Project Description

Black and White Statements.

Twelve Austrian reflections about the piano, curated and presented by Seda Röder

‘I also thought about the number thirteen, the unlucky number. But twelve won in the end’, Seda Röder said in a conversation about a round number that has classified cycles of preludes and fugues, etudes and sonatas for more than two centuries. Since the publication of a proposal by the music theorist Andreas Werckmeister in 1681, the number twelve has set the standard on the evenly tempered piano. It separates the octave into twelve semitones, classifies everything in the tonal system of major and minor and it provides the foundation of European classical music. Even Arnold Schoenberg, who was superstitiously captivated by the magic of numbers – the number 13 seemed to him to be his personal unlucky number – placed this number at the centre of his invention of the Method of composition with twelve tones only related to one another. He had once researched the hovering state of atonality in short, statement-like piano pieces. ‘With Black and White Statements, I would like to show as broad a spectrum as possible of how composers treat the piano today and how they define the sound of the piano for themselves. For many, of course, it is a problematic instrument. Many do not want to concern themselves with it at all because they think that nothing really new can be done with it’, says the pianist about an instrument for which an enormous repertoire has been written over the centuries.

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Has everything really already been said? ‘Many composers who place pure originality at the centre of their oeuvre have difficulties with the piano, and with my composer colleagues I wanted to confront this very challenge’, Seda Röder explains the point of departure of her curated cycle of twelve miniatures for piano: Black and White Statements. The Austrian Sound of Piano Today unites twelve Austrian positions that redefine the piano.

Hailing from Istanbul, the pianist initially took a keen interest in the Classical and Romantic repertoires during her studies in Salzburg and Munich: Mozart – Schubert – Beethoven – Brahms. The occupation with Berg’s Piano Sonata was her first step in the direction of Modernism, and a more intensive interest in the music of the Second Viennese School was the logical result. Since then Seda Röder has curated her own projects with contemporary music: ‘I wanted to tell a story through music about the instrument that means a great deal to me and about a country that has become my new home’, says the pianist about the Statements ‘for the piano, about the piano and through the piano’, but perhaps also ‘against the piano?’

Is it possible to compose a black or a white statement about an instrument? And what is the colour in-between: grey? Black and white – in visual terms also characterized as non-colours – refer to a strong contrast. ‘The pieces are very contrasting’, Seda Röder says. The majority of the miniatures recorded here were written for her on her own invitation, and they have a length of three to seven minutes. ‘Within a limited length of a maximum of seven minutes, it is not possible to develop long ideas. Thus, it is mostly about two short antithetical ideas or just one idea.’ The original idea of recording all the pieces consistently following the composers’ surnames in alphabetical order – thus leaving the trajectory of the miniatures to chance – was rejected by the pianist. Instead, she has ordered them into a dramaturgy of contrasts. They are autonomous miniatures which, however, produce a whole with all their facets. Moreover, they tell a great deal about the new sonic potential of the piano and are simultaneously portraits of a musician happy to try out new things. ‘The story I am telling here consists of many brief statements, similar to aphorisms. Each single aphorism is a unit in itself that already captures our imagination. And when we consider everything in the context, then a sincere human encounter becomes possible with a person who asks questions, seeks answers or simply remains silent’, in the words of Seda Röder.

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–by Wiebke Matyschok

Black and White Statements – Official Trailer from Seda Röder on Vimeo.