Feature article by Jens F. Laurson
Non saprei rispondere con precisione: The Story of an Interview with Andrea Bacchetti
The pianist Andrea Bacchetti (not his rugby-playing namesake) met Luciano Berio when he was around 11 and worked, studied, and played music with him until Berio, who became an important mentor, died in 2003. For Decca Bacchetti recorded Berio piano works under the composer's supervision-still a reference recording and recently reissued in some markets as part of a three-CD set, Luciano Berio: A Portrait. It was Berio who suggested to Bacchetti a program of mixing Bach and his works, which the pianist still uses regularly in recital.

I didn't actually know all that, but my first question to him, via e-mail, through his manager, and a translation program, was on the topic of Berio, anyway, simply because his Berio disc, sound issues notwithstanding, seemed to jibe quite well with the more recent Bach CDs of his that I had also been sent: "What, if any, are the symmetries between Bach and Berio?"
Incidentally, getting answers out of Bacchetti isn't any easier than getting questions to him. Because his English is fairly basic and because he doesn't trust even his decent German to get his exact (and exacting) ideas about music across, he answers in Italian-and fortunately without the use of translation machines which would only make complete nonsense out of his texts. He and his manager-not an Italian speaker, either-go back and forth with qualifications, questions, and additions until an English version that somewhat resembles the melodic Italian original stands. Now it's between his manager's efforts, dictionaries, intelligently careful use of Google Translate, and my own meager Italian to tease out maximum sense and authenticity from the final answers. In any case, eventually we get to this and the following answers, occasionally de-clarified and obfuscated in response to follow up questions, all heavily edited in this process, but hopefully still precise. So, to repeat:

Q: What, if any, are the symmetries between Bach and Berio?
A: Certainly the structural aspect, the common constructive design, where he uses only a few notes, a small nucleus, and out of that arises then, suddenly almost, a big form. So on the one hand you have the intellect, and on the other the opposite, emotion. Berio invents an ascetic language, in a way he creates an "electronic" keyboard. Bach, at least when writing for the keyboard, invents an "illuminated" keyboard that leaves the interpreter to express affection and emotion, but guided by the intellect. Both draw geometric lines, but they are characterized by divine inspiration. And another factor is that the music in both cases is more modern than any other music written at the time. Both are very much forward-looking composers: Bach, sometimes, to dodecaphonic music; Berio, more often, toward noise, a downright hatred for consonance.

Q: Bach and 12-tone music?
A: Well, he didn't consciously work toward the dissolution of key-relationship. But he contributed by way of modulation. Listen to the gigues of the Fifth and Sixth English suites, for example, the fugue of the G-Minor Toccata or the F-Minor Three-Part Invention, or the 25th Goldberg Variation. You will find "harmonically demanded" dissonance there. The merging of the intertwining contrapuntal lines and harmonic tension gets to a point where it requires a language that, to our ears, more than 300 years later, resembles hints of dodecaphony.

Q: You had met Herbert von Karajan at the Salzburg Festival, introduced through friends at the Festspielhaus. You got to sit in on rehearsals, and kept in touch for the three last years that Karajan lived. Not having compared your year of birth (1977) and that of Karajan's death (1989), I didn't really think about how young you must have been ? which might in part explain this naive question: How different might your career have been, had Herbert von Karajan lived another year or so?
A: To be honest, I don't know. Probably not much if it had only been a year, since I was only nine at the time. In any case it was a very good experience. Karajan listened to me very carefully, made good suggestions, all in perfect Italian, and he showed great affection. He told my parents that I was an enormous talent and that it wasn't just a duty for him to teach talented young people like me, but also a pleasure. That said, even as a child I never had any illusions. I always knew that the journey of a musician would be very difficult, very demanding, and fatiguing. Now, if I had met Karajan when I was 20 years old, that would have been an opportunity to make an enormous difference. But as it is I take away wonderful memories-above all having him talk to me about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. He explained his ideas very simply, directly, especially given he was talking to a nine-year-old. And I still remember his advice. I always had great esteem for Karajan, even if it is currently popular to belittle his importance. I liked the simplicity, his earnestness, and-yes-humility with which he approached music. At our last meeting before his death he told my parents, "If I live, we'll do great things." Alas ...

Q: Do you find a spiritual dimension to Bach? Perhaps a cleansing of sorts, that inoculates against the occasional madness of the world outside?
A: I always look for that spiritual dimension in the Bach I play, as I do in all his music. I think particularly of that abstraction expressed in the writing that suggests an absoluteness of the music, an incompatibility with any form of materialism. That's what introduces a certain dose of mysticism to the sarabandes or the allemandes and a certain "aristocratic brusqueness" in the courantes and in the gigues.

Q: Would you agree that the toccatas, among the least recorded of Bach's prominent works for solo keyboard, are less attractive, less "sexy" than, say, the French Suites?
A: I wouldn't know how to answer that precisely. As far as Bach is concerned, I'm not sure if I am even interested in that aspect. What I seek is unity of line, I look for rhythm, color, those little effects, the independence of the lines. Be it in the toccatas, the suites, or the concertos. Maybe the toccatas strike as slightly more improvisatory-typical for toccatas and typical for the organ-with those long recitatives that prepare the way for the closing fugues. In some places they strike me as demonic (consider the G-Minor Toccata, BWV 915). Or take the long introductions in all the toccatas, except for BWV 916, which doesn't have an introduction at all. They recall the art of spontaneous improvisation, very common in Bach's time, typical for the great composer, and typical of interpreters at the time.

Q: Is the same true for two-part inventions? And was that-the relative scarcity of recordings-part of the reason you chose to make exactly those works the subject of your two first Bach recordings for Dynamic, rather than recording the umpteenth version of the Goldberg Variations or the Italian Concerto?
A: Yes, I chose the inventions and the toccatas because the catalogs aren't bulging with recordings of them yet. [Here, Bacchetti kindly brushes over my having missed the fact that he actually has recorded the Goldberg Variations on DVD and CD.] The inventions might seem like works for kids or students, but given their actual difficulty, even for adults, I think we can learn much from them about the so-called "difficultly of the seemingly easy." They are small masterpieces, gems, like unique and beautiful paintings. And the same is true for the toccatas. Another reason to pick the inventions is my desire to build an entire Bach cycle. For several years I have been adding a new "book" from the great cantor's keyboard works toward that goal. After having tackled the English and the French suites, the Goldberg Variations, the inventions, now it was time for the toccatas. I don't so much see them as disparate pieces but as a large body united by an invisible thread arranged along ascending chromatic and diatonic tonalities ... as if they were a small version of the Well-Tempered Clavier.

Q: How did you first encounter Baldassare Galuppi (having recorded several Galuppi sonatas for RCA)? What did you think and feel when you studied and recorded his sonatas? Are there many more gems waiting for us in his output, and do you have a continued interest in his sonatas?
A: I encountered many of the Galuppi sonatas by studying the autograph sources in the library of the Levi Foundation in Venice. I had been attracted to his music ever since I heard Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli's recording of the C-Major Sonata as a child. Unfortunately that one I didn't find among the manuscripts. While studying the autographs, I was principally attracted to a few reoccurring characteristics in Galuppi: the brilliant virtuosity, the lyricism, the "theater of colors" he can get out of the modern instrument especially through refined use of the pedaling ? which, if used with extreme tact, almost a kind of confidential moderation, allows you to tease out great amounts from inside the score. That particularly applies to Galuppi, but really to all music, especially Baroque music on a modern instrument. I feel it inside me, where and how to use it; often unconsciously, which is when my musical instinct guides me. It's an expression that comes from within, from the musical thought, from the heart. The sonatas of Galuppi, some more than others, lend themselves to this use, which, however personal in expression, arises from the interpreter's relationship with the text and how he feels "inside" the thought, the "voice" of the composer. Which is all by way of saying that I am very happy that Dynamic and I are planning to record more of the Italian composers of the 17th and 18th centuries, and that the next CD will be devoted to the unpublished sonatas, all drawn from the manuscripts, of Benedetto Marcello, another Venetian genius of the 17th century whose work for keyboard is, until now, completely unknown.

Q: On a superficial first listening to the eight sonatas on the RCA disc, Galuppi comes across as containing Bachian simplicity, occasionally Mozartean lightness, and Scarlattiesque wit and playfulness. What virtues and qualities do you see in these sonatas?
A: I agree with that. I believe those are precisely the virtues of Galuppi's keyboard works. I think it was a great privilege to rediscover these works and to get to present a careful selection of these sonatas, a good variety that I hope will do justice to the originality and beauty of his compositions. And there are still a lot of interesting sonatas left of his that I'd like to perform and record, maybe at some point in the future. I seem to remember that Mozart, on his Italian journey as a child prodigy, met Galuppi when he passed through Venice. In fact, the Sonata in G Major [track 1 on the RCA disc] is directly quoted in the famous aria "Pupille amate" from Le Nozze di Figaro. There is no trace of Bachian counterpoint, but the A-Minor Sonata contains references to Palestrina, with an archaic sense thanks to its almost embarrassingly obvious attempt of modal construction. Sometimes the flow of two voices in the slow movements approaches the dances in the suites of Bach or even some of the inventions-if only slightly and, I think, not consciously.
This article originally appeared in Issue 34:1 (Sept/Oct 2010) of Fanfare Magazine
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