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Piano Duet | Natascha Chircop, Marco Rivoltini
Date: 31.10.2010 - 19:00  
Venue: Aula Mgr Giuseppe Farrugia - St George's Basilica
Price: Free


Mendelssohn Andante und Variationen Op.83a

Stravinsky Petroushka
First Scene
1. The Shrove-Tide Fair
2. The Enchantment
3. Russian Dance

Second Scene
1 . Petrouchka

Third Scene
1 . The Blackamoor
2 . Dance of the Ballerina
3 . Waltz

Fourth Scene
1 . The Shrove-Tide Fair (Evening)
2 . Wet Nurses Dance
3 . Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms
4 . Masqueraders


Duo Chircop Rivoltini has started working together in 1995 when they followed a two-
year course in chamber music at the Academy of Florence. They are frequently invited
to perform on special occasions such as the opening of the Opera Festival at the Manoel
Theatre, private concerts at the President of Malta’s Residence, opening of the Victoria
Arts Festival in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, world premiere of J Vella’s Concerto for Two
Pianos at the Conservatory of Marseilles and a repetition of this work at the Lincoln
Centre, New York in 2001. The latest recital in a piano duet formation was in February
2010 at the Manoel Theatre, Valletta. Performances with the Malta National Orchestra
include Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos, Arnold Concerto for Piano Duet and Strings,
Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, Bruch Concerto for Two Pianos, Mendelssohn
Concerto for Two Pianos and Tansman Suite for Two Pianos (first performance in Malta
for the last three works).

Natascha Chircop started her studies in Malta. In 1992, she was awarded a
scholarship by the Italian Goverment. This enabled her to continue her studies at the
Conservatory “G.Verdi” in Milano, Italy. There she graduated in pianoforte and flute (as
main subjects) with Prof. E Perrotta and Prof. G. Gallotta. She also graduated in chamber
music with Prof. Masi at the Academy of Florence, Italy. She is a holder of diplomas
in both instruments from London’s Trinity College of Music and The Royal Schools of
Music, and a B.Ed (Hons) degree in music from the University of Malta. She has studied
with international celebrities such as Prof. Barbizet, Prof. Petroushansky and Prof Patero.
She has frequently performed in Milano, notably Mozart’s Piano Concerto for Two
Pianos with the “Guido Cantelli” Orchestra as well as piano recitals, and “concert-
lessons” for flute, flute recitals, wind trio and lately with the Janascharco Trio in Lucca.
Other performances have taken her to France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Syria, Portugal,
England and New York. Acclaimed concerts as a soloist with orchestra include the
Piano Concertos of Franck, Jirasek, Grieg, Ravel, Pace and Vella. She also accompanied
international soloist like George Zuckermann (bassoon), Stefan Popov (cello) and
Laszlo Bohr (oboeist). She was invited to record for Italian radio and has recorded for
international labels of Geiga and Rugginenti.

Marco Rivoltini has graduated in pianoforte at the conservatory “A.Boito” of Parma,
Italy and in chamber music at the Academy of Florence, Italy. He has followed post-
graduate courses in pianoforte performing with Prof. Eli Perrotta, Prof. C.A. Pastorelli
and Prof. Pier Narciso Masi. He has also graduated at the International School of
Chamber Music held by the Trio of Trieste and in music from the University of Bologna.
As a soloist he has won competitions of Sesto San Giovanni, Stresa, Macugnaga,
Tagliolo Monferrato in Italy.
In the formation of piano duet he has won the international competitions of San
Bartolomeo, “Mascia Masin” in San Gemini and in the Competition of Asti.
He has given recitals in various musical manifestations in Milano, the “Gipico” of
Arese, “Il Tempietto” of Rome, the “Comune” of Alassio, the Conservatory of Novara,
in Lucca, in Bretagne (France), in Damascus (Syria), in England, in Switzerland and in
New York (Lincoln Center). He has performed in Malta at the Tchaikovsky Hall (Russian
Cultural Centre), at the Sala Isuoard and at the Manoel Theatre. He has recorded for
Rugginenti and original contemporary Maltese works by Joseph Vella.



F Mendelssohn (1809-1847)                 Andante und Variationen op 83a


“A theme! A theme! Great nature! Give me a theme; let me begin my dream”, invokes the immortal Keats prior to composing what is arguably one of the most ravishing Odes in the English Language, his Ode to a Nightingale.  Romanticism is a youthful movement, fresh and vital, arrogant and vulnerable, audacious and retrospective.  It attempts the restoration of the cultural elements and forms of bygone periods, hoping to revive the mediaeval soul and to resuscitate the antique classical spirit.  Yet, pervading all the fervent zest and bubbly enthusiasm, lies a deeply seated melancholy and a frustrated sense of the unattainable. Linking two seemingly irreconcilable points – past and present – the consistency achieved by the Romantics posits a more or less finite range of human nature.  Their awareness of the past is greater than the past’s awareness of itself, and this provides artists such as Schiller, Keats, Chopin, and Mendelssohn, the licence not only to readjust the canon and misread its contents, but to take possession of the ideal order. In the hands of such great individualists, Romanticism becomes the dynamic era of action and disorganisation, which tries to seize upon and unify everything by virtue of the chaos it spells out.  The urge for binding, for union, remains its essence, and love and fantasy are its chief subjects.  The romanticists are the poets of the apotheosis of love and its most passionate champions – Shelley wants to be drunk of love and sings in Queen Mab the golden age of the omnipotence of love, believing it to be the only law of the world.  Byron lives it.  Keats wants to be pillowed the “soft, white breast” of his lover in order for him to forget “the weariness, the fever and the fret” that was agonising him.  Wordsworth goes all but potty over a field of dancing daffodils.  These artistes are impulsive and quite mad, not in their aims, but in their means.  For them, classic measure and poise mean very little.  What matters are the limitless wanderings of the imagination coupled with spiritual experience that, with the odd and, to say the least, bizarre exception in Liszt, is rarely of the religious kind. 


Opus numbers can be very deceiving - they might be assigned to pieces out of order, or assigned long after the composer has died, or assigned to just a handful of a prolific composer's works.  Yet, very rarely do they outright lie to us. So if you should happen to bump across Mendelssohn’s Andante and Variations in B flat major for 2 pianos, Op. 83a, and wonder if the piece is as closely related to the almost identically-named Andante and Variations in B flat major for solo piano, Op. 83, as their names would seem to indicate, rest easy: your intuition was right. They start out, in fact, as essentially the same piece of music. The version for two performers begins as simply a fleshing-out of the one already written for one player. But before too long the dual-pianist version parts ways with the original two-hand version and pursues its own very different path.  Andante tranquillo con Variazioni is the full name of Op. 83a. The theme is not long. Twenty-four bars suffice for our introduction to it, and then off we go with the variations. Length, however, does not by any means bear a direct relationship to quality, or even quantity, of material upon which to make variations, and the three phrases of the theme - the first of which is played by the second pianist, the second of which is given by the first player, and the third of which is started by the second but finished by the two players together - contain plenty of notches and grooves from which to start new thoughts. Whereas Op. 83 has five variations, Op. 83a contains eight variations, the first of which is nearly identical to Variation 1 from Op. 83 but the rest of which explore new ground. Several of the variations expand the theme well beyond its original twenty-four bars. After the eight variations there is a reprise of the theme in something approaching its original form. Tradition demands (or at least asks) that a set of variations be closed off with either a fugue or a hot-paced allegro, and Mendelssohn chooses the latter for both Op. 83 and Op. 83a.


I Stravinsky (1882-1971)                                          Petrouchka

                                                                                First Scene: The Shrove-Tide Fair; The Enchantment; Russian Dance

                                                                                Second Scene: Petrouchka

                                                                                Third Scene: The Blackamoor; Dance of the Ballerina; Waltz

                                                                                Fourth Scene: The Shrove-Tide Fair (Evening); Wet Nurses Dance;

                                                                                Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms; Masqueraders


The exquisite and tender music of The Fire Bird is that of Stravinsky's age of innocence.  With Petrouchka he quickly progresses to something quite different, a curious blend of Russian humanitarianism and the most sophisticated objectivity.  As in Laforgue’s Pierrot lunaire poems and in Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, Petrouchka represents modern urban man afflicted with a particularly nervous, exacerbated sensibility who reacts intensely to slight stimuli.  More than a real story the music unfolds as a succession of images, ideas, actions and moods and ultimately Petrouchka, like Prufrock, can only be comprehended as a nightmare.  Petrouchka proves the possibility of sustained musical representation of a totally new order.  It proceeds without all the traditional means by which music is supposed to make itself intelligible, namely, repetition of themes, integrity and discursive transformation of clearly recognizable motives, and harmonic structures based on a framework of tonality.  It is not only the apparently total freedom from the requirements of musical form that makes this ballet a well-attested miracle, inexplicable and incontrovertible, but also its freedom from traditional dramatic process.  Stravinsky’s fascination with Symbolist poetry and theatre, and his own brilliant literary sensibility, makes him an experienced user of experimental techniques, whether his own or others’.  He shows a special ability to escape generic constraints to find new forms and new sounds. 


As in Eliot and Laforgue, the stress in this ballet is on the sordid and the false.  The sordidness is seen in terms of the pathetic human comedy of clowns, pimps, whores, drunks and beggars with the ‘I’ figure constantly debased in its own estimation of a state lower even than the world around him.  Theatrical metaphors and pictures of nature reduced to artifice convey falseness.  Consistently, the overall result is one of failure.  It is failure and isolation that characterize the poet and the musician of this period.  For these artists, ‘ennui’ is the mood in which an excess of intelligence indulging in intense introspection makes the pain of existence most acute.  This is what happens to Petrouchka.  The music juxtaposes elements that are referential, mimetic or conceptual with purely formal patterns that are largely independent of external meanings.  In this work, every law of musical syntax, every canon of harmony seems to have been violated.  Every limit of rhythmic perversity and eccentricity of orchestration is exceeded in the tumultuous cataclysm of sound.  Yet, with all its crudity, it is a clearly-planned and perfectly-controlled and coordinated piece of music, having qualities which are both architectonic and anecdotal.  The ballet assumes objective meaning in that it renounces, of its accord, any claim to meaning.  The tragic art of the clown as presented here heralds at the same time the fact that this condemned subjectivity ironically retains its primacy.  Petrouchka survives his own demise. 


However, pathos is not alien to Stravinsky’s Petrouchka.  This work is by no means without subjective traits.  Like Laforgue’s and Eliot’s poems, the music tends to take the part of those who ridicule the ill-treated hero rather than come to his defence.  Consequently, the immortality of the clown at the end of the ballet cannot be interpreted as appeasement for the collective but, rather, as the threat of evil to it.  In Stravinsky’s case, subjectivity always assumes the character of sacrifice.  However, the music does not identify with the victim but with the destructive element.  Through the liquidation, as it were, of the victim, it rids itself of all intentions, of its own subjectivity.  Like Pierrot and Prufrock, Petrouchka behaves like a critically-injured victim.  What appears as the complete absorption of shock - the submission of the music to the rhythmic blows dealt from an internal and external source - is, actually, the obvious sign that the attempt at absorption has failed.  This is the innermost deception of objectivism: the destruction of the subject through shock is transformed into the victory of the subject in the aesthetic complexion of the work.  At the same time, this destruction results in the overcoming of the subject by being-in-itself.


Lengthy passages are simplified in their musical substance, in contrast to the intricate psychological ornamentation of the dandy who has been summoned into deceptive life.  The technical ‘simplicity’ of this work is to be observed particularly in the extremely subtle treatment of orchestral colour.  This simplicity corresponds to the position taken by the music towards its theme.  In Petrouchka it is the position of the highly-entertained observer, focussing his eyes on the fair-ground scenes, viewing the portrayal of a stylized impression of hurly-burly, with the undertone of provocative joy which the individual, tired of differentiation, finds in that which he scorns.  In Stravinsky’s musical setting, the melodic presence is more than a matter of illusion and distortion.  It is literal.  Commenting on the work’s gestation, Stravinsky said: “I had in my mind a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra with diabolical cascades of arpeggios.  The orchestra in turn retaliates with menacing trumpet-blasts.”  The outcome is a terrific noise which reaches its climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of poor Petrouchka.  Petrouchka is signified in the music most clearly by the well-known Petrouchka chord, the superimposition, in various inversions, of C Major and F# Major triads.  These triads produce sounds that clash most expressively, separated as they are by an augmented fourth, the tritone, the anciently-troubling ‘diabolus in musica’.  This produces the natural emphasis upon the aspect of the suffering, trapped soul in Petrouchka.  The music is infinitely various, colourful and responsive to the character in action.  It can indeed yearn, struggle and die with Petrouchka, just as it can swagger and kill with the Blackamoor.  However, for all the warmth and intensity of each succeeding passage, the work as a whole is held together in emotional equipoise by a sure, restless forward momentum.  The musical language can summon and maintain the illusion of a ‘puppet’ tragic comedy in all its grotesque externals and all its inner ironies.  The equipoise is that of puppet tragedy, essentially conditioned by the masks, the dance, the clownesque nature of the hero, the quintessential tragic comedy of the modernist at the beginning of this century.  In all three cases, the self-annihilation of the observer is implied in the vain suffering under knowledge.  The listener escapes his own ego, taking the side of those who laugh: the concentration of the music in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka as its aesthetic subject unmasks the protagonists’ worthless existence as comic. 


The fundamental category of Petrouchka is that of the grotesque and the improbable, the category of the distorted conspicuous individual delivered up to others.  The impending disintegration of the subject itself is evident in this situation.  Everything characteristic of this protagonist is grotesque as, for instance, the melismata which are misappropriated and restrained to the point of dullness.  Wherever the subjective element is encountered it is depraved.  It is sickeningly over-sentimentalized as in the Pierrot poems and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and trodden to death as in Petrouchka.  It is evoked as something which in itself is mechanical and hypostatized.  In the orchestral version of Petrouchka the wind instruments in which the subjective element is expressed sound like the components of a hand organ, the apotheosis of mere piping.  The strings are perverted into a joke and deprived of their warm sound.  In all three instances, the images of mechanical music produce the shock of a modernity which is already past and degraded to an infantile level.  It becomes the gate to the most original and ancient past.  The hand organ, once heard, functions as an acoustic déjà-vu, as remembrance.  Suddenly, the image of the shabby fallen individual - Petrouchka - is to transform itself into a remedy against decay.


Listening to Stravinsky’s Petrouchka suggests that individuation is a phenomenological certainty, albeit one that cannot be represented.  The subject’s representations are always representations of otherness.  Even more, representation itself may always be an alienating activity.  The composer can speak himself, as it were, only by re-representing the world.  However, his images are never presentations of the world but mnemonic perspectives on, or interpretations of, the world.  Within a pattern of resistance in Stravinsky to his perception of subjectivity as mobile correspondence, Petrouchka would be his most sophisticated fantasy of inviolable selfhood, a fantasy that includes the killing of affect and the total dependence of the presumably autonomous dandy on the creative admiration of others.  The individual subject authenticates itself much more convincingly in the narrator’s ironic voice.