Manoury: Veränderungen

Philippe Manoury: Veränderungen (... deuxième sonate...)

William Fried performs Veränderungen by Manoury from Avant Studios on Vimeo.

Veranderungen is a commission of the Louvre Museum, written for a series of manifestations dedicated to the "Diabelli Variations" of Beethoven.  The title "Veranderungen" refers directly to the inscription Beethoven marked at the top of the first edition of his variations.  Because if this monumental piano cycle is known under the name "Diabelli Variations," Beethoven himself named it "Drei-und-dressig Veranderungen uber ein Walz von Anton Diabelli, opus 120" [Thirty-three transformations on a waltz of Anton Diabelli, opus 120].  No doubt conscious of the giant step he had made in the form, loyal also to his instinct to express musical thoughts in his own language rather than the conventional Italian, and possibly also wishing to distance himself from the incidental pieces that would also be composed on this same theme, Beethoven decided to not call them "variations," but "Veranderungen" which signifies "transformations" or "modifications."  But posterity, always prompt to classify according to its own gradations, turned a deaf ear to this nuance, and continued (and continues to this day) to give him a masterful lesson in deafness!

In confronting the "Diabelli" of Beethoven, my intention was not to revisit what makes the work so singular, even were it possible to define.  Admittedly, in analysis one can follow the incredible deductive thought that bought him to imagine so many forms -- of expression, of character, of structural complexity, of harmonic and polyphonic richness -- out of a simple little waltz.  Beethoven announces at once Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, and even Schoenberg and Webern in his "Diabelli."  All of these categories are subsequently charged with such historical weight that they are of no usefulness for creation, at least without falling back on a postmodern posture, which I have always refused to adopt.  So one must not wait to find many quotations, and if quotations exist, they appear more like visiting phantoms than as identifiable figures in their own right.  It is not of Beethoven's language which I made use, but rather his gestures: a particular rhythmic profile, a temporal conception, a repartitioning of voices, a character, an obstinacy.  The "Diabelli" are a kind of watermark behind the work, a landscape in the distance.  If the Diabelli were well and truly at the origin of the majority of moments in this work, I have looked to diminish their presence, and following the precept set by Beethoven, to subject them to profound "transformations" rather than "variations."  It is possible to listen to Veranderungen outside of all references to the "Diabelli."

I have frequently used the piano as an instrument of resonance.  Once a key is silently depessed, liberating the string of its damper, and another key is struck, the piano produces harmonics, at times complex, that result from the influence of the struck string on the vibration of the other.  Certain figures derived from the "Diabelli" will be, following this technique, set to diverse resonances, like a kind of musical metaphor on the question: how will this work resonate in us?

Veranderungen (... deuxieme sonate...) was completed in San Diego in January 2008 and is written for the pianist Jean-Francois Heisser, to whom my earlier La Ville (...premiere sonate...) is also dedicated.  The current work is dedicated to my friend Christian Labrande, who was at the origin of this project, and known for his constant efforts to make known the filmed treasures of classical and contemporary music.

Philippe Manoury
(translated from the French by WF)