By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 20 JULY 2016 The French pianist, Pascal Amoyel, by
turns musician, actor, poet and magician, presented a fascinating show,
Le jour où jai rencontré Franz Liszt (The day I met Franz
Liszt), illustrating the life of the great composer, Franz Liszt, at the
Theatre du Ranelagh in Paris in March. The theatre was packed each night,
when audiences discovered Amoyel, alone on stage with his piano and texts
that he had written, conjure up the life of Liszt from the age of 7 in his
small Hungarian village to the age of 35, when he left the concert hall to
concentrate on his creative work. The life of the Austrian Hungarian
composer, adulated in his short career, when he was noted for his
innumerable feminine conquests, was unraveled via excerpts of music from
Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Wagner, to which Amoyel added several
of his own improvisations.
I met Amoyel in Paris shortly after to talk about this original and
highly personal way of bringing people to listen to classical music, to
audiences who otherwise might not have made the effort to go to a concert
"The story behind Franz Liszt goes back many years
when I began to become somewhat disillusioned if not a little bored with
simply going into an auditorium, playing my piece and then going home.
Recitals alone were beginning to lose meaning for me, and then in 2008 I
had an extraordinary encounter with two people who changed my way of
looking at things.
I was in London and met Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, an accomplished
cellist, and Simon Laks, a pianist and composer, who had both been
interned in Auschwich for 3 years. In the mens block, Block 15, they had
discovered a set of musical instruments in perfect condition, and they
told me of how, in the midst of hell, they had formed an orchestra to play
for the Nazis, but also for the prisoners, for their forced marches. They
said that the only human sound that was heard was the barking of a
"The stories they told", he continued, "made me realise that playing a
straightforward recital in a concert hall was now no longer enough. It
gave me the idea that to recount a true historical story via music, no
matter how tragic, had more relevance than an abstract concert. I needed a
theme connected to humanity, and so after working on it with my wife, the
cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand, my piece, Block 15, ou la musique en
résistance was born.
"It was so well received that I then went ahead with the thought that I
could reach a larger and more eclectic audience if I could create concerts
that were connected to real issues, making music that related directly to
peoples lives. I wanted to take people on a journey, and the next journey
I wanted to take them on was one very close to my heart".
The pianist then spoke about his teacher, Georges Cziffra, with whom he
had worked for over 8 years both in France and in Hungary, whose story he
subsequently told in Le Pianiste aux 50 doigts (the pianist with
50 fingers). Staged by Christian Fromont, the theatrical concert covered
the poverty-stricken childhood of the young Georges brought up in the back
streets of Budapest, who played in a circus at the age of 5, and
adolescent, was obliged to serve as a soldier under the nazi flag. He
escaped, stealing a locomotive from the Wehrmacht, joining the Russians
but was interned in a camp as a deserter.
"But wherever he went, he always seemed to find a piano to help him to
resist", Amoyel smiled. "He was even a jazz pianist in bars before being
caught as he fled Communist Hungary when he was sent to hard labour camps
and forced to carry heavy blocks of stone up to the top of sixth story
buildings. I wanted to bring his extraordinary trajectory to life."
It was following the popular success of these two ventures, which
combined love for music and theatre, that Amoyel decided to launch into
the life of Liszt, again a true-life story. His Le jour où jai
rencontré Franz Liszt (The day I met Franz Liszt) is a remarkable
one-man show mingling music, theatre and magic. It opens with the ticking
of a metronome on a piano, and for the next hour and a half, a mesmerised
audience watches Amoyel transform himself into a 7 year-old boy then an
adolescent, as well as provoking merriment with his lightning
transformation into Liszts father culminating with a remarkable
impersonation of Beethoven. It is a show which is not only superbly
interpreted, but is also original and full of charm.
Pascal Amoyel in
Jai rencontré Franz Liszt
Spectators learn, or are reminded that Franz Liszt was a visionary, a
man who invented the recital, whose modesty was revealed in an anecdote
told by one of his students, who, horrified to discover that Wagner had
used Liszts own chords in a score, received the reply that Liszt, far
from being offended, was simply proud to have inspired such a genius.
Amoyel points out that Liszt was 50 years ahead of his time, being the
first to abolish tonality.
But above all other considerations, the show was accessible to
everyone. Pascal Amoyel is cleverly bringing people from all walks of life
into the world of classical music, for even in his earlier, grim pieces,
Block 15, he was playing the same pieces of classical music as
were being played in the deportation camps. For Le Jour où jai
rencontré Franz Liszt, he captivated not only adults, but children
from Parisian schools as well as students from the Conservatoire of music.
There were people in the audience who had never been to a classical
concert before, but who are now hoping that Amoyel will continue with his
brilliant one-man shows.
And why not, A history of the world in 101 notes, a project
that is already turning round in Amoyels head?
The pianist and composer, Pascal Amoyel, born in 1971, was named Solo
Instrumental Discovery of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique in
2005, followed by a Grand Prix du Disque in Warsaw awarded by the
prestigious Chopin Society for Nocturnes de Chopin with Martha
Argerich and Nelson Freire. His Funérailles de Liszt, and his
"Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses de Liszt were also elected as
amongst the five best recorded in 2007, and 2009.
recording, Polonia, of the Polonaises op. 26, 40, 44,
and Polonaise-Fantaisie op 61, dedicated to the memory of his
grandfather, was released on 29 April by La Dolce Volta.
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and
senior editor at Culturekiosque.