About this Recording
8.557988 - MACHE / OHANA: Music for Two Pianos
English  French 

François-Bernard Mâche (b. 1935)
(1984), for two pianos, four hands
Areg (1977), for two pianos
(1987), for two pianos
(1985), for two pianos, four hands
(1981), for piano plus tape

Maurice Ohana (1913-1992)
(1969), for two pianos


Born into a family of musicians in 1935, François-Bernard Mâche studied classics and archaeology at the Ecole Normale Supérieur in Paris, while working under Pierre Schaeffer at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and in Olivier Messiaen's class at the Conservatoire. This musical background left him with a fascination with nature, animal cries and primary elemental noises, and an interest in recorded sound. Many of his works mingle recorded noises and the sound of instruments, as in his Rituel d'oubli (1969), Korwar (1972) and Kassandra (1977). Other principal sources of inspiration have been literature and mythology, as in La Peau du silence (1962), Danaé (1970) or Styx (1984).

François-Bernard Mâche's reputation as a musicologist is confirmed by many publications of marked originality. After his Doctorat d'Etat he was appointed Professor of Musicology at the University of Strasbourg-II and in 1993 Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has been the recipient of many awards for his compositions, more than eighty in number, ranging from the Paris Prix de la Biennale in 1963 to the Sacem Grand Prix for symphonic music in 2002. He is a Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

Styx, for two pianos and eight hands, was commissioned by the S.E.I.T.A. Foundation and had its first performance in two separate sequences on 3 July 1984 at the Centre Acanthes in Aix-en-Provence and a complete première on 22nd September 1985 at the Warsaw Autumn, together with Léthé, which forms part of the same cycle. These are part of a set of four works with titles from the rivers of the Underworld, the two others being Eridan (1986) for string quartet, and Achéron (2002). Dark in mood, the whole work develops two ideas, the death knell and the river of Hades. The first draws on the French tradition of piano writing based on the resonances of the instrument, as in Debussy's Cloches à travers les feuilles, the dark, surging waves suggested by an unusual polyrhythmic superimposition.

Areg was the beginning of a piano cycle that continued with Styx and Nocturne. It was commissioned by the Romainville Conservatoire for performance by students on 10 June 1977, repeated on 2 December in the same year by Katia and Marielle Labèque. The title is a clear indication of the musical idea of the piece. Areg is the plural of the Arabic word erg, signifying the landscape of the Sahara, with its sand dunes, each composed of an infinite number of grains of sand. The work suggests the paradox of the numberless abundance of these and the arid motionlessness of the landscape.

In Mesarthim, a short piece for two pianos, written in 1987 for the Ravel year, Mâche continues to work with the superimposition of tempi of his piano works for many hands. Each player has his own tempo and the polyphony rests on the combination of the two. Here again the title reflects the nature of the work. Mesarthim, a word of dual Arabic and Hebrew origin, is the name of a double star of the constellation of the Ram, but this doubling itself rests on an illusion of perspective, since the two elements of the star are actually 24 light years apart. This illusion is found in sound in the minute discrepancies brought about by the differences in tempo and in the glittering sonorities of the chords.

Léthé is part of the same group of pieces for two pianos and eight hands as Styx, and draws its inspiration from the same mythological source. Written in tribute to Poland and first performed at the 1985 Warsaw Autumn it offers, according to the composer, a subjective portrait of that country. With pianistic writing close to that Mâche uses for percussion he exploits the resonance of the instruments, particularly the lower register, and brings to life great chords with an articulation of astounding virtuosity. Perhaps Léthé is also a homage to the most famous Polish pianist, Chopin, and to his C minor Revolutionary Study.

Nocturne was commissioned by the Netherlands Middelburg Festival for the pianist Geoffrey Douglas Madge, who gave the first performance on 4 July 1987. In this work the piano is in dialogue with a tape synthesized at the Centre d'Etudes de Mathematique et Automatique Musicales established by Iannis Xenakis. The piece may also be played by the piano alone, without the tape. If possible it should be played on a Bösendorfer Imperial, an instrument with an additional lower fourth. The work explores resonances and superimposed tempi; as the tape is more often in unison with the piano, the performer must keep in time with it, while controlling the tempo superimpositions.

Anne-Sylvie Barthel-Calvet



Born in Casablanca in 1913, Maurice Ohana studied music principally in France, after earlier interest in architecture. Gifted from childhood as a pianist, in 1960 he abandoned concert performance in order to concentrate on composition. His varied instrumental works include Silenciaire, four choreographic studies, pieces for the new ten-string guitar, Office des Oracles and the opera La Célestine, first given in 1988. Following Chopin and Debussy he wrote twelve Etudes and 24 Préludes for piano, and like Manuel de Falla remained faithful to his Spanish origins; the voice and percussion, fundamental to human musical language, are the keys to his music. His large number of varied compositions, including musique concrète, traditional Chinese and African, reveal Ohana as a man of some curiosity, free from any tendency towards the merely fashionable and in fact one of the greatest French composers of the 20th century. From 1990 he was President of the Maurice Ravel Académie Internationale at St.-Jean de Luz. Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur and Commandeur des Arts et Lettres, he died in Paris on 13 November 1992.

The termination Ngô is found in a certain number of words designating dances of African origin and in the names of instruments accompanying these dances. In the popular music of Andalusia the termination appears in the Tango, the Zorongo, and the Fandango, as well as in the Bongo. The syllable seems to characterize incantatory dance stemming from ancient tribal ceremonies. In Sorôn-Ngô the composer uses the sonorities of pianos with three pedals, with a scale of timbres ranging from indistinct masses of sound to strings struck directly, and to sonorities suggesting orchestral percussion. Here a certain freedom is allowed performers, in the controlled spirit of traditional forms of music, to which the work refers.

Martine Vialatte


English versions of all notes by Keith Anderson


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