... to stay is
to be nowhere at all ...
five acts, five portraits
'... far from being anchored in the past, Karl Fiorini is opening up channels,
always looking for new ways in which, without surrendering to fashion,
he feels free to do what he believes in and stay true to the music and to himself ...'
~ Ana Bocanegra Briasco ~
© Abigail Farrugia Attard, Paris 2017
of gods and dogs
Karl Fiorini. A composer with big ideas embracing intense emotional states, a man who journeys volcanic storms and wild oceans, who caresses and curses sound and rhythm, who twists and tortures innocent motifs and strands of memory into climaxes and explosions of terrifying confrontation. He loves and dreams but there is also rejection and revolution, angst and violence, defeat, doubt and defiance.
In of gods and dogs (de dioses y de perros) he sets texts by the Spanish-Lebanese writer, guitarist and scholar Ana Bocanegra Briasco, from a collection of twenty-six poems published in 2008. A quiet, gracious young woman with eyes that have seen much, her external persona does nothing to prepare us for the chthonic soul-states lying within. 'Mother, so much pain I drank in your womb … Each of your words stripped my skin'; 'Hopelessness has the colour of sulphur'; 'In the beginning it wasn't the Word but Anguish'; 'I write because I have nothing to say.'
'Questioning one's helplessness, sadness, obscurity, fear, revolt and rage', Fiorini's score, in seven movements, is arresting, shocking and tumultuous, black without a star for comfort. The words are hurled at us. The orchestral rejoinders and interludes are jagged. The landscape is bleak and barren. Dark, eddying pools of pianissimo contrast with monstrous percussion battles and snarling brass, piercing piccolo and concertante piano. Out of the cosmic cauldron float memories, some near, others distant – Beethoven, Shostakovich, Debussy, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Szymanowski. Gravity-circles – ancestrally monolithic – are fundamental. Ground-rhythms – quick, slow, repetitive, limestone terraced – are everywhere. Nothing is compromised, no one is spared. The musical language – defying gratuitous analysis – is complex, lyrical, nervy, fiery, harmonic. Not a song-cycle, more a symphonic fantasia with obbligato voice, the scenario calling for vocals shattered across the orchestra like iced glass, for a body language wracked and wrenched, for a final ‘Dios’ ('These would be the last words of God' ) clawed mercilessly out of living flesh and blood.
© Joanna Delia, Paris 2019
Fiorini identifies his style as 'marked with a sense of self-mockery and eclecticism, without lapsing into clichés', teasingly inviting us into a Pandora's box of paradoxes and contradictions. Like the man, the music is visceral and sensuous, lean yet generous, a nuit blanche ride where the outpouring of feverish fervour goes hand-in-hand with raw savagery and snarling cynicism, troubled desires and high-wire risk-taking. He's not a composer who plays for safety, like Icarus he flies close to the sun and sometimes falls to earth. Creating and questing among the bars and back streets of Paris, notebook in pocket, the ghosts of the great to feed his fantasy, holding Lisztian court down the old red-light lanes of Valletta, lost eyes searching through a haze of G&Ts and thinly-rolled cigarettes, is where he is at his most comfortable but also most nakedly vulnerable.
Compared with the very different vocabulary and theatricality of his two Violin Concertos (music Patricia Kopatchinskaya should get to play), the Second Symphony (Milan Expo 2015) or de dioses y de perros, If occupies a neo-romantic plateau of quiet, clarifying reflection. Touches of French mélodie and symbolism run through its pages, likewise Mahlerian Lied and the early days of the Second Viennese School. I found myself thinking transiently of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (the opening rustles), of a vaguely English manner hard to pinpoint – more a question of nuance and linguistic inflection than anything directly attributable.
Fiorini has always been drawn to subtexts – the what-might-be/what-if factor – and there are plenty to choose from here. The provocation, for instance, that Kipling's 1895 iambic pentameter text, with its conditionals for arriving at manhood – a father's advice to his son, 'emphasising human dignity and wisdom but, more essentially, what it undertakes to be a man of good character' – might also be seen as a master's instruction to an apprentice. The climactic ‘knocking’ trumpet E-flats (going back to masonic Mozart via, from a Mediterranean perspective, the 'Communion' of Camilleri's Missa mundi), the Beethovenian dotted-rhythms, the Straussian violin at the end, send other messages. Do melodic phrases that, overall, rise more than fall generate hope and aspiration? Do rhythmic patterns where triplets are followed by couplets (reversed Fibonacci sequencing), the momentum urging forward then holding back, suggest, however modest or microscopic the context, impetuosity cautioned by wisdom?
Framed by a related short introduction and coda, the whole scored transparently for the same orchestral forces as Beethoven's Choral Symphony with the voice sympathetically supported or doubled, If shows Fiorini in tonal, accessible mood addressing a universal audience – inwardly subtle, outwardly simple. Seven-minute journey completed, the violin ascending Transfiguration-like, the music reaches for G-minor. Much of it, though, from the initial flutes, first violins and vocal entry, is Locrian implicit.
© Ateş Orga, Valletta 2019
Pentimenti turns to painting for its stimulus – in this case pentimento, that technique, from Van Eyck and Caravaggio to Picasso, through which a canvas is altered or over-painted, providing evidence of an artist's previous or other intentions. From the Italian, the word translates into 'repentance' – though 'remorse' and 'regret', 'contrition' for past actions or sins, also permeate Fiorini's understanding. Scored for divisi strings and two percussionists, Pentimenti is an essay of complex texture and sculpting, largely cyclic in organisation (the slow third and quick fourth sections broadly metabolising the first two). If it has a programme, none is revealed. But, Schumann/Shostakovich-like, its melodic orbit is one of entwined ciphers and climactic patterns and sighs developed out of expanding/contracting intervals, Mephistophelian tritones (two cellos at the start, vibraphone at the finish), glimpses of Gretchens that once were, might still be (the first arco forte of the second section), never that far away. Underlying the whole is a grounded tonal trajectory polarised around E – its ever-searching Eb/D# companion initially high and lonely above the void, latterly consumed in a dying aftermath of major and minor thirds. Metrically or temporally changed, a recurrent cryptogram, C#-A-D-Ab, functioning much like BACH or DSCH, runs audibly through the second and third sections and in more disguised form within textures elsewhere. Reversed, the outer notes of this motto establish a sensuously beautiful latter-day (dominant-tonic) C-sharp minor final cadence, enriched in sonority, orchestration and subtext .
© Ateş Orga, Granchester Meadows, Cambridge 2017
Like Pentimenti, Fiorini's Weinende Frau seeks out painting for its external if not necessarily inner stimulus – in this case Picasso's The Weeping Woman (1937), based on one of the figures, a crying mother holding her dead child, in his anti-war mural Guernica. Compellingly, lucidly conceived for the medium, demanding without being insurmountable, it's a work of clean lines, clear rhythms, and lucid motivic interleaving. Beyond the forty-bar slow introduction, with its divisi nine-part writing and despairingly anguished, dynamically chiselled climax, parenthetically Austro-German-1900 in tissue, the extent to which it reflects Picasso, aside from the emotive wording of the title, isn't obvious however. Once under way, the main allegro is essentially an energised structure concerned less (if at all) with descriptive extensions than with contrasting melodic destinies – the first projecting a prancing figure of downward-thrusting minor-ninths subsequently contracted; the second, more lyrically step-wise, versifying a soft-spoken discourse tinted with illusions of silken dance. Echoes, veiled permutations, of Fiorini's C#-A-D-Ab cryptogram are for the pursuing.
© Karol Komorowski, Paris 2011
Quatre miniatures romaines
Miniaturistic in the sense of Schoenberg's Das Buch der hängenden Gärten, Karl Fiorini's Four Roman Miniatures concentrate weighty subject matter in an emotionally charged framework. The composer's note tells us that the four songs “strive to capture Rome, a city of echoing memories, where the scorching Mediterranean sun lashes out implacably at its buildings’ pigments and the worn-out, cracked ramparts that contain it; where the night hits the churches’ domes before devouring the nostalgic fabric of its cobbled and exhausted streets, caressed and trespassed by travellers, dwellers, peddlers, lovers old and newly-found alike.”
Rome may be the professed resonance, but in fact these settings of nuanced, geographically unspecific texts by the ever-searching French poet and harpsichordist Sophie Charpentier (published in 2015) could be applicable to any old southern European or Mediterranean city: the walls and stones, the light, the heat of the darkness are exchangeable. Fiorini gives us a rarefied broadsheet, scored for woodwind octet (plus piccolo), two horns and trumpet, timpani, percussion and strings. The music grows in a cellular way, initially from a chattering, swelling pattern for five woodblocks and muted trumpet burgeoning into a tiny repetitive canonic figure for violins and violas – African-like in the understanding of Fiorini's first teacher, Charles Camilleri.
Shades of Debussy and his orchestral writing in Pelléas et Mélisande surface magically, perfumed yet remote. Noticeably in the first song, 'Echoing what was the colour of the stones': 'Que les mots seuls ne pouvaient ni transcrire ni rappeler' (That words alone can neither record nor recall); and in the intricately shuddering opening and closing of the third, 'Insinuant ocher, orange, black fissures'. The second song, 'The incandescent walls had holes', starts with a lengthy instrumental paragraph in which muted and whispered dissonances cluster and harmonise stalactite-like in reverse of a Schumann fade-out. The crystalline expressivity of its tension closes the thirteen postlude bars, a lone voice tonalising the words 'Jusqu’à confondre leur chair en amas cendrés' (literally 'To confuse their flesh into ashes' but paraphrased in Adrian Scerri's artistically free translation as 'The burning to deny the violence that floats in colours'). The fourth number, 'The sepia image fades little by little', is energised and agitated, the final high Bb 'Retrouver (Find) climaxing intentionally as more of a shriek than a pitch.
A vision, notably fine, inviting a visit to the recording studio to do its complexities and writing justice.
© Sophie Charpentier, Basle 2020
from reviews published originally in
© Ateş Orga 2020
not to be reproduced without permission
Karl Fiorini Violin Concertos
2006-07 ~ 2011-12
Emanuel Salvador, Marta Magdalena Lelek
Sudecka Philharmonic Orchestra
Sudecka Philharmonic Concert Hall, Walbrzych, Poland, 30 May-2 June 2012
programme essay Ana Bocanegra Briasco
Métier/Divine Art MSV 28533