The first electronic music disc by an Estonian composer, this LP is one of the most unusual from Russian label Melodya, what for its pairing of piano preludes with electronic experiments ; musicians and sound engineers from Estonia (including Sven Grünberg, whose progressive electronic group Mess was not allowed to release records during the 1970s) ; not to mention the incredible cover art. That it was produced in Communist-ruled USSR under Brejnev is all the more astonishing. Estonian composer Jaan Rääts, born 1932, worked as a film music composer and music editor of Estonian Radio during the 1970s, though he never ceased to compose for piano, string quartet or orchestra. As a member of the Estonian Composers’ Union, recipient of several official Soviet state prizes, Rääts was well regarded by both the Moscow and Talinn regimes (see detailed biography here).
♫ Jaan Rääts wrote the exquisite Marginaalid piano cycle in 1979. It was not his first work for solo piano, nor the definitive version of the piece, as a two pianos version, op. 68, was written in 1982. Marginaalid (or Marginalia) bears all the characteristics of classic piano preludes (play on simple chords, each prelude assigned a specific theme and variations, alternating quick and slow movements, etc), except Rääts’ elusiveness reduced the 24 preludes to half an hour (one side of this LP), with half of the pieces under one minute length, often closer to 30 seconds. The mood sometimes recalls Lubomyr Melnyk’s nostalgic arpeggios or Ligeti’s own Etudes for piano, 1985, especially #5 Automne à Varsovie. Though never frankly atonal, a few of the Marginaalid preludes sound microtonal or at least use unusual chords. Some preludes are based on intangible, ostinato notes with minute pitch variation, while others are entirely build on pianissimo notes a la Feldman. In any case, the varied ensemble is a delight to listen and would deserve to be revisited by contemporary pianists when they are finished with the Chopin Year.
Conceived in 1980, the nine Elektroonilised Marginaalid use tracks from Marginaalid as the basis for purely electronic re-interpretations or electronically processed piano versions. Sven Grünberg’s skills with self-build or heavily modified keyboards and electronics are prominent, in addition to Kalle Randallu and the composer at the keyboard(s) and Estonian Radio sound engineer Enn Tomson’s creative mix. Although a tad cheesy at times, the music stands on its own thanks to the great musicianship invloved, the purely electronic tracks somewhere between Roedelius and ANS synth experiments, while some processed piano and radical sound effects are closer to Pierre Henry or Siegfried Kessler. Surprisingly, this is the 1st Melodya LP on this blog, and I’m glad to start out with this gem.
- Marginaalid – 24 Marginal Notes, for piano, opus 65 (1979)
Track 1-24 (29:00)
Piano: Kalle Randallu
- Elektroonilised Marginaalid, opus 65-a (1980)
Track 25-34 (22:00)
Electronic realization by Kalle Randallu,
Jaan Rääts, Sven Grünberg, Enn Tomson
Total time 51:00
LP released by Melodya, Moscow, USSR, 1981