Víkingur Ólafsson | News | Víkingur Ólafsson juxtaposes two revolutionary French composers

Víkingur Ólafsson juxtaposes two revolutionary French composers

Víkingur Ólafsson
© Ari Magg
Ólafsson’s third Deutsche Grammophon album Debussy·Rameau explores affinities between the music of two French musical giants – out on 27 March. First single Rameau’s Les Tendres Plaintes is out now
After the remarkable global success of his award-winning J.S. Bach recording, celebrated Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson returns with his third Deutsche Grammophon solo album, Debussy · Rameau, set for release on 27 March. It juxtaposes pieces by two of the greatest French composers – both musical revolutionaries – exploring the contrasts and common ground between them. The innovative new recording follows Ólafsson’s extraordinary albums Philip Glass Piano Works and Johann Sebastian Bach.
"This album is set up as a dialogue between two of my favourite composers, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claude Debussy. I see them as musical brothers, kindred spirits even though one was 180 years older than the other. They were musicians of the future, who loved to stir things up. They were two uniquely gifted keyboard composers, two progressive and fiercely original musical thinkers who could capture incredibly evocative images through sound. I want to show Rameau as a futurist and I want to emphasise Debussy’s deep roots in the French baroque – and in Rameau’s music in particular. The idea is that the listener almost forgets who is who, while listening to the album.” – Víkingur Ólafsson on Debussy · Rameau
Ingenious works of remarkable diversity, Rameau’s keyboard works are rarely programmed or recorded on today’s modern instrument. Ólafsson discovered the great Baroque composer’s keyboard music during his student days in New York, courtesy of Emil Gilels’ Deutsche Grammophon recording of Le Rappel des oiseaux. “I was immediately fascinated by the music and how well it lends itself to the modern piano, at least in Gilels’ noble rendition, with its layered textures and light and shades,” he recalls. Keen to communicate this world of wonder, Ólafsson transcribed for modern piano an interlude from Rameau’s opera Les Boréades – to stunning effect: The Arts and the Hours, accompanied by a music video, will be the third single from the album following on from first single Les Tendres Plaintes, a jewel from Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin (out now), and Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin (21 February).
This voyage of musical discovery introduced Ólafsson to the immaculate blend of “freedom and discipline” in Rameau’s piano writing, qualities which he also recognised in the piano music of Debussy. “As extraordinary innovators of both harmony and form, with a unique ear for colour and a keen sense of the theatrical, both composers wrote music which engages more senses than just that of hearing”, he observes. “And both enjoyed giving their compositions titles that stimulate the imagination – the music itself ranging from the purely programmatic to the entirely abstract. All these things inform the way the music of this album has been selected and arranged. As in previous albums, however, I have let the music itself guide me, rather than any fixed ideology.”
The album opens with Debussy’s rarely performed La Damoiselle élue, a work existing in the space between life and death, a conversation between those who cannot converse. It is an appropriate starting point for this conversation between two great composers – the perfect curtain-opener to a remarkable new album.