The Great War: Elegy for piano is a musical, historical, and artistic project that delves into one of the darkest periods of European history. Structured as a silent movie, archival footage and relevant quotes are accompanied by performances of musical works composed during the Great War years, suggesting meaningful connections both historically based and artistically inspired. The overall endeavor does not seek to pass judgment; rather, it aims to engage the musical, the textual, and the visual into a difficult conversation that will enliven the historical materials and give us a deeper understanding of their significance. Thus, this project’s creative process required various tasks: researching and learning the musical repertoire; pondering the emotional and intellectual perils endured by the populace of the era; and considering the complexity and rigor of the historical forces that wreaked vast devastation on individual lives and entire geographic territories.
As a film recital, this endeavor proposes an alternative to the traditional classical recital by imbuing the audience with the circumstances that, to varying extents, influenced the creative processes of the composers. I often feel that concert-hall venues tend to dehumanize music by encouraging the worship of the ‘genius’ composer—or performer—as if the musicians were heroes capable of transcending the mundane to magically communicate the language of universal beauty to the audience. In order to do so, the artists are almost obligated to surrender their humanity for the right to be allowed onstage. It’s often forgotten that musicians are made of flesh and blood. Even if some have extraordinary—perhaps superhuman—qualities for musical creation, they are also mortals who endure suffering as we all do. The Great War caused destruction in the lives and in the creative voices of all the composers included in this DVD. How, then, could it possibly be surmised that no trace of such a catastrophe is perceived in their compositions? How can we listen with delight to these beautiful and ingenious melodies without considering the immeasurable distress caused by the historical circumstances that surrounded their creation? Above all, this project aspires to rescue the humanity—even in its contradictory and imperfect nature—contained in the music presented here.
This endeavor might be said to have been inspired by a naïve and romantic hope: if Orpheus’ singing convinced the Gods to allow him to rescue his beloved Euridice from Hades, then why couldn’t works like the Le Tombeau de Couperin convince us to end all wars?