The exhibition Mondrian Music is currently showing at the Solothurn Art Gallery, featuring the “graphic worlds” of the composer Hermann Meier (1906-2002) from Zullwil in all their impressive diversity – his sketches, plans and scores. But there is still much music by him that lies unperformed and is worthy of rediscovery.
The new CD by the Winterthur pianist Dominik Blum closes an important gap. It is 17 years since he recorded Meier’s five large-scale piano works for the Wandelweiser label. He has now recorded them again and added several others too, which means his new CD features all of Meier’s piano works except the early pieces composed before 1947. It has undoubtedly been a worthwhile project.
To be sure, Blum’s first recording was persuasive enough as an advocate for Meier’s music – but his interpretations of these works have meanwhile become more mature, more refined and at the same time more rounded, and they possess an immense breadth of expression and subtlety. They also take us deep into the music. Meier’s graphic works can offer us an impression of how he constructed his musical architecture, but here we can actually use our ears to enter into his music.
Hermann Meier, 12-note composer?
We can see this in exemplary form in Meier’s Piano Piece HMV 37 of August 1956. A mere glance at the score reveals how we could engage in a thorough analysis of the structure – there are wandering central notes, repeated chords and twelve-note fields (Meier had studied the twelve-note method with Wladimir Vogel, albeit in unorthodox fashion). And if you look at Meier’s manuscript, you can see little numbers that seem to indicate the distance between entries. Is this perhaps a form of serial construction? After all, this was the era when Darmstadt was in its heyday.
But just like the work that served as Meier’s model here – Anton Webern’s Variations for piano op. 27 – you can also listen to the piece from the perspective of its gestural potential and its emotional content. And then you notice various characteristics, such as the way he focuses on certain pitches, the repetitions, the volatility that is somehow also controlled, the way the music lingers on held notes, its resonances, the expressive tension that doesn’t let go, and then the overall tenacity, almost stubbornness of its utterance. One is tempted to say: forget the rows that might lie behind the music, and just listen to how a musical space gradually organises itself, as if in a spiral.
Hermann Meier, rediscovered layer by layer
We often find such traits in Meier’s music. But his procedures nevertheless shift from one piece to the next. We find them in the three-movement Sonata of 1948-49, though we can already perceive them in essence in the Piano Piece HMV 3 of 1937 (not recorded by Blum), which follows a conventional pattern with its three sections “Marcia”, “Intermezzo” and “Scherzo”, but still hints at the insistence that surely also played a part in Meier’s maverick status. He developed in parallel with Modernism and demonstrated surprising similarities with it, though he remained independent of it. Right to the end.
Meier’s last piano work performs an intricate dance on different pitches. It was composed in 1987 for the Bernese composer Urs Peter Schneider. It is wonderful how Blum here reveals its different layers to our ears. This CD offers the best of reasons why Meier’s rediscovery should proceed apace.
Hermann Meier, works for piano solo 1949-1987
Dominik Blum, Klavier
Wandelweiser Records (Doppel-CD)
Mondrian Music – The Graphics of the composer Hermann Meier
Heidy Zimmermann, Michelle Ziegler, Roman Brotbeck (publishers)
Chronos Verlag, 2017
Publication in German language