Lazy Sunday Afternoon – A whiff of garlic

For me, it is the honesty of Paul Cezanne’s painting that binds his huge output together. Less obviously ‘great’ than many of his contemporaries, he could be serious and lighthearted, fevered or detached, and although it is worth remembering that he is considered the father of modern painting, it is more difficult to trace where in his work, save Cubism, that his influence was later felt. Although he worked in and around Paris during his mature period, he was born and later returned to the steamy heat of Provence, and it takes but a small leap of the imagination to conjure-up that sultry atmosphere when listening to Debussy’s wonderfully evocative Prelude a L’apres-midi d’un faune, inspired by Mallarme’s poem. The suggestion, by Pierre Boulez no less, that this score marks the birth of modern music, ties neatly with Cezanne’s patriarchal tag.

Rameau Rocks? Well, I find it quite difficult to keep my feet still listening to this – doubly so when I remember that it was first performed nearly 300 years ago in Paris. Les Indes Galantes was revived in 2004 by the American pioneer of Euro-Baroque Bill Christie and his band Les Arts Florissants, and this production from Palais Garnier in Paris surfaced later at London’s Barbican and stunned all who saw it. Eagle-eyed Dabbler-junkies will spot the flame-haired minx Patricia Petibon, this time impersonating Zima, an Indian Princess with a pipe…

Although Jacques Brel was a huge star on mainland Europe and around the world, here in Blighty we didn’t quite ‘get it’ – famous Belgians have always been good for a bit of light persiflage. His songs were covered by dozens of artists but, arguably, they didn’t travel well, and Brel’s biographer Olivier Todd advocated that they were ‘untranslatable’. How could he suggest such a thing when we consider these few words – ‘let me become the shadow of your shadow, the shadow of your hand, the shadow of your dog’ ? But he had something – and that something came across the footlights and devastated audiences, both men and women, before the fags finished him just short of his half-century.

The Russian pixie Daniil Simkin has Brel’s ability to reach out and move an audience. Here, still a teenager, he dances to Les Bourgeois. He had no formal training, being taught by his parents, both ballet dancers, but here he shows us that this is no barrier to his expression of a unique talent.

A belated treat here for Carshalton’s finest, following his recent trip to Claude Monet’s house at Giverny. Monet never painted a nude. His world was the out-of-doors, the vast sweep of nature, the ebb and flow of water, with mere humans relegated to walk-on parts in the dominating landscape.

It was the great critic of the Manchester Guardian Neville Cardus who said that if a piano could compose music for itself, it would sound very like the music of Frederic Chopin. TB claimed him before his 40th birthday, but this year we celebrate his 200th, and his stock has never been higher. The acme of good taste (there is not a single bar anywhere that sounds ugly), his best music seeths with the febrile intensity of a true poet – Keats perhaps. There is also the sense that his romantic sensibility informed him that time was indeed short, and it is amazing to consider that most of his huge body of work was compressed into the 20 years leading up to his death in 1849. The piece we have here is the heaven-sent slow movement Romanza from his first piano concerto (actually composed after the second, but that is another story), as perfect an example as any of his uncanny ability to distill a simple tune, that could be picked out by a child, into something utterly enchanting, and delivered in a completely natural and unforced way.

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About Author Profile: Mahlerman

Mahlerman's life was shaped by his single mother, who never let complete ignorance of a subject get in the way of having strong opinions about it. Facing retirement after a life in what used to be called 'trade', and having a character that consists mainly of defects, he spends his moments of idleness trying to correct them, one by one.

8 thoughts on “Lazy Sunday Afternoon – A whiff of garlic

    October 24, 2010 at 14:49

    Mahlerman, love today’s choice of music – very cleverly combined with art/performing art (plus Ms Petibon, of course!) Daniil Simkin’s interpretation of Brel is fabulous. I once endured an overlong concert of Brel songs minus any performance at all – if I were a depressive, I’d probably have slit my wrists before the end.

  2. Gaw
    October 24, 2010 at 17:42

    Thanks, MM. Another wonderful Sunday afternoon accompaniment. I can well believe Les Indes Galantes ‘stunned all who saw it’. Quite extraordinary and well worth following further through Youtube.

  3. Worm
    October 24, 2010 at 19:50

    I loved the music in the Indes Galantes piece, really good! As was the Chopin and Debussy’s music to the Cezanne video; right up my street. I must say that the early part of the Debussy piece sounded very exotic and put me in mind of a Rousseau jungle painting

  4. Brit
    October 24, 2010 at 20:49

    I’m a Nocturnes man and have never got Brel (my dad had an LP which bored and irritated me) but that Debussy is one of my faves. Lovely stuff.

    October 25, 2010 at 00:48

    Savages video: Dance + music + opera = excitement!

    A nice touch, the drummer occasionally looking directly at the audience.

    Thank you.

    Gadjo Dilo
    October 25, 2010 at 05:34

    I’m a big Cezanne fan, but for a while when listening to that rather pastorale-sounding piece I wasn’t convinced that it could mark the ‘birth of modern music’, but now reading that it was created in 1894 I can see Boulez’ point. Great dancing from the young Ruskie.

    November 14, 2010 at 21:28

    Just caught up with ‘A Whiff of Garlic’ piece, and I’m stunned. I’ve always loved Debussy’s ‘L.Apres Midi’ music, but the beautiful video of Cezanne’s paintings really brought out the lush, erotic qualities of the piece. Loved the Rameau piece too – didn’t realise he was that far ahead of his time.

    Stuart Kerr
    November 18, 2010 at 12:58

    Thoroughly enjoyed this Mahlerman.. It’s usually a delight to read a lover of the arts drawing parallels.

    You’ve done it here in a light yet bright style..

    Top read


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