Miki Aoki - Mélancolie (Profil)
Most of us haven't experienced Paris in the 1920s, but you can when you listen to Japanese pianist Miki Aoki's new recording, Mélancolie.
On her third solo release, Miki features works by the members of Les Six, a group of early 20th-century French composers who were blazing their own trail. "This group wanted to create music that was more real of this 1920s France," Miki explains, "so more influence of café music and jazz from America. And the music had to be simplified. So compared to Debussy or Ravel Poulenc not so much but Satie's music, for example, is very less notes. What's amazing for me, with all the simplified notation, the music still has the same impact. And very romantic at times as well. But it sort of touches you more directly, more purely to your heart, because it connects you to the life at the time."
The music of Francis Poulenc is what's really touched Miki's heart. Ever since she was invited to play his Violin Sonata about eight years ago, she's been obsessed with his unique character. "It's got this humor [and] irony. When you just think the music is very romantic, there comes a passage that's very abrupt and it interrupts. It's not like Debussy or Ravel. I started to research Poulenc, Les Six. And most of us had to study about Les Six and it was very interesting because Satie founded this group with critic Cocteau in a sort of movement against the over-romantic music of the time, so the German romantic, like Wagnerian music, and Impressionistic French music."
There is one piece on this recording that reflects the character of each member of Les Six. It's titled, appropriately enough, "Album de Six." "It's actually very short," Miki explains, "and each composer wrote one movement each. It's very contrasting. It's almost like an introduction, a personal introduction about their character."
Does Miki have a personal favorite from that set of pieces? "Yeah, I guess … it's still Poulenc," Miki admits. "His waltz, I think it shows most of his character.
"Poulenc was mostly self-taught," Miki continues. "He didn't have any real musical education. And he also said, there's this famous quote, 'Love my music. Don't analyze it.' It's so hard to explain in words, but if you hear Poulenc, you just know it's Poulenc. It's like hearing Mozart. And for me, to define this group, it's like, at least for me, it's like looking at a Monet picture and a Picasso picture. Still the same period but such contrasting impact of beauty.
"The title of the CD is Mélancolie, and that is the title of one of Poulenc's pieces," Miki says. "And that's one of my favorite pieces and it's very interesting. It's a very romantic piece, expressing human emotions. But it's written and I think it's very funny that when I read in the score, so while I'm practicing these pieces, there's a lot of indication … though it's so romantic, there's no rubato anywhere. And it's written that he hated rubatos. And he's very particular about when he wants the performer to slow down or get faster. So there's actually no space to play it romantically, and I find that very interesting."
Can you explain more about what you mean when you say "play romantically"? Do you mean playing with the rhythm a little bit?
"When we play Ravel and Debussy, we tend to have the space, the liberty, of taking time where we think the music needs it to sing more the phrase. But for example, we are much more-strict with classical music we would not take time when it's not indicated in Beethoven's or Mozart's music. And it's a little bit like this in Poulenc … his music is so well written from his own instinct that when he knows it needs time, he tells you as an indication to get faster or slower. But we don't have that liberty of taking our own time, which is a big difference, I think, with the impressionistic composers."
"The Roaring 20s, an exciting time for middle-class Parisians who did enjoy more liberties," Miki reflects. "They were going to the theater and the cinema. Women tossed their corsets in exchange for short dresses, high heels and perfume. Most of us haven't experienced the 1920s in Paris. But I think, after the first world war, there was that kind of relief, and designers like Chanel who started to make it in that time. A very Parisian new life in a flair of fashion and art and music and you can kind of smell that in the music. So I hope that people can hear that in this recording, which I definitely experienced by getting to know these pieces and playing them."