Monday, November 16, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 27 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)


Antoni Lange (1779–1844): Frühlingslandschaft mit Teich / Spring Landscape with Lake / Wooded Landscape. 1839. Oil on canvas. 85 cm x 113 cm. Sold at Sotheby's, London, 1 December 2005, lot 3. Sold at Galerie Koller, Zürich, 18 September 2007, lot 3196. Signature and date bottom right. Wikimedia Commons. Gemeinfrei. Please click to enlarge onto a big screen.


Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 23/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 26–30
Stephen Kovacevich, 2002 (No. 26), 1992 (Nos. 27, 28) and 1994 (No. 30)

Opus 90: Klaviersonate Nr. 27 in e-Moll (1814)
Dem Grafen von Lichnowsky gewidmet. [Moritz von Lichnowsky].   
    Erster Satz: Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck, 5'22"
    Zweiter Satz: Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorzutragen, 7'10"
Stephen Kovacevich (1992): 13 min

AA: The first of Beethoven's late piano sonatas. For Wilhelm von Lenz, who first divided Beethoven's output into three periods, it was the last of the middle period. Passions are no longer raging, but there is an extraordinary fullness and depth of feeling.

It starts with striking, dynamic, vigorous questions and proceeds with tender, gentle and undulating answers. A spirit of nobility and generosity prevails. The emotions are direct and gentle. It has been said that for Beethoven, the first movement was about the struggle between head and heart, and the second movement about a dialogue between lovers. Indeed, András Schiff registers the second movement as a duet between a soprano and a tenor.

The sonata is simultaneously extroverted and introverted. Commentators have found in the first movement contractions, expansions, inhibitions, accelerations, connections and disconnections. Intonations in calm, gentle voices, and memories: Romain Rolland states that memories are always in high register.

In the second movement we meet Beethoven the melody maker. The movement is "very singing", as Beethoven himself instructs. The melody is sober, fresh and cheerful. A misleading simplicity contains unfathomable depths.

During the Congress of Vienna, 1814–1815, Beethoven was at the top of his fame, but that was due to hack work such as Wellington's Victory. In the same year he finished his opera Fidelio. By this time, Beethoven himself was no longer able to play his compositions the way he wanted.

András Schiff's Guardian Lecture on piano sonata No. 27 is again a deeply moving work of art in its own right, a companion piece full of reminiscences of predecessors (Bach, Mozart, Haydn) and connections with followers, most prominently Schubert.

I'm beginning to realize that besides Schiff an exceptional commentator of Beethoven's piano sonatas is Anton Kuerti who writes about the ending: "The bitter taste and the unrest that is evoked and left behind by these passages forms a contrast to the songful health of the main theme, and this contrast is dissolved wonderfully in the coda, when the theme swells on majestically in order to present its hidden passions." See more beyond the jump break.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: ANTON KUERTI ON BEETHOVEN'S PIANO SONATA NO. 27:

Monday, November 09, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 26 "Das Lebewohl" / "Les Adieux" (Stephen Kovacevich, 2002)


CD cover art: Antoni Lange (Austria, 1774–1842): Landschaft mit Fischern / Krajobraz z rybakami / Landscape with Fishermen. 1840. Source/Photographer: Dmitrij Szelest, Lwowska Galeria Obrazów Auriga Warszawa (1990). From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click on the image to examine it on the biggest screen. God is in the detail.


Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 23/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 26–30
Stephen Kovacevich, 2002 (No. 26), 1992 (Nos. 27, 28) and 1994 (No. 30)

Opus 81a: Klaviersonate Nr. 26 in Es-Dur "Das Lebewohl"/ „Les Adieux“ (1809)
    Erster Satz: Das Lebewohl. Adagio/Allegro, c-Moll/Es-Dur/2/4-Takt/alla breve
    Zweiter Satz: Abwesenheit. Andante espressivo (In gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck), c-Moll, 2/4-Takt
    Dritter Satz: Das Wiedersehen. Vivacissamente (Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße), Es-Dur, 6/8-Takt
    Widmung: "Lebewohl, Abwesenheit und Wiedersehn. Sonate für das Pianoforte in Musik gesetzt und Seiner Kaiserl. Hoheit dem Erzherzog Rudolph von Oesterreich zugeeignet von L. v. Beethoven."
    Stephen Kovacevich (2002): 16 min

AA: The last of Beethoven's middle sonatas is among the most famous of them (Waldstein, Appassionata, Lebewohl).

Again, a sonata different from its predecessors. "A programmatic tone drama", "a characteristic sonata", it is a work of appealing maturity. The regret for the departure of a beloved friend is balanced with the higher joy about the existence of the friendship itself. We often notice the value of the best things when in danger of losing them.

This sonata is a three act drama: Farewell – Absence – Reunion.

In the first movement, a lyrical dimension of interiority intertwines with the external action conveying urgent hoofbeats and happily leaping dogs. The brief second movement is like an inner monologue full of questions and uncertainty. In a breathtaking transition, without a break, it transforms into the third movement full of "riotous merriment". Bells are ringing, a full orchestra is playing, and there is a joyous ball to celebrate the best friend's return. There is a sincerely cheerful surge in Beethoven's "full orchestral" sonority. The music rushes forward, abates backward and climaxes con brio.

It's a virtuoso piece that does not flaunt its virtuosity. A sonata that sports both action and contemplation. A display of a profound sense of generosity. This sober warmth is different from the passion of the romances. This is a saga of friendship, not a love story.

In the third movement, bigger powers than mere Mannheim rockets are activated. Magnificent fountains are opened. Wellsprings and fountainheads reach deep into the earth. The definition of groundswell in Merriam-Webster: "a broad deep undulation of the ocean caused by an often distant gale or seismic disturbance". This sonata is a cheerful celebration of the élan vital.

András Schiff in his magisterial Guardian lectures reminds us that of all Beethoven's dedicatees, the archduke Rudolph was the most highly valued. Besides Das Lebewohl, Beethoven dedicated to him two piano concertos (4 and 5), the Grosse Fuge, the Archduke Trio, the Hammerklavier sonata, the last piano sonata (no. 32), and Missa Solemnis. Their friendship was immortalized in the most beautiful fashion.

Extra-musical circumstances during the composition include the death of Haydn in the end of May and the attack on Vienna (the battle of Wagram) in July by Napoléon, the former revolutionary liberator turned into a reactionary imperialist. Beethoven handed the first movement to Rudolph and signed it on his day of departure, 4 May, 1809. The two other movements were completed by 1810.

This sonata gives a lot of room for personal interpretation. I remained with Kovacevich and Schiff, straying also to Barenboim and Levit. Claudio Arrau, Alfred Brendel, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Emil Gilels, Friedrich Gulda, Maurizio Pollini, Rudolf Serkin and Solomon have also been quoted among the major interpretators.

Napoleon attacks Vienna in 1809. Horace Vernet (1789–1863): Bataille de Wagram. 6 Juillet 1809. 1836. Oil on canvas. 465 × 543 cm. Palace of Versailles. Galerie des Batailles. Wikimedia Commons. Please do click to enlarge the image.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa


Fred Scott: Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa (GB/SE 2020), a documentary portrait of Roy Andersson, on the making of Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019).

Fred Scott: Being a Human Person / Om att vara människa (GB/SE 2020). Roy Andersson visits the room of the Pinturas negras / The Black Paintings at Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2018. The pictures were originally painted as murals in Goya's Quinta del Sordo house. Later the murals were hacked off the walls and attached to canvas. Photo: Cinema Mondo.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828): El aquelarre o El gran Cabrón / Reunión de brujas / Escena sabática / Witches' Sabbath (The Great He-Goat). 1823. Part of the "Black Paintings" series, the painting depicts a coven of witches. Óleo sobre revoco, trasladado a lienzo / Oil on plaster wall, transferred to canvas. 140.5 x 435.7 cm. In the process of hanging this copy on canvas, the painting was cropped. Museo del Prado. Madrid. From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click to open on the largest screen.

Jacques Callot : La Pendaison / The Hanging, gravure n° 11 in Les misères et les malheurs de la guerre. 1633. Eaux-forte / etching. 8.3 cm × 18 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Wikipedia: "The series, published in 1633, is Callot's best-known work and has been called the first 'anti-war statement' in European art. It can be considered as an early prototypical French comic strip, within the text comics genre, since the illustrations are accompanied by a descriptive text beneath the images". From: Wikimedia Commons. Please click to open on the largest screen.


Roy Andersson: ihmisenä olemisesta.
    GB/SE © 2020 Human Person Ltd. PC: Archer's Mark. P: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jo-Jo Ellison.
    D: Fred Scott. Cin: Fred Scott, Christopher Sabogal – original format: digital: RED 6K 9 – 16:9. Colourist: Vic Parker. PD: Anna Rhodes. Miniature designer: Anders Hellström. M: Roger Goula, Lindsay Wright. S: Paul Darling. ED: Michael Aaglund.
    A documentary on the making of Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019). Featuring: Roy Andersson in newly filmed footage, vintage flashbacks and childhood home movies. Plus cast and crew in the making of.
    Soundtrack selections include:
– Henrik Skram: "Bellini del A Vo1", with clarinet (theme tune)
– Benny Andersson: "Kärlekens tid", perf. Benny Andersson & Helen Sjöholm (BAO!).
– Benny Andersson: "Sång från andra våningen"
– Benny Andersson: "Du levande"
– Eastern Orthodox Easter Liturgy: "Аллилуиа, Се Жених грядет" / "Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom", perf. St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, Nikolai Korniev / on the record "Russian Easter" (1997)
Bengt Henrik Alstermarck: "Lilla vakre Anna" / "Lilla vackra Anna" (1862), perf. Alf Prøysen (Norman Record, Norske slagere kapitel 1 – 1955)
    Languages: Swedish and English
    92 min
    British premiere: 16 Oct 2020.
    Finnish premiere: 30 Oct 2020, distributor: Cinema Mondo, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula / Sophia Beckman.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 4, Helsinki 30 Oct 2020.

AA: Fred Scott's Being a Human Person is a "making of" about the movie About Endlessness and a documentary portrait of its director Roy Andersson.

Both phenomena are booming. The "making of" has grown into a huge trend during the home video era. Documentary portraits of film-makers are enjoying a mature phase of acknowledging "warts and all" but with a firm focus on achievement instead of sensation.

In both aspects Being a Human Person excels. As usual, About Endlessness was a multi-year project, realized in Roy Andersson's home studio, and Fred Scott and his team documented the whole process: building and demolishing the sets for each vignette, creating miniatures, and paying attention to recurrent details such as sockets and radiator pipes. Everything is meticulously storyboarded, and the trompe-l'œil images are impeccably crafted.

The film's commentary and press kit emphasize the uniqueness of Andersson's home studio mode of production. That is not completely accurate. Already the cinema's first conscious artist of fiction film, Georges Méliès, built a private studio. His famous establishment in Montreuil, built in 1897, was the first film studio in France. Roy Andersson's aesthetics has even many points in common with the early cinema approach of Méliès. Of later colleagues let's remember the Coppola family's Zoetrope studio, founded in 1969 and still going strong.

Roy Andersson is an aficionado of the arts of painting, graphic arts and photography, and in his mode of production there are also affinities with the artisanal bottega tradition of great painters such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Tintoretto... and even Andy Warhol's The Factory.

For those who are fascinated by Roy Andersson's love of art, the high point of the movie is his visit to Madrid: after Cine Doré his main destination is Museo del Prado and the room dedicated to Goya's Pinturas negras / Black Paintings (see photos above).

Although Andersson has not experienced war personally, a profound sense of guilt and shame haunts him because of what happened in World War II. He quotes Martin Buber that what happened was a crime against the human order. Andersson finds soul brothers in Jacques Callot (see above) and Francisco Goya, creators of the earliest classic anti-war images.

Gradually we move deeper into Andersson's private family history. His colleagues find his movies "extremely autobiographical". Like his father, Andersson has a drinking problem. During production, he commits to rehabilitation but can endure it only for three weeks. Yet he comes back a changed man, drinking less but constantly irritated. Drinking has become a part of his creative process.

During the movie, Fred Scott, Roy Andersson and his team philosophize about the maestro's mission, his credo.

His strength is his sensitivity. His movies are about vulnerability and self-confidence, about people who are a little lost, people who have not been very successful in life, finding themselves in situations that take place in a zone between ridiculousness and dignity. "Art is there to defend the human being".

"There is no escape in work, no escape in yourself". Ars longa, vita brevis.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: SYNOPSIS AND DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS KIT:

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 25 "Sonatine" / "Kuckuck" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1999)

 

Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Tausendjährige Eiche / The Thousand-Year-Old Oak. 1837. Öl auf Leinwand. 123 x 165,7 cm. Sammlung: Städel. Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main. Provenienz: Erworben 1865 als Schenkung der Erben von Friedrich John. Herkunft: Projekt Kunstgeschichte, Uni München. Please click on the image to enlarge it.


Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 79: Klaviersonate Nr. 25 in G-Dur "Sonatine" / "Kuckuck" (1809)
    Erster Satz: Presto alla tedesca, G-Dur, 3/4 Takt, 201 Takte
    Zweiter Satz: Andante, g-Moll, 9/8 Takt, 34 Takte
    Dritter Satz: Vivace, G-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 117 Takte

AA: The 25th piano sonata is one of Beethoven's comic numbers. It's the second of the carefree sonatas composed between Appassionata and Les Adieux. It is all about fun and joy.

It is immediately obvious why this sonata has been called "the Cuckoo Sonata". Beethoven had already amused himself with the cuckoo sound in his humoristic 16th Piano Sonata, and the cuckoo motif also appears in the Pastoral Symphony. In the sonatas I cannot help being reminded even of J. E. Jonasson's "Gökvalsen" ("The Cuckoo Waltz", 1918).

The presto alla tedesca attribute refers to German dances, and the sonata can be seen belonging to a lineage of German dances from Mozart to Schubert. I imagine a distant echo from Mozart's Dreizehn deutsche Tänze, K. 605, No. 1 (1791) that opens Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu (1939), its unbridled joy attaining a tinge of tender irony in the context. Russians hear in this sonata also an affinity with Russian dances.

My favourite passage among the sunny pair of sonatas 24 and 25 is the Andante in Number 25. It is like a song, "romanza senza parole" (Hans von Bülow), and it could easily be arranged as one, a Beethovenian one preceding the romantic songs of Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn. This is one of the passages in which we hear the happy heartbeat of the composer. Andante tranquillo, sereno, calmo. For András Schiff it's a gondoliera, conveying the poetry of canaletto paintings, with two lovers singing in harmony.

The third movement is made of flimsy material. The Menuetto of the 11th Piano Sonata was like a dance of dragonflies. This one is similar, like the flight of a hummingbird or a butterfly. Joie de vivre. Pure joy of movement. Finally disappearing into sunlight.

This sonata has resonated in my mind for almost three weeks. I kept re-listening to it because I had no time to "blog it away", but I never tired of it. Next to the Andante the most memorable feature for me is the richly resounding sonority immediately after the cuckoo introduction.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata Number 24 "À Therese" (Stephen Kovacevich, 1992)


Carl Friedrich Lessing (1803–1880) : Bewaldete Landschaft bei der Abenddämmerung / A Wooded Landscape at Sunset. Oil on canvas. 38 x 74 cm. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

 
Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 22/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 21–25
Stephen Kovacevich, 1992 (Nos. 21, 24) and 1999 (Nos. 22, 23, 25)

Opus 78: Klaviersonate Nr. 24 "À Therese" in Fis-Dur (1809)
Erster Satz: Adagio cantabile, 2/4 Takt; Allegro ma non troppo, 4/4 Takt, Fis-Dur, 106 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Allegro vivace, Fis-Dur, 2/4 Takt, 183 Takte
    Der Gräfin Therese von Brunsvik gewidmet.

AA: After the devastating Appassionata Beethoven took a four year pause before publishing his next piano sonatas: two presumably "small" ones (Nrs. 24 and 25) followed by Les Adieux during the same year 1809.

Beethoven was not exactly idle in the meantime. He published his Violin Concerto, the three Rasumowsky quartets, three symphonies (among them the Fate and the Pastoral), the Trio Op. 70, his last piano concertos (4 and 5) and the Coriolanus overture, among others.

The sonatas 24 and 25 are not at all like the "Leichte Sonaten" that were published after the three experimental sonatas 16–18 of Opus 31 and before Waldstein. Those "Leichte Sonaten" could be seen as "prequels" to Beethoven's entire sonata project.

The sonatas 24 and 25 are a big step forward, into a new direction, a new dimension even. Appassionata was a grandiose epic tragedy. Sonata Number 24 is a graceful, elegant piece of lyrical poetry.

The dedication to Therese von Brunsvik seems to be, according to biographical sources, no mere formal gesture of respect and gratitude. Romain Rolland, who had read Therese von Brunsvik's diary, called her "a great dreamer", a very talented person, "the woman who was able to appreciate his music the most deeply". She was also a brilliant dancer, the queen of salons and balls.

Sonata Number 24 is rarely played in concerts. It has never been a popular favourite, and also specialists have tended to dismiss it. But it was one of Beethoven's own biggest favourites next to Appassionata and Hammerklavier.

It belongs to Beethoven's bright and cheerful pieces. There is a feeling of mature tenderness, expressed in full sonorities that seem to emanate from within. In the second movement, allegro vivace, András Schiff recognizes a comical, anti-heroic paraphrase of "Rule Britannia", a theme that Beethoven would later incorporate in Wellington's Victory.

Although the duration is only ten minutes, there is a rich variety of moods, including mysterious murmurs of the forest, sweet oblivions and soul harmonies. The sparkling, mock-heroic second movement proceeds in a mood of jovial brevity. Anton Rubinstein found in it amazing laconicism while Franz Liszt stated that "this frugality is very lavish, indeed".

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Magnus Enckell 150 (an exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum)


Magnus Enckell: Självporträtt / Self-Portrait (1918). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen. The year is the one of Finland's Civil War.


EXHIBITION
Magnus Enckell. Exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, 23 Oct until 14 Feb 2021. Tampere Art Museum, 13 March until 23 May 2021.
    Curators: Marja Sakari (the director of the Ateneum), Riitta Ojanperä (the director of collections management at the Finnish National Gallery), Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff (the chief curator of exhibitions at the Ateneum).
    I visited the press event of the exhibition on 21 October 2020. The curators introduced it.

CATALOGUE
Magnus Enckell. Editor: Hanne Selkokari. Photo editor: Lene Wahlsten. With contributions by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Jukka Cadogan, Timo Huusko, Harri Kalha, Marja Lahelma, Riitta Ojanperä, Anna-Maria Pennonen, Marja Sakari, Hanna-Reetta Schreck, Hanne Selkokari, Riikka Stewen, Juha-Heikki Tihinen and Anu Utriainen.
    Graphic design and layout: Maria Appelberg, Station MIR.
    Ateneum Publications Vol. 141.
    Three editions: Finnish, Swedish and English.
    244 pages.
    Printing: Grano Oy, Helsinki.
    ISBN 978-952-737118-3
    Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020.

AA: Magnus Enckell (1870–1925) is a beloved hero of the Golden Age of Finnish art, a period of cultural awakening in music, art, architecture, poetry and literature that started around 1870 and flourished until Finland's declaration of independence in 1917. When Albert Edelfelt died in 1905, his protégé Enckell inherited his position as an unofficial grand ambassador of the Finnish art scene.

Key paintings by Enckell are on permanent display at Ateneum and Amos Rex, and his monumental works can be seen for instance in the National Library and the Tampere Cathedral. Recently a wealth of his paintings were represented in an exhibition dedicated to his friend, the great patron of the arts Sigurd Frosterus. His "rainbow period" was prominently on view in another recent exhibition called Colour Liberated. (There is a fine Enckell gallery in Wikipedia. Click on the first image, set it to full screen, connect to a big monitor with an HDMI cable, and use the arrow cursor for a home exhibition. The quality of the reproductions is quite good.)

Never during my lifetime, and perhaps never at all has there been such a comprehensive exhibition as the one that opens at Ateneum this week. (PS. 23 Oct 2020: the art critic Harri Mäcklin confirms in Helsingin Sanomat that this is the biggest ever Magnus Enckell exhibition). Enckell got a flying start to his career as an artist as a teenager, when he found a mentor in Albert Edelfelt in the city of Porvoo.

Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905): Christ and Mary Magdalene, a Finnish Legend. 1890. Oil on canvas. 216 cm x 152 cm. Ateneum. Magnus Enckell stood model for Christ.

Enckell was well connected. Among his early friends was Yrjö Hirn, the great cultural historian. Soon he learned to know Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of Ballets Russes. Later on a key contact was Sigurd Frosterus, architect and philosopher of the arts. Enckell valued his female colleagues on equal terms, artists including Ellen Thesleff and Beda Stjernschantz. He painted numerous portraits of women, emphasizing their spirit and intellect.

Initially Enckell became known as a realist. Soon he embraced symbolism, but without rejecting realism. He was influenced by Oscar Wilde, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Arnold Böcklin. Mythologies of the antiquity inspired him, as well as the Nietzschean dialectics of the Apollonian and the Dionysian. In his symbolist period, Enckell rejected colour.

Magnus Enckell: Gosse med dödsskalle / Boy with Skull (1893). Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis.


A profound meditative current was also evident in sober realistic representations such as The Concert (1898), a favourite of Diaghilev's. Enckell loved to play the piano, and his favourite composer was Beethoven. I happen to be celebrating Beethoven's 250th anniversary by listening to his complete works. During the exhibition visit my inner soundtrack was the Andante of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79.

In the same year Enckell participated in the launching of Diaghilev's Mir Iskusstva / The World of Art movement in the Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists in the Stieglitz Museum of Applied Arts in Saint-Petersburg.

Magnus Enckell: Koncert / The Concert. 1898. 90 × 76 cm. Oil on canvas. Ateneum / Hoving Collection.

Around the turn of the century Enckell was waking up to the beauty and colour of life, switching from a fin de siècle mood into a Belle Époque attitude. Seaside views brought literally a breath of fresh air into his art. At the same time his classical, symbolist and spiritual visions found new, sunny, airy and life-affirming expressions in The Golden Age painting in what is now known as the National Library, and the radiant Resurrection (1907) at what is now called the Tampere Cathedral.

Magnus Enckell: Guldåldern / The Golden Age. 1904. K. H. Renlunds Museum, Karleby. Oil on canvas. 93 x 205 cm. Photo: K. H. Renlunds Museum.

Enckell became active as a curator of international exhibitions. In 1904, together with A. W. Finch, he organized an exhibition of Franco-Belgian art in Helsinki, and in 1908, he curated the Salon d'Automne in Paris, displaying contemporary Finnish art. In 1912 he was a co-founder of the influential Septem group whose works were exhibited together with the French guest visitors Pierre Bonnard and Charles Guérin.

Influenced by neo-impressionists and pointillists, Enckell experienced an explosion of colourism. In contrast to his austere and monochromatic works of the 1890s, he now created in the colours of the rainbow. Enckell was present in the premiere of Sergei Diaghilev's 1912 Ballets Russes production of Claude Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun, and it inspired him to paint his version of the theme.

Magnus Enckell: Faun / The Awakening Faun. 1914. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Collection Hoving. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen.


Magnus Enckell was both a figure of the establishment and a stranger. Until the declaration of independence Finnish national romanticism was not narrow-minded but actively seeking international connections and friendships. Enckell was a man of the world, at home everywhere where art flourished.

Nobody could miss a queer look in many of Enckell's paintings, especially in those that celebrated nude virility. There was an ambience of "a love that does not dare to speak its name", to quote Lord Alfred Douglas.

The name of homosexual love was never spoken at the time, but in recent decades there has been no such inhibition. There is a continuity from Magnus Enckell to Tom of Finland, but only in a narrow current of a bigger landscape.

In a way we need to say no more than that since childhood (his father being a docent of Greek) Magnus Enckell was profoundly influenced by the classics of antiquity, including Ovid's Metamorphoses and Plato's Symposium. Or that among his biggest idols were Leonardo and Michelangelo, remembering their sexual orientation.

Enckell's world is pansexual, a celebration of male virility and female spirituality. While it is not wrong to call certain works by Enckell erotic, I find it confined, unless Eros is understood in the spirit of the Greek classics.*

Enckell was not a political artist, but something happened in 1918, the year of our Civil War, that shocked and disturbed him to create a series of "Chaos Pictures". I am grateful to Marja Sakari's essay about Enckell's "late style" in the exhibition catalogue, drawing attention to the series of paintings with titles such as "Chaos undated", "Chaos ca 1917", "Chaos 1919" and "Year of the Rebellion" (1918). These scary paintings are like nothing else that Enckell had produced. There are no press photos of these images.

In January I visited the three Pinakotheken in Munich, and the collections at the Neue Pinakothek cover pretty much the same trajectory as the oeuvre of Magnus Enckell. The Chaos Pictures belong together with startling views such as Lovis Corinth's The Red Christ. Something had been broken. Beyond repair.

But Enckell kept reinventing his art in works such as the radiant "modern Ganymedes" vision The Wings (1923), a passionately blazing Purgatory (1923), as well as a charmingly Bonnardian domestic view called The Artist's Study in Kilo (1920).

Magnus Enckell: Kaos / Chaos. 1919. Oil on paper. 77 x 56. Turku Art Museum. Photo: Kari Lehtinen.

Magnus Enckell: Vingarna / The Wings. 1923. Oil on canvas. 100 x 83,5 cm. Turku Art Museum. Mobile phone photo at the exhibition.

Magnus Enckell's career coincided pretty exactly with the first four decades of the cinema. Symbolism was important also in the cinema: in Italy and Russia, and in the early American films of Maurice Tourneur. Colouristic neo-impressionism for obvious reasons did not have a place in the cinema of the time. Febo Mari's Fauno and Cenere might convey some of the same artistic moods as Enckell the symbolist, as well as Nino Oxilia's Rapsodia satanica and certain films by F. W. Murnau.

Then there is the figure of Mauritz Stiller, ahead of his time in the same way as Enckell. He also created a work called The Wings. That one was a film (Vingarne, 1916) based on the novel Michael by Herman Bang, the first feature film to portray love between men. Enckell died in 1925 in Stockholm, from where Stiller had just moved to Hollywood with Garbo. Perhaps Stiller and Enckell had been aware of each other before 1905 when Stiller was a young actor on Finland's Swedish-speaking stages.

The Ateneum exhibition has been curated intelligently and with loving care, including displays of drafts on digital screens. The lighting and hanging is beautiful, and works that need protection from light are displayed in appealing ways. Key themes are presented in a multitude of versions and connections. Of monumental works we get to see preparatory works of independent artistic value. A recurrent concept is the double portrait: we see Enckell's portrait of a fellow artist, and the fellow artist's portrait of him. This exhibition is a rich and rewarding journey, and also the exhibition catalogue is worth reading from cover to cover.

Magnus Enckell's oeuvre evolved at the heart of world art. After the declaration of independence in 1917, Finland paradoxically became more insulated, and artistic reputations such as Magnus Enckell's suffered, because they had not enough room to grow in international artistic exchange. It would be interesting to learn about today's art historians' assessments / reassessments of him based on this exhibition. Sadly, the corona lockdown makes it difficult.

* Enckell was sympathetic to Henri Bergson's idea of "élan vital" in L'Évolution créatrice. It was a topical interpretation of the concept of the life force, with affinities with Hesiod, Zeno, Parmenides and Plato. Eros as the God of Love is not incompatible with the core idea of love in Christianity. For both Freud and Plato, Eros is central. After WWI, Eros and Thanatos were the twin forces in the thought of Sabina Spielrein, Freud (Das Unbehagen in der Kultur), Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Brown (Life Against Death) and Ricoeur (Freud and Philosophy). All contributed to a liberation from repression. An unchained life force can be felt as the primus motor in Enckell's art in a never-ending search for greater harmony and balance between the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Mauritz Stiller: Vingarne / The Wings (1916). From: The Movie Database. The famous sculptor Claude Zoret (Egil Eide) creates a sculpture about Ganymedes called "The Wings". The model is his protégé Eugene Mikael (Lars Hanson). It's a meta-film: the famous sculpture by Carl Milles (1910, 1914, 1916) gives the director Mauritz Stiller a film idea, and we see the finished film in the premiere. The "fiction" intertwines with the "reality" of the framing story.

Magnus Enckell: Guldåldern / The Golden Age. 1904. Lunette painting in the reading room of the National Library, Helsinki. This postcard presents the picture in lush colours in sharp contrast to the pale ones of the actual painting.

Friday, October 16, 2020

On the Rocks


Sofia Coppola: On the Rocks (2020). Father (Bill Murray) and daughter (Rashida Jones).


US © 2020 SC International Corp. P: Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley. EX: Roman Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Fred Roos. Co-P: Caroline Jaczko.
    D+SC: Sofia Coppola. Cin: Philippe Le Sourd – negative: 35 mm – colour – 1,85:1 – master format: 4K digital intermediate – theatrical release: D-Cinema. PD: Anne Ross. AD: Jennifer Dehghan. Set dec: Amy Beth Silver. Cost: Stacey Battat. Makeup: Evelyne Noraz. Hair: April Schuller. SFX: Benjy Harris. VFX: Dan Bornstein (Powerhouse VFX). M: Phoenix. S: Richard Beggs, Roy Waldspurger. ED: Sarah Flack. Casting: Courtney Bright, Nicole Daniels, Allison Hall.
    C: Bill Murray (Felix), Rashida Jones (Laura), Marlon Wayans (Dean).
    With: Jessica Henwick (Fiona), Jenny Slate (Vanessa), Barbara Bain (Gran).
    Soundtrack listing includes: Franz Schubert: Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3 (D. 899/3) in Ges-Dur, perf. Alfred Brendel.
    Festival premiere: 22 Sep 2020 New York Film Festival.
    US premiere (limited): 2 Oct 2020.
    Finnish premiere (limited): 9 Oct 2020, distributed by Storyhill with Finnish subtitles only by Jari Vikström.
    Digital streaming premiere (Apple TV+): 23 Oct 2020.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.
   
AA: I have loved Sofia Coppola's films since I saw The Virgin Suicides (1999), a haunting masterpiece of "the class of 1999". It displayed rare insight in the mystery of life, the agony of being young, repression in general and an urgently topical pain that was also being expressed in school killings. 1999 was the year of the Columbine High School massacre.

Coppola's reputation kept growing in original studies of alienation such as Lost in Translation (2003) and Somewhere (2010).

For me, On the Rocks is the second peak of the director. The Virgin Suicides was a tragedy of youth. On the Rocks is a mature drama. The Virgin Suicides enchanted me with a mesmerizing spell. On the Rocks convinces me with a sonority of experience.

I usually take a lot of notes while watching films. Tonight I sat in the first row of Kino Engel 1 and was so moved by the intensity that I failed to take notes.

Laura (Rashida Jones) is a soon 40 years old mother of two little children. She is a writer with a lucrative contract, but, working at home, she has a hard time concentrating. She is having a bad case of a writer's block.

Meanwhile, her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is enjoying great success as a businessman. Increasingly, he is staying out late and travelling abroad, usually with his trusted colleague Fiona (Jessica Henwick).

Laura is not the jealous type, but she is getting suspicious, and the suspicions are instigated by her incorrigible father Felix (Bill Murray), who at 70 is still living an eternal youth as a freewheeling bon vivant playboy.

Laura views her own perceptions with a healthy dose of scepticism. "What if we find out that Dean is just busy and I'm in a rut"?

On the Rocks proceeds as a tragicomical detective story about jealousy and suspicion. There is a perfectly logical explanation to all suspicious clues, and the jealousy turns out to be groundless.

During the adventure it becomes clear that traditional gender roles are still very much alive. Laura is going nowhere while Dean and Felix have all the freedoms.

Dean remains unknown, unexplained, mysterious. He can accomplish anything, but we learn nothing about him, his background or his thoughts, beyond success in business. Might it be that because he is not secure about fully belonging, he compensates by focusing on success so much that he neglects wife and family?

The absence is filled by Felix. Felix is the love of Laura's life, and Laura is the greatest love of Felix. For him, everything else is a flirt. But the crisis of jealousy urges Dean to change. A symbolic gesture is the birthday gift of a Cartier watch: Laura withdraws the one from her father and puts on the one from Dean.

Like in her previous films, Sofia Coppola both relishes and satirizes the good life, the life of luxury, the glorious illusion.

Like in Somewhere, there is a moment of classical music that seems to crystallize a dimension of eternity. In this film, it is Schubert's Impromptu, Opus 90 Number 3, played by Alfred Brendel.

Another similar moment is the revelation of a rare Monet painting. Felix is a de luxe art dealer with wide expertise in such treasuries.

Sofia Coppola keeps shooting on 35 mm, and channeled via a sophisticated 4K digital intermediate, the rich, vivid detail is conveyed even in D-Cinema.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: SYNOPSIS ETC.:

Om det oändliga / About Endlessness

 

Roy Andersson: Om det oändliga / About Endlessness (2019). Chagallian lovers hover over the ruins of Cologne in 1945.

Otto Dix: Bildnis der Journalistin Sylvia von Harden. 1928. Oil and tempera on wood. 121 × 89. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. – Roy Andersson singles out this painting as an inspiration to About Endlessness: "I am interested by the Neue Sachlichkeit artists because of the strength of their paintings. In my opinion they are extraordinarily sharp and detailed: everything is in focus, everything is very clear and distinct. You can't find this sharpness in film history: the background has to be out of focus. That's why I find these paintings very inspiring for my scenes: everything is in focus, even the grotesque moments in life".

Kukryniksy: Конец / The End (1946). Oil on canvas. 251 x 200. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Kukryniksy was the joint nom de plume of three artists working together. This painting is staged by Roy Andersson in vintage tableau vivant style in About Endlessness.


Kohti ääretöntä.
    SE/DE/NO © 2019 PC: Roy Andersson Filmproduktion AB. Co-PC: 4 ½ Fiksjon AS, Essential Films in association with Parisienne de Production, Sveriges Television AB, Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Film Capital Stockholm Fund. P: Pernilla Sandström, Johan Carlsson.
    D+SC: Roy Andersson. Cin: Gergely Pálos – colour. Set design: Anders Hellström, Frida E. Elmström, Nicklas Nilsson. Wardrobe: Julia Tegström, Isabel Sjöstrand, Sandra Parment, Amanda Ribrant. Sound mix: Robert Hefter. Casting: Pauline Hansson, Katja Wik, Zora Rux
    C: Martin Serner (The Priest), Jessica Louthander (The Narrator), Tatiana Delaunay and Anders Hellström (The Flying Couple), Jan Eje Ferling (The Man in the Stairs), Bengt Bergius (The Psychiatrist), Thore Flygel (The Dentist).
    Soundtrack selections include:
– "All of Me" (Gerald Marks, Seymour Simons, 1931), perf. Billie Holiday (1941).
– "Stilla natt, heliga natt" / "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" (Franz Xaver Gruber, Joseph Mohr, 1818).
    76 min
    International Sales: Coproduction Office.
    Festival premiere: 3 Sep 2019 Venice Film Festival.
    Swedish premiere: 15 Nov 2019.
    Finnish premiere, 9 Oct 2020, distributed by Cinema Mondo, with Finnish subtitles by Anitra Paukkula.
    Viewed at Kino Engel 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.

The Priest: I have lost my faith...
The Psychiatrist: I'm sorry, but I have to catch my bus.

AA: About Endlessness is Roy Andersson's sixth feature film on a career that has spanned over six decades. After the commercial failure of Giliap (1975), Andersson took a 25 year break from feature films, instead directing 400 advertising spots and becoming "the best director of commercials in the world" (Ingmar Bergman).

According to Andersson, it was Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue (1988–1989) that inspired him back to features. Andersson made a remarkable short, Härlig är jorden / World of Glory (1991) that resonates strongly with the forthcoming features.

Härlig är jorden starts with a re-enactment of a Nazi-style murder van, where naked passengers are gassed with an exhumation pipe. "History started with Auschwitz", says Roy Andersson, born on the first year of the Endlösung. "Härlig är jorden" is the Swedish title of a popular hymn, sung in John F. Kennedy's funeral as "O God of Loveliness". Ten years later Andersson started his "Living Trilogy". I have not yet seen its third film, A Pigeon Sat on A Branch Reflecting on Existence.

By Härlig är jorden Andersson had his signature style in place: a revival of the early cinema mode of tableaux (and even the special fashion of tableaux vivants), based on long takes, long shots, plan-séquence, immobile camera and deep focus. The lighting is neutral, without contrast. The faces of the actors are smeared in pancake makeup, and there is an affinity with the "white clown", the Pierrot of the commedia dell'arte. Almost everything has been shot in the studio.

Simultaneously with Andersson's comeback feature, Songs from the Second Floor, the tableau style became fashionable in the competition series of prestigious film festivals. I soon developed a fatigue for that fashion. At the time I was seeing a great many original early cinema tableau films of "a hundred years ago" in Pordenone and Bologna. Already in the 1960s as I grew into cinephilia, I was about to launch myself onto a heavy diet of plan-séquence films by Michael Snow, Andy Warhol and Chantal Akerman.

Enough endlessness for me? No, because clearly Andersson is now presenting something new, something special, a chef-d'œuvre. There are direct links to Härlig är jorden of almost 30 years ago. Among the vignettes is Andersson's vision of "der Untergang", complete with Hitler and Bormann in the bunker. Andersson creates a tableau vivant in direct homage to Kukryniksy's painting The End (see above). Another powerful sequence shows German prisoners-of-war on a death march to Siberia. In a further vignette an execution by firing squad is staged. The emblem of the movie is a homage to Marc Chagall's flying lovers – over the ruins of Cologne after WWII.

For the first time, Andersson employs a voice-over: the beautiful voice of a female narrator (Jessica Louthander). Andersson compares her with Scheherazade. Andersson also refers to the narration of Hiroshima mon amour (where we have a female narrator challenged by the male). The introductions are terse: “I saw a man with his daughter on their way to a birthday party... it rained a lot.” “I saw a woman... a communications manager, incapable of feeling shame.” “I saw a couple, two lovers... floating above a city, renowned for its beauty, but now in ruins.

The dimension of love and beauty is essential as a counterweight to the horror. The father helping tie his little daughter's shoestrings in pouring rain. The carefree dance of young girls in front of a summer café. The student couple discussing theoretical physics: "The first law of thermodynamics states that everything is energy and it can never be destroyed. That means you are energy, I am energy."

The existential guilt will not fade away, but regeneration is possible. Roy Andersson takes up a theme that has resonated during the history of the cinema, not least in Sweden: the loss of faith. An early masterpiece dealing with this was Mauritz Stiller's The Saga of Gösta Berling (1924), based on the novel by Selma Lagerlöf and starring Lars Hanson (who also played Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter). John Ford's Gösta Berling was Preacher Casey (John Carradine) in The Grapes of Wrath (Ford pursued the topic also in The Fugitive, based on Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory). We could cite Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky. "God is dead" was a widespread feeling already after WWI, and even more devastatingly after WWII. Most recently the theme has been revived by Paul Schrader in his masterpiece First Reformed.

The priest (Martin Serner) is perhaps the most prominent recurring figure in About Endlessness. He is seen re-living the stations of the Cross. "Crucify him!" He wakes up from the nightmare. He gets drunk by liberal helpings from a bottle of sacramental wine. He visits a psychiatrist who is unable to help. The best that the psychiatrist can offer by way of help is to propose that perhaps God does not exist.

A man disturbs the mood by crying on a train. Passenger: "Are you not allowed to be sad anymore?" Other Passenger: "But why can't he be sad at home instead?" A patient refuses anesthesia at the dentist's. A father stabs his daughter to death to defend family honour. In a restaurant, a waiter pours red wine to a glass until it spills over. A car engine shuts off while a wedge of cranes flies towards the horizon in the sky.

Roy Andersson stages a disturbing collection of "pictures at an exhibition". Many great film-makers have recently offered some of their best work at a respectable age: Oliveira, Lanzmann, Wiseman, Wajda, Varda, Godard... To their number belongs also Roy Andersson, who is at his best in About Endlessness.

PS. 19 Oct 2020. Silja Rantanen notices an affinity in the narration with J. L. Runeberg's epic poem The Tales of Ensign Stål (1848 and 1860):

"Jag såg ett folk som kunde allt
Blott ej sin ära svika
".

["I saw a people capable of anything / except to betray its honour"].

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: MATERIAL FROM THE PRESS BOOK ETC.:

Ensilumi / Any Day Now


Hamy Ramezan: Ensilumi / Any Day Now (2020). An Iranian migrant family in Finland: Shabnam Ghorbani (as the mother Mahtab Mehdipouri), Kimiya Eskandari (as the daughter Donya Mehdipouri), Aran-Sina Keshvari (as the son Ramin Mehdipouri) and Shabab Hosseini (as the father Bahman Mehdipouri).


Den första snön.
    FI © 2020 Elokuvayhtiö Oy Aamu Ab. P: Jussi Rantamäki, Emilia Haukka.
    D: Hamy Ramezan. SC: Hamy Ramezan, Antti Rautava. Cin: Arsen Sarkisiants – colour. PD: Kari Kankaanpää. Cost: Kirsi Gum. Makeup: Anu Uusipulkamo. M: Tuomas Nikkinen. S: Svante Colerus. ED: Joona Louhivuori.
    C: Shabab Hosseini (Bahman Mehdipouri), Shabnam Ghorbani (Mahtab Mehdipouri), Aran-Sina Keshvari (Ramin Mehdipouri), Kimiya Eskandari (Donya Mehdipouri).
    With: Vilho Rönkkönen (Jigi), Laura Birn (Annika, the teacher), Kristiina Halkola (Helena), Eero Melasniemi (Onni), Muhammed Cangore (Fazel), Lumi Barrois (Marianna).
    Languages: Farsi (dominant) and Finnish.
    82 min
    Finnish subtitles: Sampsa Peltonen. English subtitles: Aretta Vähälä. Swedish subtitles: Heidi Nyblom Kuorikoski.
    Premiere: 16 Oct 2020, distributed in Finland by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    International sales: New Europe Film Sales.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki, 16 Oct 2020.

AA: The Finnish Iranian director Hamy Ramezan is known for a series of outstanding short films –  Over the Fence (2009), Keys of Heaven (2014) and Listen (2014) – and a documentary film, Refugee Unknown (2016).

In the context of Refugee Unknown, made in Mytilene in the year of the European migrant crisis, Ramezan emphasized that the human reality is much simpler than the images in the media. The migrant debate has been going wildly awry, because there is an attempt to mislead us via fear. Ramezan also stressed the viewpoint of children. As soon as the children are taken to school, a process of integration starts. Children give us hope.

In his first fiction feature, Any Day Now, Ramezan draws from his own experiences as an Iranian migrant almost 30 years ago. But his film is a story of an Iranian family that fails to get a permit of residence in Finland.

Shabab Hosseini, well-known from Nader and Simin: A Separation, appears in a portrait of unobtrusive authority as the father Bahman Mehdipouri. Shabnam Ghorbani gives a beautiful film debut as the mother Mahtab. The son Ramin, the center of attention, is played by Aran-Sina Keshvari, and the little daughter Donya by Kimiya Eskandar. Ramezan creates a portrait of a happy family, facing adversity stoically. The circumstances in asylum reception centers are spartan, but the Mehdipouris establish friendly contacts with local people, played by the real-life couple Kristiina Halkola and Eero Melasniemi, a presence in Finnish culture since the New Wave hit film Käpy selän alla (1966).

As different from Ramezan's electrifying short films, Any Day Now is an exercise in dedramatization. Ramezan has written about his own dangerous two-year trek as a migrant in the same age as Ramin is in Any Day Now, but in this film there are no thriller elements. Mainly it is about the frustration of waiting, requiring a lot of patience. Most of all, Any Day Now is a study in dignity.

Any Day Now is the story of a happy family caught in an unhappy situation. Ramezan has a lot to say, and he knows how to say it. In a tale like this, he emphasizes that being a migrant is not an identity but a transitory situation. From a Finnish-European viewpoint I find that much is being taken for granted: the burning issues of why the family has left their homeland and what are their plans for the future. We know much from the news, but we would like to hear their particular story here.

When a film is dedramatized, we would expect a high intensity of presence, what is known in Russian literature as byt, in the meaning of a full charge of being in an account of everyday life. But I guess that Ramezan has been so committed to make this important film accessible for a wide audience that he has edited away the profound dark dimensions that were so compelling in his short films, and as a result, there is a loss of intensity.

BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: DATA FROM THE PRESS BOOK: