Eero Tarasti: Musical Signification has started in Barcelona

Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya organized its first symposium in Barcelona on Nov. 15-17, 2018 entitled Jornades ab sentits dedicated to musical signification. The initiative came from Dr. Joan Grimalt, who is teaching at the Music School and active member of the international research project Musical Signification. This meeting was intended in the first place for Spanish and Catalunyan young musicologists and it served also as a prelude to the larger international gathering ICMS15 to be arranged in Barcelona in September of 2020. Thus the purpose was to give the orientation to students and teachers at the Escola Superior for the problematics of musical signification; then, next, to open these days to all universities and music schools in the country, and finally to enter the topics to the curricula of these institutions. The speakers and performers of the symposium were elected just in this sense to show how musical signification is an active force in any music education or process. Particular subfields were relationship between analysis and interpretation, didactic, musicological and epistemological aspects of musical signification. Attention was paid to music and literature and literature about music, relations among other arts and humanities, semiotics, hermeneutics and relations to cultural history, fundamental texts to enter this field.

The first plenary speech was delivered by Josep Pons, director of the Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona and honorary director of national orchestra and choir of Spain. He is likewise honorary director of the orchestra of Granada, and has other honorary titles as well in the country. He spoke with full experience of a musician about music, like starting with military topics in Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto or ironic connotation of Austria in Ravel’s La Valse. Music is a symbol but it must become a spiritual property of the interpreter. There are different ways of interpreting works like Parsifal. Piece grows and develops, we can have only partial vision of the work. It has rational and irrational sides. Tradition demands certain things. At Mahler all is in the score –except its history which teaches a lot of Mahler. When one has performed much, then one starts to see pieces differently. How there could be more humanities in music? Conductor is like a coordinator of souls. Pons said he was just rehearsing Mahler’s 8th, which is a difficult work.

Then seminar contained a series of commented recitals which was one of the most rewarding part of the whole event. First, the world famous guitarrist Alex Garrobé spoke and played La Fantaisie élégiaque op. 59 by Fernando Sor. Garrobé plays at Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid etc. regularly and has won several competitions. He also visits Finland, a.o. the Sibelius Academy and knows the Finnish guitarrist Petri Kumela. Garrobé told about the piece that Sor composed it after the death his daughter which explains a.o. the funeral march motif included in the work. The piece combines all the topics of Storm and Stress filtered by a certain subjectivity: funeral march refers to the myth of destiny with its minor mode. Chorale is written in major. Then there is ‘fancy’ topics. Narrativity displays the loneliness; certain passages evoke Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or Mozart’s Coronation mass. There is anguish an d irony – in the sense of Octavio Paz. It has evocation of a life which has been lost. Is the piece irreligious or religious? Sor was not a genius but he was genial, Garrobé concluded his speech.

It was followed by a masterful interpretation. One could hardly imagine that guitar would be made more expressive. Particularly Garrobé used the dramatic power of pauses in the texture and treated every note as a particular event in the narrative course of the work.

The 2nd commented concert was by pianist Cristina Esclapez who has specialized in Bach and classicism playing the pianoforte. She has graduated from Murcia but is now active in Barcelona. However, the interpretation of Haydn’s sonata in C major Hob. XVI:48 1 Andante con espressione and Mozart’s sonata in F major KV 5331 were animated by an actor, I first thought, i.e. Lorenzo Coppola. He namely mimicked both pieces and others by commedia dell arte pantomime. Indeed, the connection of theater world and absolute music be came completely evident. After this experience one really listens to Mozart and Haydn differently, one can promise. In fact, this performance showed the idea of gesturality of music from a totally new angle. However, Lorenzo Coppola is, in fact, a clarinetist and trains orchestras for correct style in classical repertoire. Again, I was glad to hear he knows from our country his colleague in clarinet, Asko Heiskanen who has invited him to coach the Tapiola Sinfonietta, during the next season. Sure he should appear also at Helsinki University Music Society. Anyway, the cooperation of pianist and actor was amazingly elaborated and subtle in every turn of the plot.

Plenary session was given by myself then on Avenues of Signification in Music. I tried to tell about the two analytic phases in my career, the first one dominated by the Paris School of semiotics and the second by my existential semiotics theory. Both approaches I tried to illustrate at piano.

Then we heard a series of speeches by young scholars from Catalunya on different topics. Yet, it was amazing to note the high level of their speeches and glad to observe that here the traditional musicology lives. Ferran Planas, a saxophonist from ESMUC working now Karlsruhe spoke about Morse code in Hindemith’s sonata. Cristina G Rojo studied the idea of retrospection in Brahms’ F minor sonata for piano. It is true that Brahms, the conservative, refers to previous models; it has been said that his every piece has some Beethoven work as its point of reference. Irene Valle de Lopes spoke about Chopin’s prelude op. 28 no. 2, she studied the signification of its harmonic structure. Bernardo Rambeau belonged to all those who study Fernando Sor’s Fantaisie elegiaque but his viewpoint was the one of rhetoric figures and narrativity in that remarkable piece of guitarrist’s repertoiere ; he is from Faculty of Bellas Artes in Argentina but now prepares master with Garrobé.

 Miquel Villalba studies conducting, and focuses on meaning of various instruments in the orchestration. Bernat Giribet gave a speech on the musicality of Paul Klee’s paintings and interesting approach to the interreltationships of arts. Borja Duño dealt with ideological problems in pop music and especially the capitalism reflected by the singing. Joaquim Rabaseda is a composer who studied visual effects in music in landscape compositions. Rolf Bäcker is a professor at ESMUC, of German origin from in Cologne, he was one of the organizers of the colloquium. He has a lot of specialties like guitarre as a symbol; he is active in ethnomusicology, electronic music, and improvisation. Now his speech was quite philosophical discovering musical significations in Plato and Cicero as well as in Luther and Leibniz.

Ruben Lopez Cano is an internationally wellknown figure since long time in the musical signification project; once he studied in Finland, University of Helsinki for his doctoral thesis on rhetorical figures in baroque music. But in fact, he had invited me ten years ago to ESMUC for the symposium of the young musicologists of Spain and Portugal. His newest achievement is a book Música dispersa. Apropriación, influencias, robos y remix en la era de la escucha digital (Barcelona: Musikeon Books 2018). He is originally from Mexico, where I have also met him at UNAM in Ciudade de Mexico. Now he spoke about musical acoustic information and how it is linked with the problems of signification.

In the evening we heard the lecture by our organizer Joan Grimalt who has also published works on his studies in musical signification notably about the work of Gustav Mahler. He had a very broad view on different theories of the fields which he showed to master convincingly, but adding there always his own personal interpretations which was a most refreshing feature. We have to be grateful to him for his energies and activity in our field.

Xavier Blanch gave a very rhetoric and lively speech on ethics and relativism of musical interpretation, a kind of reading of Feijoo and Montesqieu. He is a well-known oboist and English horn player from Bruxelles Conservatry and has performed a lot of ancient as well and contemporary music with various symphony orchestras in Spain, Catalunya and Europe.

Bernat Vivancos is a compsoer who dealt with signification in his own work Requiem; he has pursued studies a.o. with Lasse Thoresen in Norway and Thoresen as we know is one of the oldest first representatives of musical semiotics in the North.

Manuel Ribera, composer, dealt with decontextualisation of music and of ancient music i.e. Dowland. Lluís Vila is a choir director with whom I had the pleasure sit at dinner table in the last day. He spoke about relationship between music and text in works from Joseph Haydn to Anton Heiller. He is director of choirs in the theater Liceu and directs an international music festival and has made recordings with Harnoncourt et Claudio Abbado.

In the evening we heard a totally fascinating performance by Luca Chiantore, a pianist working a.o. at Musikeon in Valencia where he onc e kindly invited me to give a course. Now Chiantore had just arrived from Chile only some hours before his recital. Chiantore has published a monumental work on history of piano playing and also about Beethoven interpretations. His new approach to classical composers is based upon careful archival studies. He really astonished listener with his playing of Mozart’s D minor phantasy and Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata. He took such freedoms of improvisation and added notes, scales and figures that pieces were rather far from what is understoond by Werktreue. But what is Werktreue? It is rather just such a new interpretation which has been deliberated from the strait jacket of Urtext editions. Chiantore was also director of studies for Aurea Dominguez who got her PhD at Helsinki University in bassoon performances of the 18th century (the book was granted an award).

Francisco Poyato spoke about imagination and reality, he is a distinguished pianist who studied in Salzburg. He quoted Friedrich Schiller is his speech and is specializing in lied accompaniment.

Adolf Pia spoke about Frederic Mompou’s composing identity which was always somehow uncertain. “Je ne suis pas un compositeur. Je ne suis qu’une musique et une musique la moins composée du monde ». Yet, Mompou is remarkable and fascinating. Adolf Pia is a true specialist with a great experience a.o. in Russia. Amazingly, one typical chord in Mompou, consisting of intervals of fourths, evokes Scriabin’s Prometheus but otherwise Pia denied any parallel between these two composers, albeit also Mompou was interested in oriental philosophy. Felix Pastor is a compoer who combines different media like architecture, image, video art. He spoke about formal rhime as an element generating narrativity in music at a piece for cello, accordion, electronics and ballerina. Jorge de Persia treated nationalism is music history and in fact I remember that we had met long time ago when Isabella de Falla visited Helsinki for the performance of Manuel de Falla’s Atlantida. He elonged then to the Spanish delegation. Cheerful meeting again!

The last plenary speaker was Lina Navickaite-Martinelli from Lithuanian Academy of Music, Vilnius. She is now giving speeches on musical performance in many international conventions after her very succesful doctoral thesis on various Beethoven interpretations. She was able to combine there semiotic models into her approach like in the quadrangular model portraying performance, work, non-work and non-performance. Shewas able to analyse convincingly the signification performer brings to musical communication as cwell as the impact of the context. Can the model be used f or evaluation of musical performances would a challenging question. Her speech animated a lively discussion in the audience.

In the final discussion the whole staff debated about the language of the scholarly communication and the problem how much general audience would understand about our speeches in the symposium. Well, this was a scientific gathering – so such a total popularity would be impossible. Scholars have the right to converse with their own technical and theoretical terms, that is clear. It was also discussed whether Catalunyan could be acceptable as the language; I would with my experience of international congresses from over 45 years, say that everyone chooses his/her language. We are in the Europe, so all of its languages are acceptable…in principle. But if you want to be understood by the majority of listeners, you may choose English. It is not any ideological choice but purely pragmatic issue.

I had the joy to dinner also with the new director of ESMUC, just nominated, Dr. Melissa Mercadal. I was very delighted to notice she is also one of us, i.e. scholars and not only a technical administrator, her special field being musical therapy. So we can be sure the ESMUC will flourish and continue its success and reputation as an important European music education center.

Finally, there was a symphony concert at Sala Pau Casals in the same block as the School of Music, its auditorium is a most beautiful modern creation of music architecture using the yellowish wooden walls and having a superb natural acoustics which does not need any electronic amplification. Oh, if we had got in Helsinki something similar! We heard there the orquestra simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya which played under Sylvain Cambreling and Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. He played the same Beethoven concerto in G which I had just heard in Helsiinki a week ago with Yefim Bronfman and Concertgebouw Orchestra. The main number was, however, Berlioz’ Symphonie Phantastique a work which has exercised a huge impact in music history – with almost non-existant musical substance. The secret is in its orchestration, of course. All composers after him were under his influence from Wagner to Sibelius. Yet, there is a saying in Vienna: what remains if the orchestra is taken away from Berlioz? Bad harmony! Particularly the wind instruments and brass choir of the orchestra were brilliant.