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Twist of fate
The Trio Voces Intimae comes from Italy, and plays piano trios of the German-French composer Théodore Gouvy thus filling an interesting gap in the repertoire. Are we facing a revival of Gouvy? Marco Frei met the pianist of the Trio, Riccardo Cecchetti, in Florence.
Mr. Cecchetti, to what extent is it possible to draw a parallel between Théodore Gouvy and César Franck?
They particularly shared a similar origin and both were moving across the French and German culture. Similarly to Franck, Gouvy too has Belgian roots even if his German-French origin is prevailing. But they wrote music in different ways, just look at the harmony and colour in Franck. Both have developed a great taste for the Theme and the Cantabile; Gouvy, however, was less of an experimenter than Franck - especially in terms of harmony. On the other hand, there are elements of opera in both composers.
In other words?
If we consider the anniversaries of Verdi and Wagner, in 2013, we note, first, that Wagner was certainly a strong source of inspiration for Franck. When we approached Gouvy for our CD we realized  however, that there was a touch of  Verdi in his music. In any case,  Italian opera seems to have been a source of inspiration for Gouvy that should not be underestimated;  this can be seen for example in the lightness of some of the themes. Up to now we do not know much more about Gouvy, but this could maybe change. And then composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and other German composers of the time also exercised a crucial influence on Gouvy.
What surprised you most in Gouvy music?
When the Scientific Director of the Palazzetto Bru Zane introduced us to Gouvy - honestly –he  was nothing more than a name. Once we started studying all his piano trios – three of which we have completed - we noticed a considerable talent. His poetry is truly amazing. Gouvy is, without doubt, a very original composer, perhaps because of his personal roots. He was born in a land historically marked by wars between France and Germany. Although he came from a French-speaking family he only became a French citizen at the age of 32. This Franco-German background is extremely interesting.
It has, however, also meant some huge difficulties?
Sure. The fact that he was caught in between two cultures and in dramatic circumstances, has on the one hand, enriched his artistic activity. On the other hand, it has proved a major obstacle to his career. But when you listen or you play this music, you realize its great worth. It has been a bad twist of fate and history that this music has been forgotten to such an extent. Now it may be rediscovered.
What is so special about Gouvy’s music?
The Franco-German background is very clear. Of course, there is a strong influence of German romanticism as well as French Romanticism. It is obvious that, if we compare Gouvy’s Trios for Piano to Franz Schubert’s Opus 100 or to Mendelssohn’s first Trio for Piano, Gouvy’s fall a small step below. The result is, however, an expressive personal style - very romantic and at the same time intelligent in terms of use of instruments.
However, your May 2013 performance at the Palace in Venice Bru Zane of Gouvy’s Piano Trios will be held under the heading "Hommage à Mendelssohn" which resonates very clearly.
Yes, of course; take the main theme of the second Trio that is at the begin of with our CD. The inspiration comes from Mendelssohn, but the further development of the theme is quite distinctive of Gouvy. In the third Trio the other hand, many passages are closely inspired by Schubert, and in general, all the adages are simply wonderful: I prefer the Larghetto of the fourth Trio. But the fourth Menuetto of the fourth Trio reveals much of the personal touch of Gouvy. The use of the word "Menuetto" in the second half of 19th century says a lot about Gouvy the artist. He was modern and at the same time tied to tradition. The time is called Menuetto, but one needs to use a lot of imagination to hear it - it is rather a Scherzo. The piece has a great rhythmic power while leaving plenty of room to sound and phrase. This is very special.
Where did you record the CD?
Gouvy died in Leipzig, where we recorded the CD. Of course this happened by chance. I played a Pleyel from Leipzig, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. My colleagues each played their own personal instruments: Luigi De Filippi  played a violin made by  Mariani in 1648 and Sandro Meo used a vintage copy of a 1700 cello with gut strings. We have undertaken a certain path to present the music, in order to bring back the proper atmosphere. Some solutions can difficult with modern instruments, while they become natural when played on original instruments, although in that case, you must overcome other technical difficulties or interpretation problems.
What kind of problems did you encounter?
A major problem was to provide lightness to the music . The music of Gouvy has no doubt a certain richness and it is not wrong to emphasize the link with Mendelssohn. Sometimes the richness  is in the voices - however in a more balanced way than in Mendelssohn, who often wrote works which were more difficult for the piano and easier string; Gouvy instead writes in a more balanced way, which is an obstacle to “drying up”  certain rhetorical elements. Maybe what helped us was the fact that we had played lots of Mendelssohn and Schubert in the past and in a way that makes it appear that they have never been played before, for the purpose of producing something different.
For example?
We have, for example, took seriously  Mendelssohn’s metronome markings rather than set them aside as if they were lunacy. Playing on original instruments made the achievement possible. But it is not so much about original instruments, but more about a special way of presenting music. We need to get rid of those styles that were in fashion in the ‘70s in order to bring life to the works. The fact we have been doing just that for more than ten years has been of great help.
Have there also been problems?
At the beginning, yes. When, in 1993-4 we recorded Brahms played with original instruments – we were then known as the Italian Piano Quartet - this came as a shock to many people: this is not Brahms, people would whisper. Maybe we went ahead too quickly, it was too soon. We are not used to worry about a 100% original sound, because we also deal with modern repertoires. Our marketing does not get easier  this way, given that we move from the historical practice of presentation and a modern instrument. For some, we are too old, for others too modern. It would be nice if these barriers began to disappear, also because these clichés have a ridiculous side to them. Was Beethoven a classic and Schubert a romantic? Both died almost at the same time.
The arch-enemies of Germany and France have become friends who now are the engine of the European Union. And now the EU finds itself in the midst of an existential crisis. What can Gouvy’s fate teach us?
That our differences and distinctions make us strong, because that's what distinguishes Europe’s cultural heritage. I've always considered division a stupidity. One can only face crisis united never divided. Europe’s power is enormous, in every respect. The greatness of our cultures and populations will allow us to overcome the crisis and to set an example for the whole world. If each one of us only looks at his  own interest and refuses to budge nothing will come out. Gouvy had been the victim of many such  divisions. Unity does not only  thrive on  economics but also on politics – we should never forget this.
Voces Intimae
Still not well known In Germany ; elsewhere they are celebrated because they offer performances with a sure style and solid historica information. Founded more than ten years ago, the name of the Trio refers to the name of the Quartet with the same name founded by Jean Sibelius because  Voces Intimae believes that instruments are the means by which to offer creative and original interpretations.
Further information:
Théodore Gouvy
Almost no other composer was so troubled as Théodore Gouvy trapped between two nations, enemies at those times. Born in 1819 in nowadays Saar, the son of a French industrialist, he was influenced both by the  German and the French culture. His ancestors came from Belgium. He was not allowed to study in Paris because he didn’t have French nationality. Throughout his life he found a warmer welcome in Germany than in France. Gouvy died in 1898 in Leipzig. His most famous work is the Requiem of 1874.
Festival Gouvy
Those who want to learn more about the work of Gouvy should go to Venice, where, from April 20 to May 31, 2013, at the invitation of the "Centre de Musique Romantique Française" there will be a great Gouvy Festival at Palazzo Bru Zane. A workshop titled "Migrants between France and Germany" focusing mostly on chamber music, piano and voice will be on offer. Special interest: Gouvy is always compared to other composers of his time. Voces Intimae will take part.
Further information:
The special charm of this CD is not only in the fact that it features barely known works. Above all the recordings are evidence to the fact that it is worth questioning, in a flexible way, the  sound of Romanticism. This is the great asset of the musicians who open up a new  prospective that goes far beyond Gouvy.
"Gouvy was a modern musician and at the same time he was bound to tradition"