The Four Studies in the shape of a Piece were written between the months of January and February 1989, shortly after two events related to Surrealism took place, very close in time, and that served as a starting "literary" point for the composition: on the one hand, the death of Salvador Dalí, in January 1989; on the other, the anthological exhibition of René Magritte, organized at the beginning of the same year by the Juan March Foundation in Madrid.
Program of the anthological exhibition dedicated to René Magritte at the Juan March Foundation (Madrid, January-April 1989)
As is known, Surrealism had its maximum way of development through literature and plastic arts, especially painting. The game with concepts and images did not lend itself to being exposed through music, an excessively abstract art for such purposes, and in which there are hardly any works that can be cataloged as openly "surrealist", since even those that are based on a text belonging to that current (as occurs with Le Marteau sans Maître de Boulez, on poems by René Char) are far from deserving such qualification. It is not in vain that music imposes its conventions, which can be very different from those of that which serves as a "pretext".
Neither are these Four Studies surrealist, nor do they claim to be. Of course, they take from the surrealist painters (Dalí and Magritte, above all) the superficial "touch" of stimulating the viewer (listener, in this case) by titling the work in such a way that a certain distortion/dysfunction is produced between what the title suggests and what the work actually offers. And following such a healthy habit, I will not give the listener "clues" about the music here, although I will do so about the titles.
René Magritte, Les reflets du temps (1928)
Right from a first approach, the global title wants to introduce the surreal atmosphere, by attributing "shape of a piece" to the studies. The first, The reflections of time, borrows the title of a canvas by Magritte, as a direct tribute; almost the same thing happens with the second, Ici il n'y a pas de musique, which is nothing more than a clear allusion to the famous Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
René Magritte, Ceci n'est pas une pipe (1964)
The third, Lied für ein Kindertotengarten, is based on a pun, not without a certain black humor, which I don't think needs any clarification. And as for the fourth, Zi laifquiving and marvelos sors, it is an approximate phonetic transcription of "the life-giving and marvelous source [of Surrealism]", last line of the poem Surrealism, by Julien Lévy, made by himself. This poem was read by Dalí in the course of a press conference that took place on his first visit to New York, to explain the meaning of Surrealism, without knowing a word of English.
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
The Four Studies in the shape of a Piece are dedicated to Francisco Luque, and were premiered by guitarist Ricardo Iznaola at the "Reina Sofía" Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid on February 24, 1991.
I. The reflections of time
There are two basic ideas or motifs in this piece. The first of these is formed by the alternation of various timbre and dynamic elements (pizz. Bartók, glissandi, tambura... as well as other more conventional ones) that lend "color" to a succession of individual sounds that, together, configure brief "thematic" designs of unitary nature. Alternating with all this, a second idea, integrated in turn by other elements, contrasting with those of the previous idea, gradually takes shape, growing with each intervention. As a consequence, at the end of the piece this second idea is the main one, passing the first idea to the background, to which the gradual elimination of its elements also contributes, in a kind of "inverse proportion" in the development of both ideas.
First page of the first of the Four studies in the shape of a piece
II. Ici il n'y a pas de musique
It is nothing other than a "perpetuum mobile" in which, in an isolated way, some cells can be identified or recognized to which an ephemeral melodic-thematic character can be attributed, and that are quickly absorbed by the continuous movement required by the treatment of the material put into play.
First page of the second of the Four studies in the shape of a piece
III. Lied für ein Kindertotengarten
The main idea of this movement is (as happened, in part, in the first of the studies) the development of a nucleus (in this case, fundamentally harmonic-rhythmic) by subjecting its various recurrences to a progressive and continuous removal of items. Thus, the fifteen percussions of the first intervention are being orderly reduced (14, 13, 12...) until only one is left. Between intervention and intervention, some brief isolated "comments", of a secondary nature, provide a slight contrast by means of the rupture with the continuity that their absence would have inevitably provoked.
First page of the third of the Four studies in the shape of a piece
IV. Zi laifquiving and marvelos sors
The form here is very simple. A first section, quite technically difficult, is alternated with another of a very different character (the treatment of the latter comes, in turn, from a previous guitar work, Copla de Cante jondo, from 1980), consisting of a continuous ornamental garland, based on an ever-changing arpeggiated formula, which serves as a harmonic environment for a cell in long values, developed in the opposite register of the instrument.
First page of the fourth of the Four studies in the shape of a piece