Liszt, Mompou, and Zimmermann’s Journey Music


Music of silence, music of memory, fragmentary music;

suspended, experimental, austere and essential music…


The works on this program span a period of 105 years.   Despite this elapse of time (and the cultural and societal changes accompanying it), common themes recur throughout the program, binding the works into a unity.  Liszt, in his last years  (having extricated himself from the superficiality of salon society and the stagnancy of celebrity life), became preoccupied with elements in music contrary to the ostentatious displays of his younger years.  Having outlived most of his contemporaries and at risk of becoming a sort of living effigy recalling a past era, Liszt branched outwards during the last 15 years of his life, emancipating the harmonic language from the necessity of resolution, paring down his music into fragments and insinuations, opening up a musical Pandora’s Box that would preoccupy and fascinate composers well into the next century.  His radical new musical language was nourished by an encompassing and enduring memory.  He revisits the old friends, places, and musical worlds he had encountered and created throughout his long life.


Zimmermann’s Wüstenwanderung takes us on a journey into a metaphorical desert- an internal, psychological state- bleak and volatile.  Beginning simply, with harmonic fields gently shifting and undulating, the system accumulates more and more layers, becoming a massive and cumbersome matrix. The metaphorical desert begins to control and overwhelm the system, consequently becoming overwhelmed itself and collapsing furiously under its own weight. Elements from the beginning of the piece return; whether this return to simplicity indicates a transformative epiphany or a continuation of the destructive cycle remains to be seen.


Mompou’s “Music of Silence” bestows a joy in experiencing inexplicably gratifying sonorities. The critic Emile Vuillermoz summarized, “his formulas are short, concise, concentrated, but they possess a strange, hallucinatory power of evocation… no matter how minutely we analyze Mompou’s scores, we cannot discover its secrets.”  The 4 volumes (2 of which are performed on this program) journey from deceptively simple pieces with recognizable classical forms increasingly towards abstraction, gathering weight and implication.


                                                                        Heather O’Donnell