Between Shadow and Light
by Enrico Fubini*
Initiation to the Shadow, Music for Piano, Naxos Records
A new CD by Sira Hernandez
Sira Hernandez’s Don’t Forget about That is perhaps the most important and meaningful piece in her album, inspired by the figure of Primo Levi 100 years after his birth and after his imprisonment at Auschwitz.
Born in Barcelona, Sira Hernández is considered one of most brilliant pianists on the contemporary Spanish scene. She studied music at Turin’s Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi under the guidance of Maestro Remo Remoli and later of Felice Quaranta. After returning to Barcelona, she perfected her studies at the Accademia Marshall, where she took lessons from the great pianist, Alicia de Larrocha. Sira Hernandez is known as a great pianist but her intense activity is not limited to performance in that she has expanded her activities to the field of composition. In her album, Initiation to the Shadow. Music for Piano, recently issued as a CD by Naxos, she offers her most intimate and essential creativity to her listeners both as an excellent pianist and as a composer with her own original direction of creativity.
Her newly released CD contains four extremely meaningful pieces that are united stylistically as a spiritual search that leads us into an atmosphere between shadow and light, where the shadow is never darkness and the light is never blinding and always sweetly nuanced. The first piece, Iniciation a la somber / Initiation to the Shadow, is inspired by the poet Angel Crespo. It is a brief but very intense composition that gives us some sort of key to understanding the spirit also in the three pieces that follow. An inner voice intones a simple melody made up of a few notes that shape themselves like a great arabesque. Meanwhile, the lower notes repeat chords as background that create an indistinct murmur. This technique of counterbalancing a subtle melody with obstinately repeated chords is also found in the other pieces, recalling a technique in minimalist music. The sometimes obsessive repetition of elements – even minimal elements of melodic fragments – evokes a circular universe. In fact, all these compositions here give us a chance to look into a musical perspective that tends to repeat itself circularly and sweetly but never violently, never reaching linearly towards any conclusive point.
Terra Santa / Holy Land – There are Angels in Heaven, the second piece, is inspired by poetess Alda Merini’s book, Terra Santa, Ci sono angeli nel cielo / Holy land: There are Angels in Heaven (1984), which she composed in the years while she was being treated at a psychiatric hospital. Her poetry takes us into a distraught atmosphere and into the dark deep spaces of insanity. Hernandez never aims to compose descriptive music, but rather music that is subtly evocative. In Terra Santa we cannot sense any climate of violence, as might be imagined for the tragic topic of insanity, the violence from which the poetic text and the inspiration of the musical piece originated. Rather, there is an atmosphere of sadness and loneliness. In some way, Merini’s condition is evoked by a musical climate that is based on an obsessive repetition of a melodic theme and chords, which, as a dim background, summon up the neurosis of the desolate spaces of insanity.
The third piece in the CD, Fantasía para piano / Fantasia for Piano, again takes up chords with an obsessive rhythm that recalls the sound of a sewing machine and gives us a sense that we cannot escape from time, time that counts its minutes and seconds with such an obsessive rhythm and leads into a repetitive atmosphere full of anguish.
The last piece, Don’t Forget about That, perhaps the most important and meaningful, is inspired by the figure of Primo Levi 100 years after his birth and after his imprisonment at Auschwitz. As has been said, Hernandez’s music is not descriptive, and here, where there may have been a great temptation to be descriptive, she entirely avoided falling into banal descriptivism. Nevertheless, although her music is not descriptive, it could be termed vaguely evocative. The piece begins with a subtle and fragile melody and is soon interrupted by a mass of chords that repeat themselves almost to the level of violence. These chords almost sound like a warning “not to forget” and potentially evoke the tragic hardness of Auschwitz. The melody returns many times over the span of the composition, where listeners can experience it as a weak texture of memory that emerges bit by bit inside an empty, opaque space. The whole very complex composition can be interpreted in various ways. The simple structure on which it is based is made up of anguishing and obsessive chords. These repeat like solid blocks and alternate with a faint, sweet melody. This is a melody that insinuates itself into this dark background and suggests that images of serenity and hope can remain even in the greatest pain, despite everything.
The musical style that weaves together the four pieces of the CD is clearly tonal. Hernandez’s piano is classical. We can hear echoes of Schumann and Chopin, filtered through Debussy. Her music is purposely far from the avantgarde movements of the twentieth century. Although her music is delicate and at times full of tenderness, it also knows how to reach power and full sonority if necessary. In this CD, Hernandez shows us how talented she is and how masterful she is in advancing her intense and original personal style. She shies away from any attempts at pleasing her listeners with what is in fashion. Not only this, she shows us how exceptionally sensitive and skillful she is as a pianist.
*former Professor of the History of Music at the University of Turin