Filidei: Quasi una Bagatella, a Tribute to Beethoven

Filidei: Quasi una Bagatella, a Tribute to Beethoven

On February 9 the Kölner Philharmonie plays host to Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the Gürzenich Orchestra, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, for the world premiere of Quasi una Bagatella by Francesco Filidei. This piece, commissioned by the Gürzenich Orchestra, pays tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth this year. Repeat performances are scheduled for February 10 and 11.  

Here’s what Francesco Filidei had to say about his composition Quasi una Bagatella:

How to take on a tribute to one of the greatest composers that ever existed? 
I had already tried to answer that question when I orchestrated and then massacred with rash musical gestures the works for organ by J. S. Bach in “Killing Bach”. Armin Köhler had asked me for a “crazy” piece for Donaueschingen. What came out was something tragic, which to my surprise was interpreted as a piece that sought to be amusing. My intent had been to underscore Bach’s skills at construction, and I tried to destroy them at every turn, in ways that were more deceptive and trivial. 
When Patrick Hahn and François-Xavier Roth asked me to do something with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, I realized almost immediately that as far as Beethoven was concerned, I couldn’t do what I did with Bach, because Bach created, whereas Beethoven destroyed. So how could I destroy a destroyer? 
I went to work on this dilemma, and reduced it to a bare bones issue. I didn’t have to do much digging though. Beethoven worked with scales and arpeggios, that’s it. And that’s where I started from, imagining I would put all that up for grabs in a way that was different from the original score. Although I did seek inspiration akin to Beethoven’s. 
Unlike what I did in “Killing Bach”, where direct references were chosen before the treatment phase, references to the Emperor Concerto were placed on top of the architecture, which was dictated by archetypal scales and arpeggios. 
From the piece’s title (which mimics Beethoven’s “Fantasia quasi Sonata” and “Sonata quasi una Fantasia”) to the piano techniques used, what appeared almost mockingly, as if this were a suggestion that things might be interpreted with a bit more levity, was the figure of Franz Liszt, who turned out to be the first great, historical Beethoven prophet.

Following the premiere of Quasi una Bagatella, the Gürzenich Orchestra will be performing the piece on their upcoming European tour, which includes dates at the Prinzregententheater in Munich (February 16), the Maurice Ravel Auditorium in Lyon (February 17), the Southbank Centre in London (February 21), and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg (February 24).  

Photo: Pierre-Laurent Aimard @ Julia Wesely