborations can also be observed in a second example, a segment from ‘What Kind of Fool Am I (Take 2)’. The above-mentioned technique of re-anchoring the hand position by allocating a lower exterior note to the thumb is easily identifiable at the end of the third bar of Ex.7, as is its function to disrupt the movement of the chromatic line (from Eb5 down to C5) in bar 130.
The example again illustrates the various methods employed for the prolongation of particular structural pitches in the right hand through use of octave transference and neighbour-note ornamentations, in this instance for the focus note ‘F’, which is structurally central throughout the example and functions as a pivot note for the modulation occurring roughly halfway through, as the initial note of both bar 129 and bar 130.
The directed gradual descent of the solo line leads into another instance of textural interaction between the hands, where the final punctuating Ab of the right hand (bar 133) links directly into the following left-hand harmony, which is then further stated an octave higher within the right hand as a means of resuming the solo line (end of bar 134).
Ex.7. ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Take 2)’, bars 122 – 134 (4:25 – 4:47).
The allocation of particular functions to particular fingers is a concept also transferable to the various roles fulfilled by the left hand. Within its harmonic role, in which the outer notes (particularly the root note usually given to the fifth finger) have limited possibilities for manipulation, the second and third fingers are again able to carry localised figurations, granting some degree of flexibility to the inner voice.
Often, these figurations have a purely ornamental or colouristic function, and are usually restricted to stepwise movement towards or alternation between the seventh, sixth and dominant degrees, as can be seen in the first two examples of Ex.8 (in bar 41):
Ex.8a. ‘Autumn in New York’, bars 39 – 44 (0:59 – 1:07).
‘Ornithology’, bars 162 – 164 (3:22 – 3:26).
At instances in which the outer voices of the left hand are sustained over longer periods, the reduction in harmonic rhythm may enable the inner voice to operate more structurally in counterpoint with another voice (usually the solo line), in this case expanding the fifth/seventh transference into an inner chromatic line:
Within its context of supplying the harmonic foundation, the left hand may also utilise individual fingers to highlight various pitches through restatement within a sustained chord, usually as a means to interact rhythmically with the material in the right hand. In an extract from ‘Ornithology’, under a chromatically oscillating pattern of broken thirds in the right hand, various combinations of individual pitches from a sustained chord or of a full chord itself within the underlying triadic harmony are re-stated with a slight rhythmic delay against the dominant triplet rhythm.
This rhythmic delay between one hand in relation to the other is a particularly common and idiosyncratic feature of Evans’ performing style throughout The Solo Sessions, and indeed, his solo style in general. At times when the texture is reduced to a single line (or in the context that Evans presents it, doubled at the octave between the hands), rhythmic discrepancies between the hands are particularly telling in this respect. Appearing more often in the left hand, rhythmic delay is especially prominent during accompanimental passages in which the degree of (rhythmic) interplay between the hands is accentuated.
While naturally affecting the overall feel of Evans’ playing, it also works in a subtle way to vary and to augment the apparent textural density. Within a solo performance context, away from the opportunities for rhythmic interaction with an ensemble and the ongoing additional dimension that other instruments provide, perhaps Evans felt the need to construct a role for the left hand, in which its special rhythmic profile and the ghosting of individual notes function as a substitute for these missing instrumental roles. Its prominence in solo sections may then function also as a means to compensate for the reduction of texture in the right hand to a single line.
As such, it would represent another important element of the specific facture, characterising Evans’ solo style from the period of The Solo Sessions.
Personnel: Bill Evans (p) Chuck Israels (b) Paul Motian (dr) Released: January 1964 Recorded: May 17, 1962 (#1, 6) May 29, 1962 (#5, 7, 9) June 5, 1962 (#2-4, 8) Sound Makers Studio Label: Riverside RLP 473 Producer: Orrin Keepnews
“How My Heart Sings” (Earl Zindars) “I Should Care” (Sammy Cahn, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston) “In Your Own Sweet Way” (Dave Brubeck) “In Your Own Sweet Way” [alternate take – bonus track] “Walkin’ Up” (Bill Evans) “Summertime” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward) “34 Skidoo” (Evans) “Ev’rything I Love” (Cole Porter) “Show-Type Tune” (Evans)
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1. I’ll Take Romance 2. What Is This Thing Called Love 3. Blues On The Corner 4. For All We Know 5. In A Sentimental Mood 6. The Night Has A Thousand Eyes . . . encore 7. Blue Monk
McCoy Tyner – piano George Coleman – tenor sax Avery Sharpe – bass Aaron Scott – drums – McCoy Tyner / George Coleman Quartet
● Recorded at:
Jazzfestival Bern 1998 Live at 23. Internationales Jazzfestival Bern, Switzerland, May 10, 1998
Alfred McCoy Tyner (December 11, 1938 – March 6, 2020) was an American jazz pianist known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career. He was an NEA Jazz Master and a five-time Grammy winner. Not a player of electric keyboards and synthesizers, he was committed to acoustic instrumentation. Tyner, who was widely imitated, was one of the most recognizable and most influential pianists in jazz history.
On the album, he exhibits a reserved elegance and tenderness that reveals the other side of his personality—a lover of melody and standards. In this regard, there are traces of Oscar Peterson in his playing. Perhaps Thiele was using Tyner to take a bite out of Peterson’s vast and successful early-’60s share of the jazz market. Tyner also appeared as a sideman on many Blue Note albums of the 1960s, although he was often credited as “etc.” on the cover of these albums to respect his contract with Impulse!.
Tyner’s playing style developed in close contact with Coltrane. His style of piano is comparable to Coltrane’s maximalist style on saxophone.Writing in 2019, Sami Linna at the University of the Arts Helsinki noted that Coltrane described the two different directions in his playing as: “playing chordally (vertically) or melodically (horizontally)”. Linna suggests: “Tyner would eventually find a way of dealing with the two directions simultaneously, in a manner that was supportive and complementary yet original and slightly different from Coltrane’s approach.” After 1960 Coltrane did not hire anyone at the piano if Tyner was not available; between Tyner joining the group (around the end of May 1960) and leaving (in December 1965), there was nobody else at the piano accompanying Coltrane.
Tyner’s involvement with Coltrane came to an end in 1965. Coltrane’s music was becoming much more atonal and free; he had also augmented his quartet with percussion players who threatened to drown out both Tyner and Jones: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music… All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play”. In 1966, Tyner rehearsed with a new trio and embarked on a career as a bandleader.
His music for Blue Note and Milestone often took the music of the Coltrane quartet as a starting point. Tyner also incorporated African and East Asian elements in his music. On Sahara he played koto in addition to piano, flute, and percussion. These albums have been cited as examples of innovative jazz from the 1970s that was neither fusion nor free jazz. On Trident (1975) Tyner played the harpsichord and celeste, instruments heard rarely in jazz.
McCoy Tyner was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
Tyner is considered to be one of the most influential jazz pianists of the late 20th century, an honor he earned during and after his time with Coltrane.
Tyner, who was left-handed, played with a low bass left hand and he raised his arm high above the keyboard for an emphatic attack. His right-hand soloing was detached and staccato. His melodic vocabulary was rich, ranging from raw blues to complexly superimposedpentatonic scales; his approach to chord voicing (most characteristically by fourths) influenced contemporary jazz pianists, such as Chick Corea.
This analysis totally ignores the harmonic progression composed by Bill, in order to observe the theme as a complete entity; one that doesn’t need harmony to prove its existence.
In the Modal period (pre-Bach), polyphony reigned supreme; harmony was accidental and therefore not a factor in determining the form or length of a composition. The theoretical basis derived from this period was the MODES or scales: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, MixoLydian, Aeolian, and Locrian, all beginning on the pitch “c.”
After Bach, the modes disappeared, or rather, were swallowed up, allowing for a synthesis which gave birth to the major/ minor system and a theory of harmony based on 12 major and 12 minor scales ( called scales to differentiate between the pre-Bach Modal period and the Tonal post-Bach era). This tonal period lasted roughly 300 years before a new and higher synthesis-Atonality-came into being.
When a synthesis is reached, it always inherits the previous period. Inherent in the Tonal system is the Modal system; inherent in the Atonal system are both the Modal and the Tonal systems. Bill Evans was born with this awareness, and through his study of the Schoenberg harmony, counterpoint, and compositional books, he created his wonderfully rich compositions, full of the past and present and achieving a new synthesis: the conscious merging of classical music with jazz.
There is a term coined by Gunther Schuller: “Third Stream Music.” It means the synthesis of two streams, classical and ja,zz, to produce a third stream. Bill Evans’ compositions are Third Stream, and the following analysis of “Time Remembered” is an attempt to prove that statement true. Here are eight examples that break down the theme into eight phrases (the measure lengths are altered slightly for Part 1 ).
Each example show how the theme expresses a mode based on the gravity caused by the succession of tones in each phrase. The clue lies in the Directional Tones in each phrase. In EX. lA, our ear retains (remembers) the opening “f#” at the arrival of the last note “b,” and identifies these pitches as the dominant or 5th note (f#) and tonic (1st note) of the B Aeolian mode.
The rest of the pitches in this phrase support this conclusion. “C#” is the super-tonic note, “a” is the leading tone, “e” the sub-dominant, etc. The high point on the pitch “d” links up with the” f#” and “b” to form a tonic B minor triad, but I must not use that to support my conclusion, since I stated above that this analysis is linear (horizontal) and not chordal (vertical)!
Our ear does, however, group (link) tones to form chords because it’s almost impossible to forget our 20th century inheritance: harmony! I have therefore included an analysis of what our 20th century ear picks up chord-wise in each example.
Looking at EX. lA again, you’ll see that my ear groups these pitches vertically to form a V7, 1 V7 & I chord (F#m7, Em7 & Bm triad respectively). The modes are very slippery and our ear could very easily shift the tonic to the pitch” e,” giving us an E Dorian mode. This is obvious because both the B Aeolian and E Dorian contain the same pitches. In the latter instance, my ear picked up the Directional Tone” e” (low point, and linked it with the “b” in measure 4, plus the opening “f#,” pulling me gravitationally to the “e” as a tonic note).
In each of the following examples, you must sing (and/ or play) the phrase as written; then sing the analytical sections above and below; then sing the modes; then repeat and repeat until your ear gravitates toward the tonic of each mode. It is entirely with_ill !he realm of probability that you will arrive at other modal conclusions, but rememoer, it is the Directional Tones-the high and low point in each phrase-that will support my conclusion. I’ll stand firmly on all of them! Ultimately, it should be child’s play when you finally sit down with thiswonderful composition, “Time Remembered.”
Bill Evans – Time Remembered – Full Album
1) “Danny Boy” (Frederick Weatherly) – 00:00 2) Like Someone in Love” (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen) – 10:40 3) “In Your Own Sweet Way” (Dave Brubeck) – 17:08 4) “Easy to Love” (Cole Porter) – 20:07 5) “Some Other Time” (Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green) – 24:49 6) “Lover Man” (Jimmy Davis, Ram Ramirez, James Sherman) – 31:01 7) “Who Cares?” (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin) – 36:07 8) “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (Cole Porter) – 41:32 9) “How About You?” (Ralph Freed, Burton Lane) – 47:21 10) “Everything Happens to Me” (Tom Adair, Matt Dennis) – 51:27 11) “In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington, Manny Kurtz, Irving Mills) – 56:15 12) “My Heart Stood Still” (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers) – 01:00:41 13) “Time Remembered” (Bill Evans) – 01:05:16
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David Gilmour CBE, the voice & guitar of Pink Floyd, hit No. 1 in the UK with his 2006 solo album On An Island. Following Pink Floyd’s final album, 2014’s The Endless River, (No. 1 in 21 countries), David’s latest studio album, Rattle That Lock, and 2017’s release of Live At Pompeii are out now. Buy via http://www.davidgilmour.com A Cambridge friend of Syd Barrett, David joined Syd, with Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason, in Pink Floyd in early 1968, only for Syd to leave the group five gigs later.
Pink Floyd’s subsequent huge worldwide success continued after Roger Waters’ departure in 1985, with the albums A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell both charting at No. 1 in the UK and the US, and sell-out world tours. Rattle That Lock released in 2015 and David’s 4th solo album, went to No. 1 in 13 countries. In 2017, Live at Pompeii released as a live album and film which was recorded at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii.
Inside David Gilmour’s Stunning New Pompeii Concert Film
David Gilmour is reclining on a greenroom couch inside a large cineplex in London’s West End. He looks relaxed in a blue blazer and sneakers, his brown flight bag tossed in a corner, but tonight he has much to be excited about. In a few hours, the movie theater will be hosting a VIP premiere of his new concert film, Live at Pompeii, chronicling his brilliant two-night stand last year in the ancient Italian city’s millennia-old amphitheater, which was once razed and buried by the volcano Vesuvius. As he inspects a poster for the movie, his mind wanders back to the first time he performed in the venue – as a member of Pink Floyd playing before an audience of ghosts in the empty amphitheater – and he parses how it felt to come full circle 45 years later.
“I can’t remember how long we were there – it must have been well over a week in the area – but it was really hot,” he says, thinking back nearly five decades. “This time, it was really hot again but it was very different overall, since we had an audience and were putting on a show.” He pauses and thinks about the film. “That moment at the beginning of the show, when you got the last bit of sunlight circling down behind Vesuvius over the top of this fantastic arena, it’s beautiful.”
That cinematic moment captures the spirit of the concerts, which found Gilmour’s soaring guitar lines providing a soundtrack for picturesque views of the volcano (at one point, the sky at dusk was a shade of deep green) and the scent of ancient dust. Only a couple thousand concertgoers witnessed each show, which featured Gilmour playing selections from his recent solo LP, Rattle That Lock, and Pink Floyd classics at the center of a brilliant light show, complete with pyrotechnics and his circular projection screen. It was the first time an audience had watched any performance in the amphitheater since Roman times, a once-in-several-lifetimes experience.
Now a much larger audience will be able to experience the concert when the film gets a special one-night-only screening in more than 2,000 theaters around the world on Wednesday, followed by a CD and home-video release later this month. It’s all part of Gilmour’s vision to create unique experiences for his fans.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve aimed to play real beautiful, lovely venues,” Gilmour says, pointing to his 2016 performances at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the Chicago Auditorium, as well as Pompeii and Rome’s Circus Maximus. “I really like to create something where people have something on top of just the music experience in a room, where they say, ‘Ah, that was something special.’”
For Gilmour, the pressure was even heavier at Pompeii since he had a history there. When he performed there last, in October 1971, it was for another concert picture. Filmmaker Adrian Maben had courted the band to be the focus of his now-oft-mimicked “anti-Woodstock” flick, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, which saw them playing on the floor of the venue to nobody.
At the time, it was more of a noise-making mission. The band banged gongs, played slide guitar and whispered into microphones for a mini set that included their Meddle masterpieces “Echoes” and “One of These Days,” as well as more experimental fare like “A Saucerful of Secrets” and their eerie single “Careful With that Axe, Eugene.” It was at a time when Gilmour was defining himself as a guitarist (“It was a little tricky coming into Pink Floyd after Syd [Barrett] and trying to copy his style a bit but move it towards what I wanted to do,” he says) and the music from the time paved the way for 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, nearly half of which Gilmour played at his solo Pompeii gig.
This time, he also made a decidedly less experimental film, putting it in the hands of director Gavin Elder, who’d previously made Gilmour’s 2008 concert film, Live in Gdańsk. “He said to capture it the best I can and to make it as exciting and momentous as I can,” Elder says. “He wanted to capture the majesty of the arena.”
“I tried not to say too much to him about what I wanted,” Gilmour says. “My plan is to get people who have an artistic vision themselves and see what they can do. I don’t want it to be rigid or controlled. I don’t know how to make films; I’m a guitar player. And Gavin knows what he’s doing.”
Despite Elder’s experience, it wasn’t an easy shoot. The camera crew had to be especially careful of the ancient structure’s foundations. Although the concert was in July, Elder was working with the staff at the ruins for four months figuring out just how to shoot a concert film there. “All the gear had to be trucked in, pushed in on a special ramp they built and brought back into the arena,” the filmmaker says. “It hasn’t been modernized, so it’s not built for concerts.” The night they tested everything, one of the lighting guys fell into a hole in the ruins and broke his arm. “Health and safety wasn’t big with the Romans,” Elder says.
The crew wasn’t allowed to bring cameras onto the floor of the arena, so the stationary cameras were either on the sides or on cranes. They were allowed only one Steadicam but it had to keep moving, which made the shoot all the more difficult. They solved some of these problems by using a drone to capture some of the film’s magnificent aerial shots from afar. (The Italian authorities wouldn’t let it fly over the actual amphitheater, and during one of the concerts, a rogue drone was spotted, though the footage has yet to surface.)
“We got shots from maybe a mile away,” Gilmour says, smiling, thinking about the drone-shot footage. “You’ve got this little disc down there, which is the arena with Vesuvius behind it, and the light and the smoke and light coming out of this little disc and you zoom towards it and it’s fabulous.”
The overarching challenge, Elder says, was to make it not feel small and to relay the special feeling of the occasion. “We felt we were in the presence of history when we were doing the laser testing, especially the night before in that amazing southern Italian heat,” Elder says. “There’s a real presence that a lot has gone on there before.”
The film opens with the Rattle That Lock instrumental “5 A.M.” just as the sun is setting behind the amphitheater. “I was very conscious of what time the show was going to start,” Elder says. “I really wanted to capture the magical twilight time, so that you got the sense of where Vesuvius was behind the arena in the distance. I remember going back and forth with the production staff, because the lighting guy was saying, ‘No, no, no, we need to start the show when it’s dark.’ And after some heated moments, we reached a compromise that definitely works for the show.” It turned out perfectly.
The rest of the night’s magic was left up to Gilmour and his band. When he thinks back to his first Pompeii performance in front of an audience, the singer admits he felt a little nervous before going onstage. “I pretend that I’m not,” he says, “but I think I probably was a bit.” It helped him, though, that he had a backing band that inspired confidence in him. Prior to the European leg of his Rattle That Lock tour, he brought in Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and former Michael Jackson musical director Greg Phillinganes, among others, to make the music a little looser. “It was more in the groove in Pompeii,” Gilmour says.
Three band members who stayed in the ensemble through each of the legs of the tour were the backing vocalists Bryan Chambers, Lucita Jules and Louise Clare Marshall, who provided a stunning three-part harmony for Dark Side‘s “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which Gilmour had not performed live since 2006. “Louise came to me when we were rehearsing for the tour and said, ‘We’ve been working at home on a version of “Great Gig in the Sky,” do you want to hear it?’” Gilmour recalls. “I said, ‘Of course I do.’ So we ran it a couple of times and it was fabulous. They really worked hard on creating a mixture between the classic performance and some new, distinct arrangement parts. We couldn’t wait to do it, but we thought we’d save it for Pompeii.”
Another song Gilmour kept in his back pocket until just before Pompeii was Pink Floyd’s galloping space-rocker “One of These Days,” one of the highlights from Maben’s original picture. “We had to do one that we did back in those days,” he says. “That was the one that fit, and we always had great fun with it. You get the wind machine going, a bit of smoke and fog, and let Guy [Pratt] loose on his thundering bass. And, of course, I get to play slide guitar which is always,” he pauses, “a big moment.”
When Gilmour spoke to Rolling Stone before the Pompeii gig last year, he said the one original Pompeii song he absolutely would not perform was “Echoes,” because it would feel off without late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright playing on it. Instead, he included some musical tributes to Wright, who played in Gilmour’s solo band in 2006, in the set. “‘The Blue’ was written and recorded before Rick died but to me, it’s got a little bit of Rick in it,” Gilmour says, referring to a track from his 2006 solo LP On an Island. “It’s another rolling, waving song, along with [Rattle That Lock‘s] ‘A Boat Lies Waiting’ and ‘Great Gig in the Sky,’ that feels to me that he’s in it. So we do a little moment of three or four songs that are all connected [to him] in that way.”
Wright’s memory is also present in spirit in the film’s finale, a rousing, elongated performance of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that also features Gilmour playing a supersized guitar solo. “I just try and let the solo come out,” Gilmour says. “I couldn’t play the one off the album. I try not too think about it too much.”
Another thing that Gilmour is just letting happen is the process of writing a follow up to Rattle That Lock. Since the tour ended last September, he’s been recording a few song ideas he has into his iPhone with the intention of examining them when he can get into a studio. He also has a few leftover ideas he’s been sitting on.
“I’ve recorded some pieces of music in one form or another,” he says, noting that he’s been dedicating his time to getting the 3D-style Atmos sound mix just right for the film. “Whether they will remain as they are or whether those pieces of music will take a new shape when I start working on a new project is something I can’t really say yet. I suspect they will be revamped a bit, maybe started again on, but the bare bones of what I’ve written are something good. And some of them definitely are. It’s a good starting point. We’ll see how I want to make it. I just need to knock them into shape for another album one of these days.” (He adds that recording a new album is a prerequisite for any future touring.)
Now, though, Gilmour is simply eager to see his Live in Pompeii. “I’ve only really watched it properly in bits in editing suites,” he confesses. “I’ve listened to the sound and I’ve watched some of it during the Atmos sound adjustments, but I haven’t seen the whole package put together like we’re going to see it tonight. So I can’t wait to see it myself.”
Outside the greenroom, people are setting up a red carpet to welcome the Gilmour’s VIP guests to the premiere. As band members like Leavell, Phillinganes and the backup singers funnel in, along with Elder and guitarist Jeff Beck, Gilmour smiles broadly and greets each one, posing for the occasional photo. A video screen shows scenes from the film.
Eventually all of the guests go upstairs to experience Live at Pompeii in a proper theater. The Atmos mix makes it sound as though the audience at Pompeii is all around the theater, clapping and cheering in surround sound along with the VIPs who do the same. When it finishes, Gilmour stands up and smiles, speaking with friends one on one rather than making a speech.
“It was a really spectacular gig,” Beck tells me outside. “I wonder if the spirits of Pompeii will recover from it. I know what happened there historically – all sorts of blood and guts, so at least [Gilmour] came in peace.” He laughs. “The concert was amazing, astonishing. The film drew the whole thing together nicely.” We’re then interrupted by Gilmour, who comes up to Beck with a broad smile, chatting for a minute and then ushering him behind a velvet rope into an after party.
From the look on Gilmour’s face, he’s at peace with his long-overdue return to Pompeii.