Making Words and Making Music

Pianist Michal Mašek strives to create an atmosphere around the music that he plays in concert.

Pianist Michal Mašek strives to create an atmosphere around the music that he plays in concert.

Anyone who listens to classical music knows that some pieces are good – and some are brilliant. Lucie Rohanová describes how pianist Michal Mašek also uses words to achieve this difference for a live audience.

We who do not have any musical education — but only the love and enthusiasm for classical music — are in a difficult position when we want to talk about the music we’ve just heard.

Is the genius in the music itself? Could the same “magic” be played just as superbly by someone else?

Or can a brilliant musician make any piece of music, even the mediocre, something special?

Or is it the atmosphere of the evening, the comfort of the concert location, or even the people sitting next to us?

Are we capable at all of speaking about our notion of someone’s interpretation? Even those of us who are “word” people and not musicians?

Pianist Michal Mašek is a person of clear opinion of the music he plays; his interpretation makes his music beautiful. He achieves this also because of his interest in the background of the composers’ lives. In his performance last spring at The Atrium he told us what survived in memories – in words – of the composers’ contemporaries. He spoke about composers in the words of those who thought about the composers’ works in the context of their lives.

Mr Mašek often makes these considerations part of his performances (Opus Osm reviewed his flagship performance featuring Bohuslav Martinů), which gives the listeners an idea and feeling of the complexity of work and its creator’s personality — immediately — at the concert.

'My work is a delight and joy and, as far as the conception is concerned, I already have the entire second act in my head...' -Antonín Dvořák letter about 'Rusalka,' 31.7.1900.

‘My work is a delight and joy and, as far as the conception is concerned, I already have the entire second act in my head…’ -Antonín Dvořák letter about ‘Rusalka,’ 31.7.1900.

For example, we heard Bugatti Step by Jaroslav Ježek, and memories of his Liberated-Theatre-mate Jan Werich. We learned that Antonín Dvořák’s Humoresque No 7 in G Flat Major was originally written for piano, not for violin with accompaniment, and we could hear the difference. Mr Mašek read (in Czech) the recollections of Dvořak’s students like Vítězslav Novák, Jan Suk, and Josef Michl.

And a selection of Chopin’s Preludes was accompanied by warm depiction of their author by his colleague Franz Liszt. Mr Mašek also shared his own and Liszt’s characterizations of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which he played in conclusion.

Of course, the texts read during the evening were just samples of the immense literature ever written about these composers, and maybe they could be replaced by different ones.

But it is a true pleasure to visit a performance based on such an idea – on one hand to look at the music more from the distance of words, not only from the music itself; and at the same time – perhaps paradoxically – from inside, by understanding and feeling the personality of its creator.

Michal Mašek’s next performance, ‘Music Queens and the Story of Beer,’ is Nov 26 at the Culture House in Ǔstí nad Labem. The concert features music by women composers, and the world premiere of the song How Beer is Brewed.

– Lucie Rohanová, Opus Osm writer

Photo Credits: Top: Lucie Rohanová; illustration, Antonín Dvořák website

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