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GP770 - FIŠER, L.: Piano Sonatas (Complete) (Šimurdová)
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LUBOŠ FIŠER (1935–1999)
COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS

 

Luboš Fišer is one of the Czech Republic’s most influential and versatile composers of the 20th century. Many of his compositions were written under difficult political conditions during the Communist regime, setting the basis for the emergence of his particular style, and establishing him as a composer of significance.

Luboš Fišer was born in 1935 in Prague, capital of the then Czechoslovak Republic, where he lived for the duration of his life. He studied composition at the Prague Conservatory and continued at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague as a pupil of professor Emil Hlobil. Fišer’s early compositions were influenced by late Romanticism and neo-Classicism, whereas his individual compositional style began to take shape towards the end of his studies. In 1960, he graduated in composition with the production of his one-act opera, Lancelot. The success of this opera foreshadowed his later compositions for the theatre, film and television which would exceed 300 works.

Fišer’s compositional style of the 1960s incorporates elements of aleatory technique, melodic writing, and thematic repetition and transformation—compositional devices which continued to be essential throughout his oeuvre. Significant works from this period include Piano Sonata No. 3 (1960), Piano Sonata No. 4 (1962-64), Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1964), Fifteen Prints after Dürer’s Apocalypse for orchestra (1965), the choral Capriccios (1966) inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya, and the Requiem (1968). The Fifteen Prints after Dürer’s Apocalypse won him First Prize in a UNESCO International Composer’s Tribune held in Paris in 1967. In the 1970s, Fišer had developed his signature style, mastering the distillation and concentration of formal structures. This is most apparent in Fišer’s one-movement Piano Sonatas Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

From 1963 onwards, he began writing music for the stage and screen, working with prominent directors such as Peter Weigel, Jaromil Jireš, Karel Kachyňa, Juraj Herz and Oldřich Lipský. Fišer was awarded the Premio Italia over two consecutive years: for the films Labyrinth of Power directed by Weigl in 1979, and Golden Eels directed by Kachyňa in 1980. Other national and international prizes were to follow, and during the last years of his life, he won the prestigious Czech Lion Award for two films: Golet in the Valley (1995) directed by Zeno Dostál, and King Ubu (1996) directed by František Brabec.

Notwithstanding his prolific film writing career, Fišer was a prodigious composer for the concert hall, integrating the best of his remarkable imagination and skills. However, Luboš Fišer’s eight piano sonatas have a special place in his oeuvre. In a letter to professor Jindřiška Bártová, he confessed his passion for piano as ‘his greatest love of all’.

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Fišer’s Piano Sonata No. 1 was composed in 1955 during his studies at the Prague Conservatory. After writing the Symphony No. 1, Serenade for Orchestra, the Piano Quintet and the Sextet for Piano and Brass Instruments, he was ready to compose a piece for the solo instrument. Piano became his intimate diary throughout his life, reflecting each important phase over the course of 40 years. In Sonata No. 1, Fišer strictly respects the neo-Classical form and creates a sonata of three movements which stands in contrast to his later piano sonatas. Sonata No. 1 was premiered by Fišer’s classmate and friend Antonín Jemelík in Theatre D34, Prague in 1956.

Sonata No. 2 was finished in 1957 but it was discarded by the composer owing to his excessive self-criticism. Unfortunately, it was never recovered.

In Sonata No. 3, composed in 1960, Fišer’s distinctive style begins to emerge—albeit while still a student at the Music Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Originally bearing the title Fantasia, this was later removed by the composer.

Sonata No. 3 consists of two movements, but it abandons traditional form. The first movement (Grave Vivace), makes dramatic use of contrasting accentuation and impulsive tempi. The second movement (Adagio), opens with a beautiful lyrical theme, which is quickly followed by the contrasting rhythmical patterns and fugitive themes. Together with both the Sonata for Violin and Piano ‘The Hands’ and the Fourth Piano Sonata, Sonata No. 3 belongs to a triad of compositions—all of which incorporate an outstanding schematic structure, combining great transparency and dramatic impact. Sonata No. 3 was premiered in Prague by Antonín Kubálek, in 1960.

Whereas the earlier sonatas No. 1 and No. 3 consist of three and two movements respectively, the ensuing sonatas all utilise a one-movement structure.

Sonata No. 4, written in 1962–64 is dedicated to the memory of Fišer’s friend, pianist Antonín Jemelík, who died tragically. The inner content is inspired by their mutual admiration for the work of Alexander Scriabin. Fišer incorporated a quotation from their favourite Scriabin piece, Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70, in his Sonata No. 4. This one-movement work is divided into numerous segments—grouped into two sections, exposition and development. His compositional method—a clear-cut manner of divisions, semi-tonal melody and sharply contrasting dynamics—all lend their force and transparency to the piece. Sonata No. 4 is a masterpiece of the mid-1960s, together with his other compositions of the period, such as Concerto da camera for piano and orchestra (1965), Fifteen Prints after Dürer’s Apocalypse (1965), and Requiem (1968). Sonata No. 4 was premiered by Pavel Štěpán in Prague’s Rudolfinum in 1965.

Sonata No. 5 was composed in 1974, ten years after the Sonata No. 4. It consists of short contrasting sections which are created from brief ostinato motifs. Thematic material is used sporadically but effectively, and Fišer achieves dramatic results which culminate in the coda. In Sonata No. 5, there occurs a shift in his compositional style: with the exception of the final coda, Fišer exclusively applies the notes B flat, B, C, C sharp, F, F sharp, G—previously used in his Fifteen Prints after Dürer’s Apocalypse. Sonata No. 5 was premiered by František Maxián in Prague, in 1980.

Sonata No. 6 is the only one of the sonatas to be given a subtitle, Fras (the old Slavonic word for ‘devil’). It was written in 1978 and premiered one year later in Prague, by Eva Krámská. During this period, Fišer returned to a more traditional approach of musical expression and notation. From the Fourth Sonata onwards, there is a development towards greater density—especially with structures involving smaller intervals—in order to achieve maximum dramatic effect. This is also evident in the orchestral works from this period: Labyrinth (1977), Meridian (1980), and Istan (1980). Simultaneously, Fišer began to receive international recognition for his film music: Dinner for Adele (1977), The Secret of Steel City (1979) and The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981).

In 1985, Fišer composed Sonata No. 7, dedicated to his friend, pianist František Maxián. Although the first performance was given in Munich in 1987, Maxián gave the Czech premiere in 1990, during the Prague Spring Festival. This one-movement work arose almost a decade after Sonata No. 6, around the time of Fišer’s filmopera Eternal Faust. Sonata No. 7 is modal and divided into short sections which are closely integrated and unified, despite the strict concentration of form prevalent in his works from the 1960s. The composer uses expansive lyrical melodies as an effective contrast to the short ostinato themes. This tendency, already apparent in Sonata No. 5, was fully developed during the 1990s. Other works from this period to use this technique include Sonata for Viola and the String Quartet (1991) and Sonata for Leonardo (1994) for guitar and string orchestra.

Fišer’s final piano sonata, No. 8, was composed in 1996 and is marked by the melancholy and pessimism of its melodic writing. It has the shortest form of all the piano sonatas and there is a noticeable decrease in the sharp contrasts of the individual sections. The consistency of musical expression and simplicity of the melodic line, is very specific to Fišer’s compositions from the 1990s. In 1996, together with Sylvie Bodorová, Zdeněk Lukáš and Otmar Mácha, Luboš Fišer became a member of the group of four Czech composers, known as Quattro. The credo of the group was to approach a new generation of listeners through the immediate emotional impact of music.

In the creation of his eight piano sonatas, Luboš Fišer was able to consolidate his visionary imagination and artistic talent over the course of his lifetime. This remarkable contribution to piano literature is unique in its time. The piano sonata cycle is a testament to Fišer’s constantly evolving compositional style.

Luboš Fišer’s complete cycle of eight piano sonatas was published by Bärenreiter in Prague. The composer’s manuscripts are kept at the National Museum of Music in Prague, Czech Republic.

Zuzana Šimurdová


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