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April 18, 2024

Geneviève Soly

Geneviève Soly PHOTO Crédit Robert Etcheverry 2022 webAn interview between John Thiessen and harpsichordist Geneviève Soly

JOHN: Later this month, virtuoso Quebecoise organist and harpsichordist Geneviève Soly will come to New York for performances at St. Malachy’s Church — The Actors’ Chapel, including a special Midtown Concerts appearance on Tuesday, April 30. Geneviève, a warm welcome from GEMS in advance.

GENEVIÈVE: I am so happy to learn about the musical happenings at St. Malachy's Church — The Actors’ Chapel, which seem plentiful and so very interesting, and to learn about New York, which I know nothing about (shame on me!). I also look forward to spending a week participating in the Paul Creston Award Celebrations for which I am honored to be this year’s award recipient. I would also like to thank Stephen Fraser, whom I have known since he was a child, whose musical talents and commitment to music I noticed from a very early age.

GENEVIÈVE: Je suis vraiment heureuse de découvrir l"activité musicale qui semble fébrile et tellement intéressante à St. Malachy's Church — The Actors’ Chapel, de découvrir New-York que je ne connais pas (shame on me !) et de passer une semaine dans le cadre de la réception du Prix Paul Creston que je suis honorée de recevoir. Je remercie Stephen Fraser que je connais depuis qu'il est enfant et dont j'avais remarqué le talent et l'engagement musicals dès son jeune âge.

JOHN: We consider Stephen an important member of the GEMS family, and besides his enormous musical talents, it has been such a pleasure to work with him these past two years. Geneviève, you come from a legendary musical family, and at age nine, decided to become a musician after listening to Sviatoslav Richter play Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke. You were surrounded by virtuosity in your house. What was so special about Richter’s recording that led to this fundamentally important life decision

GENEVIÈVE: This record was a part of my parents' collection, and I often heard it played without ever really listening to it. However, one day I sat down and listened to it from beginning to end, both sides in its entirety, without really knowing why. I was completely awestruck and had an incredible experience — I felt as if I could really “feel” the musical performance in all its power and strength! As for the music itself, I loved every note of it. When my sister came to get me and wanted to play outside, I remained in the living room instead listening to the music. When my mother saw me in the living room, she stood in the doorway. Seeing that I was attentively listening, she went over to the piano and began to play some of it herself (she knew the piece well). This was a revelation to me. I finally made the connection that the music performance I was hearing on the record was produced by a REAL, flesh-and-bones person, and that I, too, could do it, much like my parents (I still remember the yellow liner notes with his image on the cover of it — I believe it was an Archiv Production recording). From this moment on, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that this is what I would want to do for the rest of my life. I was 10 years old when we moved out of this house, so this memory dates back to when I was at least 9 or 10 years old.

GENEVIÈVE: Ce disque faisait partie de la collection de mes parents et je l'entendais souvent sans vraiment l'écouter. Un jour cependant, et je ne saurais dire pourquoi, je me suis assise et je l'ai écouté d'un bout à l'autre — les deux faces du long jeu. J'étais fascinée. Quelle incroyable événement! Je "sentais" l'interprétation, sa puissance et sa force. Quand à la musique, j'en ai aimé chaque note. Ma soeur est venue me chercher pour jouer dehors mais je suis restée au salon à écouter la musique, Finalement, ma mère est arrivée dans le cadre de la porte du salon et, voyant mon écoute attentive, elle s'est mise à mimer le jeu au piano (elle connaissait bien l'oeuvre). Ce fut une révélation. J'ai compris que derrière la musique que j'entendais grâce au disque, une personne en chair et en os — dont le dessin était d'ailleurs reproduit sur la pochette jaune du disque (Archiv Production il me semble) — et qu'interpréter de la musique était un FAIT RÉEL que moi aussi je pourrais faire, comme mes parents le faisaient. Il n'a alors fait aucun doute que c'est ce que je ferais toute ma vie. Comme nous sommes déménagés de cette maison lorsque j'avais 10 ans, cette anecdote remonte à mes 9 ou 10 ans tout au plus.

JOHN: Your career has encompassed every aspect of music, as a performer, professor, musicologist, and administrator. Of particular interest to you as a performer and musicologist, is the harpsichord music of Christoph Graupner (1683–1760), which you have edited for Breitkopf and Härtel. Please speak about this project and what drew you to Graupner, a composer who has been unfairly neglected.

GENEVIÈVE: Oh! Graupner has occupied so much of my time and energy since November 2000, when I rediscovered an anonymous manuscript of his harpsichord music at Yale. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to summarize this project here. It encompasses so much more than harpsichord music. But first, I would like to point out straight away that the edition to which you are referring has not yet been published. With a publisher such as Breitkopf, the publishing process is extremely long. Also, the edition will be trilingual, which will require a large amount of proofreading. Furthermore, I am also interested in his church music, as I have conducted more than 50 of his cantatas (out of the 1418 that he composed!). I am also interested in his life. My next project will be writing a series of books on Graupner: a biography; his relationship with his friend, Georg Frederic Händel (the stylistic links in their early harpsichord music while they both worked at the Hamburg Opera from around 1706–1709 or 1710 which was the focus of one of my Analekta discs); and finally, his harpsichord music.

GENEVIÈVE: Oh ! Graupner occupe tellement de mon temps depuis que j'ai redécouvert sa musique de clavecin à Yale en novembre 2000 dans un manuscrit anonyme qui y est conservé que je ne pourrais pas résumer ici ce projet. Il englobe beaucoup plus que la musique de clavecin. Je spécifie tout de suite que l'édition à laquelle vous vous référée n'est pas encore parue (le processus d'édition chez un éditeur tel que Breitkopf est extrêmement long et l'édition sera trilingue, ce qui m'oblige aussi à beaucoup de relectures). Par ailleurs, je m'intéresse aussi à sa musique d'église — j'ai dirigé plus de 50 de ses cantates (sur les 1418 qu'il a composées !) — et à sa vie.  Mes prochain projet sont d'ailleurs l'écriture de livres sur Graupner : une biographie, son rapport avec son ami, Georg Frederic Händel (les liens stylistiques de leur musique de clavecin de jeunesse alors qu'ils travaillaient tous les deux à l'opéra de Hambourg vers 1706–1709 ou 1710 est extrêmement intéressante et a fait l'objet d'un de mes disques Analekta), sa musique de clavecin.

JOHN: Your Midtown Concerts performance will feature the music of Graupner’s contemporary J.S. Bach with eight Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I (1722) from around the time that both composers were vying for the position of Cantorate at Leipzig. Your program juxtaposes four sets of consecutive Preludes and Fugues in major and minor modes. How did you make a choice of repertoire for this recital?

GENEVIÈVE: Bach thought intensely about his collections and rhetorical elements and number symbolism, which are very present and highly significant in this collection. It seemed necessary to me to begin with the first, famous “C Major” prelude, which is so well known, and to conclude with the grandiose B minor (no. 24). I also wanted to play the 12th in F minor, which punctuates the collection in the middle and whose subject of the fugue, associated with its counter-subject, comprises all 12 notes (semitones) of the scale. The subject of the Fugue in B minor comprises the 12 semitones of the scale alone, without counting the counter-subject. I also wanted to offer an equal group of 4 preludes halfway through the recital (number 12 in F minor) and 4 for the second part of the collection. It was also important to present the major and minor pairs. Therefore, this would be the first four: C Major no. 1, then C minor no. 2, then F Major no. 11, and F minor no. 12. For the last four "diptychs" (this is the way I name each prelude and fugue, so the 2 pieces of each key/modality, much as we speak of triptychs in visual art for altarpieces with two panels in addition to the main one in the center) I simply started with number 17 in A-flat Major, which is the relative of F minor heard in 4th position. Its minor equivalent was composed in the enharmonic key of G sharp (minor).

GENEVIÈVE: Bach a intensément réfléchi sa collection et les éléments de rhétorique et de symbolisme des nombres sont très présents et puissamment signifiants dans cette collection. Il me semblait nécessaire de commencer par le premier - le fameux en do majeur dont le prélude est si connu - et de terminer par le grandiose si mineur (no 24). Je voulais aussi jouer le 12ème en fa mineur qui ponctue au milieu la collection et dont le sujet de la fugue, associé à son contre sujet, comporte les 12 notes (demis-tons) de la gammes . Le sujet de la fugue en si mineur quand à lui comporte les 12 demis-tons de la gamme à lui seul, sans compter le contre-sujet.  Je souhaitais aussi offrir un groupe égal de 4 préludes jusqu'à la moitié du récital (le numéro 12 en fa mineur) et 4 pour la seconde partie de la collection. Il était aussi important de présenter les paires majeures et mineurs. Cela donne donc, pour les quatre premiers :  do majeur no 1, puis do mineur no 2, puis fa majeur no 11 et  fa mineur no 12. Pour les quatre derniers "dyptiques" (c'est comme cela que je nomme chaque prélude et fugue, donc les 2 pièces de chaque tonalité/modalité, tout comme on parle de tryptiques en art visuel pour les retables avec deux panneaux en plus du principal au centre), j'ai tout simplement commencé par le numéro 17 en la bémol majeur, qui est la relative de fa mineur entendu en 4ème position. Son équivalent mineur a été composé dans la tonalité enharmonique de sol dièse (mineur). 

JOHN: With Bach, there is layer upon layer, in terms of key relationships, structure and symbolism. Besides your Midtown Concerts recital, you will also present a concert of organ music. What will you perform?

GENEVIÈVE: Of course, I will play works by Johann Sebastian Bach, and also by his teacher, Dietrich Buxtehude. I will also play church music and religious music, as this year we are marking the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the French Sulpician cleric, organist and musician Jean Girard to Ville-Marie (Montréal) in 1724, who brought with him in his suitcase an immense manuscript of church organ music that we call the “Montréal Organ Book”. From this, I chose several extracts. While I normally play Baroque music, I have also included three Romantic pieces for the organ that were written in the Baroque “spirit” by Johannes Brahms and Marcel Dupré.

GENEVIÈVE: Je jouerais du Jean-Sébastien Bach, évidemment et aussi les œuvres de son maître D. Buxtehude , je jouerai aussi de la musique d’église, musique, religieuse , comme nous soulignons cette année le 300e anniversaire de l’arrivée  à Ville-Marie (Montréal) en 1724 du clerc Français sulpicien , organiste et musicien Jean Girard, avec, dans ses valises , un immense manuscrit de musique d’église d’orgue que nous nommons le Livre d’orgue de Montréal, j’en ai choisi plusieurs extraits. Bien que je joue normalement de la musique baroque , j’ai également inclus trois pièces romantiques pour l'orgue écrites dans l’esprit baroque de Johannes Brahms et Marcel Dupré. 

JOHN: We will eagerly look forward to hearing both concerts at St. Malachy’s Church!

GENEVIÈVE: And I look forward to being there!

GENEVIÈVE: Et moi aussi de m’y trouver ! 

More info on April 30 harpsichord recital

More info on May 3 organ recital

English translation: Stephen Fraser

GEMS is a non-profit corporation that supports and promotes the artists and organizations in New York devoted to early music — playing repertoire from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and early Classical periods.