Music of Confidence, Satire, and Universality

Title Image Mortimer62 (CC BY-SA 2.0) · Date 05/11/2017

The tension among French people in Berlin on May 7, when the final runoff between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron took place, was palpable. Musicians in particular were worried: Would visas and work permits soon be real bureaucratic problems they had to deal with? We asked artists to tell us what music they were listening to so as to cope with the stress and worry. It turned out that some were more confident than we were.

Eric Le Sage, Pianist

Robert Schumann – “Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26”; Sviatoslav Richter (Piano)

It’s May 5, the Friday before the election. On May 7, I will listen to this piece by Schumann, which quotes “La Marseillaise” in the first movement. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Franco-German friendship when, not if, Emmanuel Macron is elected.

Florent Brémond, Viola, Mahler Chamber Orchestra

Jean-Philippe Rameau – “Les vents” from “Les Boréades”; Jordi Savall (Conductor), Le Concert des Nations

Georges Brassens’ – “Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part”

I’m writing on May 8, the Monday morning after the election. The brown Big Bang didn’t happen, no “Ride of the Valkyries” to look up on Youtube for VAN. Instead, something of a fresh wind closed the door firmly in the Front National’s face.

I happen to have been living abroad for five years, during which terrorism struck like never before and economic and social crises allowed anti-euro and nationalistic feelings to rise strongly in the country, that wasn’t always easy. Yet while lining up among hundreds of fellow citizens, I surprised myself by feeling strangely comfortable, understood and respected. A feeling of fraternity, allowed by the strength of a real democracy. You know, when a policeman stops representing repression in your eyes, but the Republic.

Of course I needed optimism now more than ever, but I can’t help but think of the millions of people who never had the chance to feel anything like that. The Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of Human Rights, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” are magic formulas when it is time to group up and fight stupidity, but why can they sometimes sound like a Marlboro advertisement during election campaigns?

Anyway, Rameau, modernity and humanism, matches my musical needs this morning like nothing else, except for maybe Georges Brassens’ “Les imbéciles heureux qui sont nés quelque part,” a deliciously ironic song about how simple-minded people have to be proud of being born somewhere.

Raphaël Merlin, Cello, Quatuor Ebène

Johann Sebastian Bach – St. John Passion; René Jacobs (Conductor), RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

I’m writing the week after the election, which unfolded during Easter. That fact didn’t fail to fuel political debates about cultural heritage and the Christian religion. Be that as it may, the power of Bach’s music is unquestionably universal.

Peter Eötvös – Cello concerto grosso, II.—; Midori (Violin), Jean-Guihen Queyras (Cello), Martin Grubinger (Percussion), Peter Eötvös (Conductor), Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Sparkling, audacious, rich, luxuriant, malicious, eloquent music. Eötvös is one of the most brilliant composers of our time, and this piece is an example of the formidable influence exercised by Hungarian composers on European music since the time of Haydn.

Maurice Ravel – “Daphnis et Chloé”; François-Xavier Roth (Conductor), Les Siècles

An extraordinary epic, that’s probably never been rendered with such transparency. Roth gets to the heart of the music: atemporal hedonism; a myth of antiquity, bathed in orgiastic, Impressionist harmony.

Pierre Colombet – “City Birds”; Quatuor Ebène, Michel Portal, Richard Hery, Xavier Tribolet

We listened to this disc over and over in the time before the election, because it was released just a few days before the vote itself. Our work with Michel Portal allowed us to share several meaningful moments. Portal is an outstanding narrator, whose leads the discourse of the group with his clarinet or bandoneon. Playing in a string quartet, like music generally, is about a conversation above all. Sometimes, it feels like we’re all telling one similar story, sort of like in politics. But the times are changing. So is the act of creation. ¶