In its new CD, the Duo d'Accord once again presents musical rarities:
Messiaen’s spiritually motivated Visions de l’Amen appear next to Beethoven’s mysterious counterpoint masterpiece, the Great Fugue, in Beethoven’s own piano version for four hands. The manuscript of the Great Fugue in the fourhanded piano version was rediscovered in 2005. Beethoven’s publisher released it in 1827 as Nr. 134 of his opus. Originally, the work was composed as the closing movement of his String Quartet in B flat major op. 130, and was premiered in this form by the Schuppanzigh Quartet; but the publisher Mathias Artaria suggested to lift it as a single from the piece (published as op. 133) and to compose another closing movement. Beethoven followed this suggestion, as well as the recommendation to arrange a four-handed version for the piano.

Olivier Messiaen
Visions de l’Amen for two piano

“Amen” has four different meanings:
1. Amen, so be it! The act of creation.
2. Amen, I subject myself to you, I accept. Thy will be done!
3. Amen, the desire, the yearning that everything may happen; that you may dedicate yourself to me as I dedicate myself to you.
4. Amen, it is so. Everything is predestined in all eternity and will be fulfilled in paradise. In that I have accepted the life of beings who say “Amen” simply through their existence, I wanted to express the entire richness of Amen in seven musical visions.

I. Amen of Creation
And God said, Let there be light! And there was light. Over a double glockenspiel ostinato in the first piano, the second piano intones the subject of creation: the main theme of the work. The entire composition is a crescendo, beginning from an absolute pianissimo of that original fog in which the power of light is already contained. All bells quiver in this light – as well as in life.

II. Amen of the stars and the planet with the ring
Brutal and wild dance of the planets. The stars, sun and Saturn spin in unrestrained frenzy. God calls and they answer: Amen, here we are! All of the different movements reflect the life of the planets and the wonderful rainbow that enables Saturn’s rings to shine.

III. Amen of Jesus’ agony
Jesus suffers and cries. My father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless not my will, but thy will be done. He accepts his fate – so be it, Amen. Three musical ideas: first, the curse of the Father concerning the sins of the world, second, a scream, third, a heartrending cry. Christ’s suffering brings man forgiveness and renewal. Unspeakable suffering, of which blood and sweat give only a faint intimation.

IV. Amen of yearning
The word “yearning” must be understood here in its highest spiritual meaning. There are two themes that refer to longing. The first is slow and characterized by deep tenderness: the peaceful fragrance of paradise. The second is much more tumultuous: the soul is filled with a terrible love that increases until it breaks into ecstasy. The two main voices seem to melt together in the coda, and nothing remains but the harmonious stillness of heaven.

V. Amen of the angels, the saints, the song of birds
Song of the immaculacy of the saints: Amen. The jubilant vocalises of the birds: Amen. The angels fell before the throne: Amen. At first, the songs of the angels and saints: completely concentrated on the essence, and very pure. Then, a middle section based on the songs of the birds, in which a brilliant piano passage can unfold. Then, a changed recapitulation of the song of the angels and saints, with a nonreversible rhythmic canon at three levels.

VI. Amen of Judgment Day
Three icy tones, like the bells of clarity. Truly I say unto you: Amen. Depart from me, ye cursed! A deliberately short and brusque piece.

VII. Amen of fulfillment
The life of the transfigured bodies in a glockenspiel of light, from clarity to clarity, Amen. The entire rainbow of the gems of the apocalypse that ring, collide, dance and submerge the light of life in their fragrance.

(Shortened version of Olivier Messiaen’s foreword to the score, with kind permission of Editions Durand Paris)

Ludwig van Beethoven
Grosse Fuge op. 134 for Piano Four Hands

Much has been written on the Grosse Fuge and its singular status in the history of music. As Beethoven’s certainly most difficult to grasp work, under the motto tantôt libre, tantôt recherchée (as freely as artistically), it has been the object of transcendental observations such as that of Schoenberg pupil Erwin Ratz: “In it, the opposition in which the ego first stands to the world is overcome; the ego now experiences the prevailing of those spiritual-godly powers that are in effect in the entire visible and invisible world.” As an old man, Igor Stravinsky even called it “the most perfect musical wonder”.

The path to enlightenment can be rough – and was in this case as well. Premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet on March 21, 1826, the Grosse Fuge was still the Finale of the B-flat Major String Quartet op. 130. The audience reacted with great agitation; reviewers spoke of a “Babylonian confusion” and the four musicians were unhappy that they could not fulfill the extreme demands of the fugue. Finally, Beethoven wrote a new Finale. Simultaneously, he removed the fugue from the quartet, making it an individual piece (op. 133) and also arranged it for piano four hands, giving the latter the opus number 134. Amazingly, this manuscript was not unearthed until July 2005, when a librarian discovered it while dusting.

Beethoven thus found it worth his effort to publish his avant-garde work in two versions, each with its own opus number. With only a few exceptions, the music is identical, but despite this, much in opus 134 seems new: the work sounds much more compact; especially the forte and fortissimo passages are more spacious due to the stronger bass, the immediacy of the piano attack makes many rhythmically tricky passages more precise. Nothing is lost in this transcription, however, especially not the added, almost tangible exertion of the performers who are acting as the mouthpiece of the late Beethoven in his deep, existential battle to create music. In addition, the sophisticated counterpoint of the four individual voices gains in vertical strength, balanced harmony and purity of sound.

In this connection it is noteworthy that for some time, Beethoven considered transcribing the entire op. 130 for piano duo. We do not know the extent to which pressure from his publisher, Artaria, or possibly financial considerations may have played a role in these thoughts, but they do reveal an important trait of all Beethoven’s late works: his music is now liberated from the medium it is performed with. Beethoven’s spirit prevails in the absolute – as freely as artistically.

Henri Ducard
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler