John Anderson performs Debussy Images, Book 1, No. 3: “Mouvement”. Recorded live July 24, 2010, at the Centro culturale Elisarion, Minusio, Switzerland.

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www.johnclementanderson.com

JOHN ANDERSON has two diplomas from the Music Academy of Pescara, where he studied with Bruno Mezzena. He began his musical education with Phyllis Olsen at the age of four in his hometown, Lawrence, Kansas, (USA), and continued to study privately with her until university, and attended occasional masterclasses with Byrnell Figler and one with José Ramos Santana. He graduated from Hertford College, Oxford, in 2004 with a First in music, and in 2005 served as artistic director to the first Oxford International Music Festival. He received perfect marks from the Academy of Pescara for his first piano diploma, and was awarded perfect marks, lauds and “special mention” for his second diploma concentrating in 20th century piano repertoire. He was a regular participant of the Ticino Musica Festivals in Lugano/Ascona/Locarno Switzerland from 2001 until 2010. He continues to study with Bruno Mezzena in Pescara.

He has performed in the USA, Italy, Switzerland, UK, and in Russia, and with various orchestras, including performances of Stavinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds (with the Pescara Academy Orchestra), Saint-Saens’ Rhapsodie d’Auvergne, Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra and Juan Francisco LaManna conducting), and the Schumann Concerto in A minor (with Hertford College Orchestra, Oxford, and the Pescara Academy Orchestra). His interests also include composition and analysis, which he studied with his Oxford tutor, Hugh Collins Rice. He was a jury member of the 2009 international singing competition “Putevka k zvezdam” in Moscow. He is president of the Italian music association “Project Odradek”.

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Debussy’s Images, finished in 1905, are among the most masterful pieces he wrote for the piano, and have become central to pianists’ repertoire. While composing them, he wrote to his publisher, Durand, that he was creating these pieces “with a completely new approach and in accordance with the most recent findings of harmonic chemistry”, and later asked him “Have you played the Images? Without undue vanity, I believe that these three pieces can hold their own and will assume a place in the piano literature… to the left of Schumann or the right of Chopin… as you like it.” (trans. taken from preface of Henle edition of score).

Mouvement is a lively perpetuum mobile, based on the very limited material of an open fifth encompassing a series of fast semiquaver triplets, repeated without respite from beginning to end. More playful than Reflets or Hommage, it brings the first book of his Images to a exuberant end, until finally evaporating into nothingness at the extreme ends of the keyboard.

Just as Mallarmé and the symbolist poets were making poetry not of ideas, but of just words, the “musicien français” was creating musical meaning not out of linear development or progression, but out of a static juxtaposition of sound events, with musical sense inherent in sonorous effect, a triumph of art for art’s sake. Debussy, in spite of his Germanic conservatory training, managed to refocus attention to the actual sound event, and it was thus largely he who provided the gateway to modern music; Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartok, and Berg all acknowledged their great debt to him. If one were to look for his equivalent in painting, Debussy could be called an “impressionist” composer, though he himself preferred the term “symbolist”. “If there is Impressionism in music”, Oscar Thompson writes in his book on Debussy, “Reflets dans l’eau is one of the most perfect examples of it.” Whether his music refers to or suggests something outside it (as Debussy said, “suggérer, c’est le rêve”), the music is never a means of expression as it is for Schoenberg, but is the artistic principle in its own right.

The music of Debussy and of most French composers until the “Jeune France” avant-gardism is gentle on the ear, pleasing, art for entertainment, or even Satie’s “musique d’ameublement”. In spite of its radical, truly modern aesthetic, it sounds less like what modern music usually connotes: it has none of the angst, the dark-as-night interior confusion of conflicting psychological impulses, the futility of self-expression, nor the impotence of the will. It is most often melancholic, reserved, understated, and the tragic emptiness of human existence may well be subtly suggested, but it is always through irony and at least superficial pleasantry. It is indeed a modern aesthetic, but it is that of Mallarmé’s faun as he sucks the fruit from within, leaving only the translucent grape-skins in which to take delight, pondering their transparency; it is the fascination with the nothingness of reality, an empty diversion from the “ennui”, the existential response to pleasure.