Berislav Arlavi – Mlada glazba

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While promoting the Croatian music heritage with this CD, Berislav Arlavi has reached into the layers of artistic imagination of Pavle Dešpalj and Stjepan Šulek that have remained unknown or neglected until now. Although one may think that a mature sonata should belongs to the category of concerts, the order of miniatures and segments of this programmatic CD has been prepared for a journey into the sphere of creativity that secures a lasting novelty to the pieces.

Composers gladly write for children and have always done so, and some of their compositions and cycles have become a permanent European heritage: from Bach’s Suites written for his sons, to Robert Shuman’s characteristic small-scale paintings, to “The Children’s Corner”, the most famous children’s cycle by Claude Debussy, to which Šulek’s and Dešpalj’s cycles are deliberately juxtaposed here. Passing judgment on an educational aspect of compositions and their technical tasks can be a thankless undertaking since an urge to create tonal images for children  reflects   love for both music and children, and most often it is related to one’s own childhood.

The latter is usually framed musically in a variety of ways, sometimes mixed with themes of songs in youth albums, and sometimes singled out as a special thematic ensemble, as evident in Stjepan Šulek’s  “My Childhood,” a cycle of five string quartets produced in the period from 1984-85. The cycles included in this CD were originally intended for the youngest ones ,  and consequently are not burdened by the composer’s need for reminiscences which would silence objectivity necessary for compositions intended for a general audience and offered as a source of inspiration and educational enjoyment. After Šulek’s two cycles, “Little then Nothing” and “Music for Little Ones”, Pavle Dešpalj’s cycle itself is a miraculous gift of a seven-year-old boy.

It is common that children’s cycles are written by adult composers who adapt their style to the early steps of children learning music, but the sequence of seven miniatures by Pavle Dešpalj is the music of a child for children and is presented here for the first time. In joining an impulse to write for children while at the same time dedicating music to one child, Debussy’s cycle creates an eternal memory of his daughter, her English nanny, and the world that a child could experience in Paris in the early 20th century. In pursuit of the quest for those dazzling fresh and new spring forces of life, “Masques” provides novelty present in the paintings of that time. Infused with primitive motifs, they blew wind to the sails of new artistic endeavors. And just at that point of new uplift, the Second Piano Sonata by Stjepan Šulek finalizes this crescendo of search for the new and individual, like a crown of a trees grown from the small seeds of delicate piano miniatures.

Stjepan Šulek (1914-1986) a composer, conductor, violinist and pedagogue, marked the recent history of Croatian music with both an individualistic opus and significant influence on the generation of composers he taught (Kelemen, Horvat, Detoni, Dešpalj, Kempf, Kuljerić). A student of the great composer Blagoje Bersa, and as an autodidact in the area of composing, he had a great potential which had to be steered in a proven manner in order toflourish. His style is usually interpreted as a three-layered coexistence of baroque motoricism and polyphony, neoclassicism, and late romanticism, while his music is viewed as a stylistic polyphony or music about music.

Indeed, with his use of tonality, his resistance to the new avant-garde tendencies, and his great mastery of musical forms and instrumentation, Šulek’s music can be interpreted in this manner, but posterity will have to take into account his overall artistic attitude which sought depth and universality. He composed two operas inspired by William Shakespeare’s dramas (The Tempest, Coriolanus), and in his accessible personal style untouched by the fleeting fashions of the moment, one can always feel guidance of an idea, a new expression of an idea, youth.

The award established in 1993 for young violinists and composers eloquently speaks about this aspect of Šulek’s oeuvre  and his openness to novelty, however not all novelty, but only that which is  original and authentic. The “Little then Nothing” cycle has six  segments and it was premiered on July 27, 1971 (Saša Kalajdžić) in Zagreb. It starts with “Bells” and ends with “Bells Again.” The theme of bells is repeatedly featured in the work of Stjepan Šulek. In the last concert etude, the Third Piano Concert and the Eighth Symphony bells are an overarching motif of this lengthy children’s cycle, which seeks to develop a sense of height, tone, and vibration in a child’s hearing. Sequencing of the intervals to the base tone in echo, with the seconds that close the rise, creates a range that remains open, thereby providing a path for further development within this range. The four miniature pictures progress within this resonant realm.

In one sequence of crescent tones, “The First Steps” suggests the first attempts of upright walking.  “Sun, Joy” is a effective sketch of bright sun ight entering the space. “Mom, Mom, my Soul Hurts” is a wistful, measured complaint about a   youth anguish which slowly changes and eventually passes, slipping into the elegiac sequence of the chord. “Sleep, Sleep” is a melodically elaborated lullaby intended for children, dissonant at places,  with mandatory repetitions and a charming gradual expansion. These four experiences are appropriately framed by the aural canvas of bells.

“Music for the Little Ones” is not as rounded as the previous cycle, rather it functions as a juncture open to new possible additions of various children’s experiences, and it encompasses three segments. “We are Two Paupers” consists of two-parts, an elegiac and a brisk one, which can be a great exercise for a rhythmic contrast. The “Strange Parade” mimics a jubilant carnival parade, with characteristic moves that are easy to remember, while apart intervals bring life and create a dramatic element of surprise. It serves as a good exercise for learning character interpretation. The final paragraph “The Sun Shines” resembles “Sun, Joy” from the previous cycle, although it is more elaborate and technically demanding in a brief impressionistic burst of = atmosphere.

Stjepan Šulek  composed three piano sonatas. The first one in 1947, the second after 30 years, in 1978, while the third was written immediately after the second in 1980. He also wrote three piano concerts , which possibly serve as a stepping stone to the second sonata. Such a long stretch of time between the two sonatas can be explained by his considerable involvement in orchestral music (8 symphonies, 4 classical orchestra concerts, 10 solo concerts and 2 operas), but also the need to  infuse a new life into this form enhanced by the experience of his previous works. The Sonata was premiered in Osor musical nights on July 12, 1978 (Vladimir Krpan).

It consists of three parts: a massive Moderato assai, Andante ma non troppo and Allegro con brio. The classical division serves here as a solid framework for  the novelties of style found in each segment, but the basic ambiance of this sonata leaves the impression that it is self sufficient as a concerto for piano and orchestra. The mastery with which Šulek realizes  an interplay of the principal and accompanying material present in the form of a concert for piano and orchestra is astonishing. This is a sonata which is not only a sonata, but also a realization of the  greatest orchestral form within a single piano line sufficient to concurrently project the sound of an entire orchestral body.

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