5 February 2016

Vytautas Bacevicius: Septintas Zodis/Septieme Mot

After a few days flitting off to Scotland, I am back in Vilnius and ready to write more. This week's installment is a particularly powerful Lithuanian gem, Vytautas Bacevicius (1905-1970). Brother of the Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, Vytautas is a particularly remarkable figure in Lithuanian music and the wider sphere too. Bacevicius is one of the most significant names in Lithuanian history, and a figure who will continue to inspire composers today. Musically he is often compared to Scriabin, but I find this comparison a bit tedious, mostly because Bacevicius can stand on his own two feet and doesn't need to be similar to a famous figure to be significant. I also find the comparison a bit short sighted as when you compare him to other composers of the period, Andre Jolivet (1905-1974) is a much better fit. The flowing free tonality and poetic nuances share a very similar character. I also find comparing Bacevicius to Jolivet more significant due to the fact both composers are on the larger scale pretty well hidden gems often over shadowed by other composers of situations.

Vytautas Bacevicius, was born and lived during a period of constant shifting. Firstly being born in Lodz (formerly Russian Empire, now Poland), but identifying himself as Lithuanian, he initially studied in Lodz conservatoire under Kazimierz Sikorski and Kazimierz Wilkorimski. He then moved and studied in Kaunas before moving to Sorbonne University where he studied philosophy. In 1932 he returned to Kaunas and taught. During the time of his return and the outbreak of war he founded the The Society of Lithuanian Music Progressists and in 1936 was the leader of Lithuanian section of the ISCM. In 1939, he was touring South America, when world war two broke out he emigrated to America and lived there for the rest of his days.

His music can be seen to be in three distinct periods, his early period closely linked to the impressionists and late romantics. His middle period is referred to his Lithuanian Period; most likely due to the fact of being based in Lithuania during this time and working so much within the musical landscape. This middle period is far more modernistic in its construction and drawing influence from the expressionists. Around the time he moved to the US his music took a more conservative tone; simply to build a reputation as composer, but as this became rather stifling Bacevicius abandoned this approach. His final period is referred to his Cosmic Period which is where I find him as his most powerful and unique. This period is referred to as his cosmic period as he was trying to find a balance between absolute music and the cosmological nature of things. So this was an attempt to transcend music, with a supreme form of musicality that could touch all sentient beings as well as tapping into the very essence of the universe.

Throughout his life, Bacevicius had been working on a series of works called Mot/Zodis (Words). This series of seven pieces was written for a variety of keyboard settings, mostly for one piano; but Deuxieme Mot was composed for organ and Septieme Mot was composed for two pianos. Today we will focus on just the Septieme Mot (1966), mostly because I have the score and I do love it so much.

The work is in three movements; Allegro moderato - Larghetto misterioso - Allegro con fuoco. These three movements are very colourful and flowing with ideas flying and suddenly disappearing. The first movement is extremely violent and potent with running figures being juxtaposed with strong stabs. The harmonic language is unpredictable but stable, the chords no matter how dissonant are never jarring but liberally shift from one place to another. The interaction between the two pianos is pretty magical as they always seem as an extension of each other and never and competitor to each other. The first movement can be heard here:

The second movement, is wonderful still and motionless. Spacious melodies move seemlessly before a reiteration of a strong powerful gesture fades into the nothingness. As the movement progresses it becomes more animated, but never feels rushed or energetic, almost like a candle glittering. The gestures and motifs hang like stars in the sky. Many musicologists like to discuss the fact there are no barlines like it is a brand new idea, but I find in this piece that lack of barlines is almost akin to works of Byrd and other composers of the period; the barlines don't matter, the music will just flow. This movement does exploit that beautifully. The second movement can be heard here:

The final movement is the most potent and fiery. With the rhythmic ideas bouncing full of momentum. The polyphonic texture brings in many lines and colours together but the music keeps getting interrupted by a returning figure which almost becomes more and more sarcastic as the work progresses. And as it progresses sarcasm slowly turns into an almost brutal nagging which ultimately ends the movement in quite a strong strop. The violence and energy in this movement is remarkable and I am surprised this work is not adopted by more piano duos the world over. You can here the final movement here:  

The Septieme Mot is a truly remarkable work from a composer towards the end of his life, but it must be mentioned his works for orchestra like Graphique or Poeme Electronique or his concerti are extreme too and are always worth a listen. Also the other segments of Mots are definitely worthwhile and I feel should be a beautiful edition to any pianists repertory. Toccata Classics have done a wonderful job by recording the entire set onto CD. Definitely worth buying. 

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