Paysages abstraits (2012)

Xu Gehui, piano (Maj Lind International Piano Competition, live performance)

8 min.
Published by Fennica Gerhman

At the end of 2011, I had the good fortune to catch the closing days of an exhibit in Stockholm of late works by J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly. Although ostensibly landscapes, what impressed me most was the level of abstraction present in so many of their canvases. Although identifiably based on views of nature, it was as if the artists were using the landscape in order to look through it, past it, to some deeper level. A sunset became a study in pure light, or wildly expressionistic gestures could be made to resemble snow and pine branches through shape and color associations. Man-made structures – a boat, a bridge, a cathedral – appear only as vague outlines, frequently perceptible only because they are mentioned in the title, and are subsumed into the mist. Beauty is often a veil for the violent processes at work underneath, and paint, like musical notation, is merely a gateway to the truth of landscape.

Another facet I found inspiring was how a common goal seemed to render their respective techniques ahistorical in a way. These artists’ languages, however distant temporally, were more remarkable for their similarities than their differences. These are the qualities I tried to capture in this short piano work, in which stylistic surfaces from several time periods overlay an essential sameness of gestural language. Colors morph constantly from bright diatonic sonorities to hard dissonance and back, gestures form and dissolve quickly into one another, from percussive jabs to soft, ringing stasis. Familiar objects come into view briefly, only to recede back into the clouds of resonance, and linear narrative is suppressed in favor of elemental contrast, the only guiding principle being a search for color, bright light and diffuse beauty.

Paysages abstraits was commissioned by the Sibelius Academy for the Maj Lind International Piano Competition.