Of Pianistic Virtuosity

{ Gallery Sienko Art Centre – 2nd June 2018 }

By Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian


The classical Greeks had a wonderful myth – when the city-state of Athens grew strong and confident, and began empire-building, ironically after the vast empire of the Persians had attacked them, and they, a tiny city-state had defeated the huge imperialist genocidal machine of the Persian Emperor Xerxes (containing Elephants among a million trained-killer-soldiers), by sheer Athenian intelligence, and no more than the intellectual power of their Democracy (wrapped up in a profound ‘national’ pride in it), the Athenians created the myth of their Goddess-founder, Athene, as having been born from her father, the God of gods, Zeus’ head – an alternative womb, jumping out of it, all armed to the teeth, with extra long spear, ready to do battle and win!


Zeus, one day, in envious imitation of the pregnant female, gets a mysterious unbearable migraine-type headache, and pleads with his physically disabled lame son Hephaistos – the only classical Greek god who lived under the earth and not on Mount Olympus – to do something about it … Hephaistos was known as the anvil-god, a superb craftsman – he made all the jewellery of the Olympian goddesses … He visits Olympus with his artist’s hammer and breaks Zeus’ skull, and out jumps Athene, grown-up and battle ready, and glorious …

Miss Sfakianaki, a modern Athenian who seems to share goddess Athene’s fate but in the art and craft of pianistic virtuosity … though with the … South American name of Evita, the legendary second wife of an equally legendary husband, the Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón. As first lady, Evita fought for women’s rights, attempting to improve the lives of the poor multitudes, rendering her a legendary figure in Argentine politics.


Evita Sfakianaki is a most educated concert pianist one can hope to meet, multiply technically trained to perfection, with a Musicologist’s theoretical grasp of all that is music.  No wonder she is able to perform a whole concert from memory, as it used to be the case traditionally, before score-reading took over modern concertizing … a self-defeating defeatist habit by now, against the nature of classical music itself, the rich mysteries of which can only be explored and expressed through the mind and soul of the performer lost in the magical realm of classical music.  With a companion page-turner on the stage, turning the pages of the score at the nod of the Performer’s head is as ridiculous as anything can be … but of course anything goes in post-modernist US dumbing-down of everything, especially in minimalist American music-circles – with silly titles like Einstein on the Beach – an endlessly boring opera in four acts, because its post-modern US composer (considered to be “one of the most influential creators of music of the late 20th century … characterized by protracted repetition of figurations, obsessive structural rigor, and often a pulsing, hypnotic effect” called Minimalism, frankly, simply and bluntly put, just does not know complex orchestration … he camouflages the lazy paucity of his musical knowledge by claiming … ‘shamanic’ hypnotic vacuous waffle …

Ms Sfakianaki’s program was a Musicologist Master Chef’s haute cuisine, a connoisseur’s choice of presenting exclusively the identical twins of the German High Romanticism in music, which was musically speaking a velvet-revolution breaking down the moulds of classical music set by Beethoven’s nine symphonies and Quartet chamber-music of inimitable profundity and perfection.  The musical identical twins, Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, had a lot in common, but also essential differences – Schubert, the inventor of the new form of Lieder (= Songs, and he composed 600 of them) was a gentle kind of an operatic-aria, naturalizing the human voice in the craft of dynamic and technically demanding Italian Bel Canto Opera.

Schubert’s most famous Lieder is Erlkönig, on a poem by Goethe, one of the greats in world-literature.  Every educated German would know and love the mysterious but melodious, and frightening song about a child, in the arms of his father riding on a horseback, deliriously pleading with him to save him from the abduction he is suffering, even in his father’s arms, in an insufferable post-traumatic experience. By the time the father reaches his destination at a Hof=sanctuary, the child dies.

I have yet to discover an expert’s interpretation of Goethe’s poem which I have no doubt is about a male-homosexual paedophile ring in great-power raping a child, very British Jimmy Savile … There is a grand-masterly conflation of the characters of the horse-riding father, and the Earl-king, which on deeper reading of the poem suggests that actually the rapist of the child is his incestuous father himself … and his unspecified rider’s destination is the masturbatory orgasmic rape that kills the child in his own arms.  The title is still un-explained – I think it is a subtle pun on the fairy-King (usually translated as such), not as true Royalty (but with a toy-crown, as the strong man among Dukes and Earls… of the incestuous, sexually highly perverted Prussian Aristocracy to which Goethe himself belonged, and which evolved into Hitler’s Wagnerian Nazi leadership – von Neurath, an aristocrat was one of the founders and subsidizers of Hitler, rendering the socio-political Nazi party structure a top-down affair, imbibed with the male homosexual cult of the Butch-supremacist male-Bitch, Himmler’s Gestapo-types… It had nothing to do with Socialism – the name (Nazi = NationalSozialismus = National Socialism) was a deliberate perversion to subvert the internationalist essence of socialist ideology.


The emotional texture and heat of the poem is so intensely personal, that it can only be autobiographical – Goethe’s own rape as a child by a paedophile Prussian aristocratic father, which makes the poem unique in world-literature, with a complexity grasped by Schubert’s music, which miraculously musically delineates in a short span with incredible clarity the Four characters of the … huge Greek tragedy in such a small poem – the horse-rider father, the Fairy-King, the Child, the running horse in a rhythmic tempo-variation constantly changing, and at the orgasmic rapist end, the sudden pause as a terrifying death-knell on “the child was dead”.  If Schubert had composed nothing else, this song alone could secure his eternal life.


Goethe was a practitioner of Esoteric Arts, the fundamental purpose of which was to hide deeply disturbing socio-political truths in full visbility – those who could, would know the horror of the truth, while the masses of ordinary people would not even notice it in the camouflage … and the absolutely frightening truth Goethe was obfuscating while declaring it, was Goethe’s revelation of the common practice of the Prussian Aristocracy as male homosexual incestuous child-rapists.


There is absolutely nothing in world-literature that equals Goethe’s small great masterpiece!  Its post-modernist text descriptive of the paternal abuse and the child’s traumatic nightmarish revelations overlap with many a modern victim’s account in our own days.

As a great fan of Goethe’s Faust, I was shocked to read that on 5 March 1816, Goethe was sent some of Schubert’s Songs, and on the 23rd April, he gets them back from the great man “without any comment” – nasty! I could not imagine that Goethe known for his extra civilized and cultured behaviour could be so evil – his  victimhood as a raped child explains it all …


To make matters worse, Schubert’s true female love-interest’s widowed mother “cannot sanction a marriage” because of his “pitiful salary”.

There was a remarkable law at the time, whether progressive-revolutionary, or regressive-Medieval (perhaps inspired by the Muslim Sharia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which insists that Polygamy can only be permitted if the husband can take full financial care of the wives in separate households) – In Schubert’s Diary-words of the time; “The blasted Austrian Law insists that I need to be able to prove I can support a family before they grant a licence to marry.”

Lovelorn and un-married because of poverty, Schubert became a regular drinker and a brothel-frequenter – an arch-victim of the vices created by a satanic capitalism – Schubert caught the inevitable Syphilis and died from it aged only 31 in Vienna.


Historical errors and misinterpretations are numberless – one of them is precisely this; the absorption of Austrian culture in the proto-Nazi Prussian-German, which is more mono-ethnic and totally racialized later because of the Hitler lunatic, annexing Austria (Anschluss, 12 March 1938) as his first act of world-domination. The Viennese are highly urbanized, and sophisticated in cultural taste, as they derived from the highly multi-ethnic culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in existence for a century, which is a complete dialectical contradiction to the character of the intensely sexually perverted Nazi German, even though Hitler himself was a … Viennese, but mentally incurably diseased.

Schumann, as a contrast to Schubert, was a good traditional German, totally monogamous and sexually faithful in love, although in youth very unlucky, he too catching the dreaded disease of Syphilis. Schubert’s illness was certified in his own time by his doctors and recorded in his Diaries, while Schumann’s was presumed through circumstantial evidence of his use of Mercury – ironically, widely accepted as the killer-cure of Syphilis at the time’s primitive epidemiology.


Ms Sfakianaki’s performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestűcke Op 12 brought home to me that the true progenitor of post-modern meaningful musical Minimalism is truly Schumann, experimenting with classical forms in 1837, perfectly proven by the 8 pieces for Piano.  The highly established, hence by his time turned dogmatic Sonata Form is rejected here, in the fantasy-pieces … instead, what we have is revolutionary in comparison, a mono-thematic piece, constructed on the Ritornello technique, replicated not even as a Variation (a complete break with classical forms!)  It works, because Schumann keeps a melodious tune (no Webern / Schoenberg / Bruckner atonality and cacophony here!) built upon subtle rhythmic contrasts – deliberate dialectical contradictions drawn out of the same single musical theme – sheer genius – conquer that if you can, and Ms Sfakianaki, like goddess Athene, has no difficulty in conquering (and teaching) the … Persian (now … American) Empire a lesson in … musical democratic Minimalism!

Schumann, moreover, could cheer himself up by inventing two … Avatars of himself in his musical mind; he named Eusebius – the Romantic dreamer, gentle, tender, loving soulfully, and Florestan, his dialectical contradiction, passionate sexual driving life-force, who would risk all, like Goethe’s Faust supping with the Devil for a unique orgasm (one speculative theory is that Schumann in his youth caught Syphilis – the virus had the nasty habit of going dormant, climbing the spinal cord to re-surface in older times and render the victim schizophrenic.  With no medicinal cure until the 20th c., it was Satan’s disease of European intellectuals – King Henry the VIII had it, Shakespeare had it, Lenin, the founder of Bolshevik Russia had it … you name it, the list is endless!)

The first item of the composition, Des Abends = In the Evening begins serene and gentle (obviously for Eusebius), an étude (like a Chopin nocturne), contrasted by a sudden uprise (No. 2, titled Aufschwung = Soaring) like an unexpected erection in Florestan, echoing No. 1 midstream, not as a Variation, but a mere distant echo, which Ms Sfakianaki plays with verve and clear musical diction throughout, with no fuzz or fizz!

No. 3 Warum?=Why yet again echoes No 1, romantic emotion (Eusebius) questioning sexual passion (Florestan).  The answer in No. 4 comes as Grillen=Whims, musically the tempo technically predictably quickens to fast = presto rigorous, percussionist, jumpy dance-rhythms… followed by No. 5 In der Nacht = During the Night lacking any lyricism as in the introductory No. 1, but rather abundant in scary nightmarish rhythms … No. 6 Fabel = Fable-like rather Beethoven-esque in musical content, dance-rhythms and melody fluctuating, fading in and out of themselves, becoming fully unpredictable, unreasonable and downright … mad, manifesting the title of No. 7 Träumes Wirren = Dream’s Confusions, calming down into No. 8 Ende vom Lied = End of the Song when formal rhythmic solemnity and melodic tranquillity return to Eusebius …

Schumann’s story was especially sad and heart-breaking even as I write it … he had fallen in love in Leipzig (in 1830) with his Piano-teacher’s daughter, Clara Wieck, whose father must have been one of those terrors, an old-fashioned patriarch-tyrant ruling his family with iron-fists … He had allowed young Schumann to even live in his household, but when it came to Schumann’s love for the daughter, Friedrich Wieck incredibly went to … Court, to legally prevent their marriage.  Equally incredibly – it sounds almost like a Soap-opera happening in our own times … the Judge allowed the marriage… Then tragically, Schumann’s mental breakdown raised its ugly head;

Schumann had a very high level of consciousness and profoundly humane conscience – he could never ever (for example) be a Nazi or an idiotic Wagner advocating the genocide of the Jews, just to get rid of the … Jewish composers, Wagner so enviously thought rule the musical scene in Germany!


The noble-souled Schumann, like a woman-respecting and loving male-feminist of today, was dead-worried that he might do harm to his wife Clara, herself one of the most famous concert-pianists of their time. Schumann warned his wife, the love of his life, about his concerns … On 27th February, 1854, and it brings tears to my eyes even now, Schumann threw himself from a bridge in the Rhine River … Boatmen rescued him, and returned him home, but Schumann insisted they take him to an asylum for the insane where he died on 29th July 1856, aged only 46

What a musical genius mankind lost at the flower of his youth … but what a noble mind, heart and soul and spirit destroyed by Mephistopheles … I can think of no other such noble Spirit from the history of mankind !!


The second major breaker of the stultifying dogmatic Sonata-form, in search of music liberated from the chains of the classical forms, was Franz Schubert, a contemporary of Schumann.  Ultimately, Schubert succeeded in bringing freedom to the human voice too, breaking the chains of the Italian Opera rooted in the singing style of Bel Canto which needed enormous technical resources of the human voice, very few people (like a Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, and Luciano Pavarotti in our own times) were capable of, endowed by nature to even be able to train in the style of Bel Canto singing.  Schubert successfully brought the human voice back to its natural state creating the school of Lieder singing, thenceforth identified entirely with German national culture versus the Italian national opera of Verdi and Puccini…


It was shrewdly perceptive of Ms Sfakianaki to launch into Schubert’s Impromptus immediately after Schumann, without any Intermission, preserving the duality of German Romantic (still “classical”) Music, by its greatest innovative Godfathers … breaking by then the sclerotic mould of the Sonata-form.

Although not his own choice of a title, Schubert approved of it, which is unfortunately musically misleading – there is absolutely nothing improvisational in these pieces which are highly structured, intensely lyrical, and mostly in ternary form.  Op. 142 No 2 in A flat major marked down as allegretto, Ms Sfakianaki boldly played as an Andante initially, building up a full Allegro (not even a little-one = Allegretto – a full blown crescendo the trade-mark of Beethoven) half-way through, then bravely continuing fluctuating between the two … The piece had started on an extra-simplistic minimalist (in our post-modern sense!) but catchy melody, replicated in a string of ritornello’s, ending on a very quiet calm note … Ms Sfakianaki’s confident pianistic skill and musicological knowledge worked wonders with her overall plan, almost inducing a new meaning to the title’s improvisational suggestion …

Opus 90 No 3 in G flat Major marked down as Andante, similarly Ms Sfakianaki played as an Allegretto … bordering constantly on a knife-edge of Andante (for a long time) throughout the piece – an extremely gentle and a mildly romantically erotic melody, echoing and extending the tune of the preceding No 2 …, wrapping up her program with Opus 90 No 2 in E flat Major, marked down as Allegro, but not in Ms Sfakianaki’s score-book, she played it presto = fast, even prestissimo = fastest … in mid-stream Schubert’s frustrated passion turns it into a … Chopin-polonaise which leaves no doubt whatsoever that Chopin-études were profoundly inspired by Schubert’s improptu’s … allowing Ms Sfakianaki to play havoc with Schubert’s tempo-markings, but O what an intelligently thought-out havoc, almost designed by the mythical classical Greek hero … Odysseus and his Trojan Horse !!!




Ein Gedanke zu „Evita Sfakianaki – A Rosebloom“
  1. This is an astounding piece of a review, as exuberant and ebullient as the romantic music breaking forcefully out of the classical constraints.

    As usual, anything that comes out of Pilikian’s pen makes a delightful reading. However, this review distinguishes itself as a mystifying composition of inspired and inspiring write-up. Pilikian’s intellectual magic of imageries, profound knowledge of music and drama, combined with novel interpretations, such as that of a famous poem by Goethe fills the reader’s heart with a crescendo of unbridled emotional outbursts. Such that he experiences vicariously, but vividly, an amazing concert offering selections from Schubert and Schumann. A virtuoso review, indeed, of a virtuoso performance.

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