Top Ear

A piece of music that contains…no music at all

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Jeremy Lee writes

I have heard Amedee Mereaux’s “Bravura” Etude No. 24 and after that 4 or so minutes of listening (or rather, torture to my eardrums), I discovered what it meant for a piece of music to contain no music at all.

Of course, the piece seems extremely difficult.  C major chords leaping about at huge speeds mean that the pianist has to demonstrate ample technique and endurance at the same time.  The endurance, however, does not only apply to the physical side of it.  It also applies to the mental endurance, the ability to endure that 4 or so torturing minutes of fortissimo C major mass that has no climax, no development, nor even an audible change in dynamics and mood.

I’d liken it to a mad person screaming.  In a film’s climax, for example, there might be some mad people jumping about shouting and screaming and hitting each other with sledgehammers or something to provide tension and to make the viewer feel thrilled.  The screaming would work for its purpose—to provide tension—if used in appropriate amounts.  Now imagine a 4-minute film, consisting of non-stop screaming.  The audience would feel overwhelmed.  Not overwhelmed with intense emotions and tension, but overwhelmed with fury and annoyance.

Probably that is one of the reasons why nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever recorded the piece for real.  The version that I listened to was a midi.  But some may argue that the reason behind this is because it is too difficult for most pianists.

Now that is a fine argument, because thinking as Mereaux, his trump card would probably be that his Bravura is an etude, and being an etude, it has two main purposes:  one is to brush up the skills of the competent pianist; two is to murder the incompetent, overly ambitious pianist who thinks he can manage Alkan’s 30 ans in 3 years.  (Me, that is.)  But close examination of the piece shows that the leaps are “fake”—they are actually cross-handed leaps.  Which means that you can cheat.

And for an entire 4 minutes of screaming, who wouldn’t?



Ah!  More than a year after this was written, an amateur pianist on Youtube has tackled this!  Hats off to him.



Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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