Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
SWART, Inette. Mystical soundscapes in Stefans Grové's music with specific reference to his Haunting Music for piano. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.2, pp.204-230. ISSN 2224-7912.
Stefans Grové's compositional ideas often come to him in dreams. This article explores the processes inherent in the creation, re-creation by the performer, and appreciation of Grové's unique soundscapes, where the silences between the notes and the overtones are often as important as the dissonances - which he describes as "colourful harmonies" - themselves. Grové's music is often regarded as relatively inaccessible and elusive. This article explores how it can be better understood if the listener can develop the ability to appreciate its programmatic nature, to draw on strong visual imagination when "translating" sound into images, and to approach his music with openness to non-traditional structures and harmonies. Only by these means can access be gained to the richness of the mystical soundscapes and musical imagery. Primarily an autodidact, the 90-year-old Grové underwent a gradual stylistic transformation during his career; his oeuvre ranged from music rooted in the neo-classical, impressionist and expressionist styles of the Western tradition, to the predominantly African inspiration of the post-1984 period. The transitions between these periods are not sharply demarcated but rather constitute a gradual development. Neither is his African-inspired style exclusive of the other styles, as is evident in such recent works as 8 Lieder nach Texten von Conrad Meyer for soprano, flute and Wandering through an enchanted forest and Hobgoblin at midnight.The work by Maurice Ravel, in turn, is based on three phantasmagoric poems by Aloysius Bertrand, namely Ondine, Le Gibet and Scarbo,which deal respectively with a water nymph, a man on the gallows, and an evil dwarf. Grové briefly alluded to drawing inspiration from Ravel but later denied this - an argument is made for musical borrowing at the subconscious level. Similarities between the works are not to be found in the melodic material per se, but in melodic gestures, rhythm, character, style and programmatic content. Correspondences in the first piece include falling melodic opening motifs, the evocation of water and mists through shimmering effects and similar accompaniment patterns; in the second, notated in both cases on three staves, rhythmically almost identical pedal points, representing the knocking of the hanged man's feet against the gallows and footsteps through a forest respectively; and in the second and third pieces, the complete fading away of sound at the end. A diabolical nocturnal apparition provides the inspiration for both the third pieces; in both, the composer uses pianistic acrobatics encompassing a wide range on the keyboard. The author first encountered Grové as a lecturer in her class at the University of Pretoria, and she later, as a performer and exponent of his works, received generous guidance from the composer himself. The article is interspersed with four Vignettes depicting the circumstances at the time. As in Grové's own use of chain form, the Vignettes look first forward and then back in chronological time. Essential elements in the performance of his music, as illustrated throughout in the comparison of these works, include the exquisite control of sound and overtones, the ability to create a rich variety of timbres, the dramatic use of silence, a secure sense of rhythm and fluency in articulation. The processes of "creation", "re-creation" and "appreciation" all entail application of the mind, not least on the part of the listener. The mystical in Grové's music can be appreciated through a thorough understanding of the programme which inspired any given creation, keeping track of the permutations of the original germ cells throughout a work, and imagining what can happen but has not necessarily happened. In Strange valley of the mists, according to Grové himself, the imagination must lead to what the listener thinks is there, and not to what he or she sees. Grové draws inspiration from indigenous African music and cultures, and especially from Venda legends. Many scholars and performers regard Stefans Grové as one of the most important composers in Africa. He has an unlimited musical imagination with regard to sources from which he chooses to draw upon for inspiration, his musical language and the creation of unconventional sounds and structures. By transcending our traditional way of listening to music, we can gain access to his special soundscapes and unique musical idiom.
Keywords : Stefans Grové; soundscape; musical imagination; programme music; African inspired; impressionist; germ-cell permutations; chain form; Gaspard de la nuit; Haunting music; mysticism; re-create..