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Éloge de la vanité
Le Nouvel Observateur (July 11, 2013)
The pianist and writer Andrei Vieru must be irritated when he is compared with another Romanian, Cioran. But how can that be avoided when one is dealing with short, supremely polished texts, written directly in French, and situated in the general vicinity of La Rochefoucauld? He has qualities that Cioran lacks: humour, a 'first-person' approach, an exclusive exploration of what is concealed in the interstices of human relations, where no one ever goes. And a certain tranquillity, a delicious art of taking his time to unfold his thoughts...
LE FIGARO (May 31, 2013)
Andrei Vieru: The Praise of Vanity
THE ROMANIAN-BORN MUSICIAN CASTS A CRUEL GAZE ON OUR ERA OF LIES
We have known ever since Ecclesiastes: every creature is 'subject to vanity' ('subjecta est vanitati'), that form of misplaced pride, one of the seven deadly sins. If pride is sufficient unto itself, the vain person has need of others. His self-conceit must imperatively feed on other people. This is the conclusion of the Franco-Romanian Andrei Vieru: 'The proud man actually wants to be what the vain man would merely like to seem.'
In his brilliant, impertinent essay, divided into some sixty entries, he has said all that needs to be said about the issue of vanity. Very clearly, after Benjamin Fondane, Gherasim Luca, Eugène Ionesco, Paul Celan, and their like, the Romanians of France still have something to teach us. Vieru, for his part, is a writer by default: he owes his fame to his talents as a pianist and his interpretations of Bach, Beethoven (a supreme version of the Diabelli Variations), and Liszt. In 2007 he published an unclassifiable book in which he discussed André Gide, Malcolm Lowry, the composer Mauricio Kagel, and other topics. Today, well into his fifties, he tells it the way it is, yet without playing the moralist or donning the cloak of misanthropy.
The word 'praise' in the title is misleading: its purpose is commercial. It does not announce its author's talents as a satirist and ironist. The chapter headings speak for themselves: 'What is an audience?', 'Pride and suicide', 'Stalin and music', 'On the desire for praise', 'From plagiarism to homage', 'The ambition of lightness'. There is in Vieru something of Chamfort and Boileau, of the Prince de Ligne, and of Balkan prescience.
By focusing (through anecdotes and encounters) on the satellites of vanity (merit, achievement, recognition), the author denounces its obverse side: envy, frustration, corruption. Which is all to the good, for we are immersed in an era of lies, driven by technological despotism: 'Whatever the politically correct may say, we truly live in the midst of evil, ugliness, and lies.' Less dark, more sarcastic than the 'twilight thinker' (Cioran), Vieru is provocative now and then, but always with elegance. Thus: 'Totalitarianism is not merely the crowned form of democracy; it also represents the ultimate form of dictatorship.' And Vieru knows whereof he speaks, coming as he does from a country where the insidious terror of the Securitate reigned. On page after page, one can only praise his lucidity, his disturbing gaze: 'No one ever succeeds in really becoming what he wants to be. Pride is a form of selfishness that is, in general, unreasonable.'
This is not a book, it is a companion, of the kind we love for their presence, their warmth, their solace. In a word: their temperament.
Marianne (June 15, 2013)
HAPPY ARE THE HAPPY
The Romanian pianist Andrei Vieru is also a prodigy of French esprit, in whom finesse vies with profundity. His Éloge de la vanité provides a dazzling demonstration.
Typically French literary minds often come from elsewhere - they are out of place, whether by birth or by vocation. Chateaubriand was forged by his exile in London, Stendhal elected his true homeland in Italy, and so forth. Andrei Vieru is doubly out of place: he is an artist - the great pianist whose reputation is well known - and he is Romanian. A double ration of useful distance. Here he offers us a collection of pieces as brilliant as it is disagreeable for the conventional way of thinking in our French climes.
All of this comes in an elevated, and strange, literary form, which is neither the lapidary form of the moralist who takes hold of his subject and disposes of it in a striking formula, nor an anthology of aphorisms, nor a series of fragments, but borrows from all of these and constitutes a sort of collection of miniature essays focusing on the theme of vanity, the French theme par excellence. So we get a large number of brief chapters on varied pretexts, ranging from a reverse analysis of the theme of suicide in Cioran to reflections on the rivalry of Mozart and Salieri. We encounter pride, vanity, and particularly envy, to which the author attributes many social virtues.
Above all else, as an artist, Vieru believes in the notion of a personal gift, which structures a man's existence, guides him, reveals him to himself, marks the dividing line between making a failure or a success of one's life. He reveres hierarchy, the distinction between great and small, between genius and talent, as the intellectual consequence of one's gift. Merit, which is a way of trying to claim a gift that life has not bestowed on one in order to rise in the artificial hierarchy of social honours, gets short shrift from him: "If merit entered into the designs of Providence, then the Lord would not move in mysterious ways", he drolly observes. This conception might lead to a ponderous Jansenism, but it invariably turns to a joyous ferocity, an uninhibited celebration of distributive injustice. No one else still dares insult human misery so wittily, so eruditely, and so subtly.
Marin de Viry
Les Lettres Françaises (July 4, 2013)
VIERU: PARADOXES AND MORALITY OF MUSIC
Even if the pianist Andrei Vieru were not a writer, he would still be a special case. Even if he were not a mathematician, one would still wonder about the oddness of his personality. And yet this Romanian, the son of the composer Anatol Vieru, has done nothing, unlike so many concert artists, to invent a reputation for himself as an original. To be sure, he has recorded fine interpretations of works reputed for their technical and artistic difficulty, which demand, more than mere brio, a depth of analysis and interiority that one expects rather from the mature artist: the Diabelli Variations, Liszt's Sonata in B minor, works by Scriabin. His recorded performances, often "live", of The Well-tempered Clavier, The Musical Offering, and The Art of Fugue are moments of austere emotion that no one forgets. One naturally thinks of his compatriot, the conductor Celibidache, who did not have the happiest of relationships with the recording process, and whose performances preserved by radio or pirate tapes now appear to us as instants of unique musical grace.
Of course, one can read "The Praise of Vanity" as a sort of revival of the tradition of the seventeenth-century French moralists, with, here and there, incursions into the wonderful pessimism of Mme du Deffand and her famous "ennui", dreaded, mollified, accepted, transfigured. Music-lovers, it goes without saying, should be the first to read Vieru, closely followed by political commentators, philosophers, and mathematicians. He achieves the curious feat of combining a critique of public relations and the fabrication of idols and false values with caustic, humorous introspection and a revelatory look at how artists work. Artists who are capable of speaking of their art without technical complaisance and without delighting in their own person are rare enough to justify taking an interest in this unique example of intellectual virtuosity and honesty.
René de Ceccatty
International Piano (September/October 2013)
Andrei Vieru: In Praise of Vanity
Andrei Vieru was born in Romania in 1958 but has lived in France for the past 25 years. He is one of the most profound thinkers about life and the world among today's musicians. The son of the composer Anatol Vieru, he studied with the noted pedagogues Carlo Zecchi, himself a pupil of Busoni and Schnabel; Lev aumov; and Dan Grigore. His recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Liszt and Scriabin have won acclaim. Here, in finely honed prose, Vieru relates exchanges with pianists he admires, including one with his compatriot Radu Lupu in which they list 'pianists who hated their job', including Ignaz Friedman, Clara Haskil and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He also describes performers he disapproves of, such as the Russian virtuoso Andrei Gavrilov, who at one early concert 'eyed the audience to savour its reaction [...] he paid no attention to his hands and started looking directly into the auditorium' during a rapid-fire rendition. Vieru confesses, 'I was stupefied by Chopin's Etudes but also by young Gavrilov's behaviour.' Of his own technique, Vieru notes that people always makes mistakes in one passage of Prokofiev's Second Concerto, to the point where in one concert, when he happened to play all the right notes, 'I experienced a fright I shall never forget, fright with an intensity comparable to the one felt when one is about to have a memory slip.' Eloquent, offbeat, aphoristic ('The habitual role of juries is to be mistaken'), Vieru is a unique and delightful author who merits translation into English.
Le gai Ecclésiaste
Bulletin critique du livre français
Le gai Ecclésiaste: regards sur l'art / Andreï Vieru
We were already familiar with the musical talents of Andreï Vieru, the virtuoso pianist of Romanian birth and interpreter of notably demanding versions of the Goldberg Variations; now we find in Le Gai Ecclésiaste, published by Le Seuil, that he is also an erudite and profound essayist, capable of discussing art as easily as mathematics, and of shifting from the serious to the lightweight and from emotion to irony.
Andreï Vieru takes from Cioran his form (the short essay) and his tone (which sometimes extends to biting satire), but not his worldview. On the contrary, it is a deep joy in thought that one encounters in these pages, where reading blends with personal experiences, algebraic lines and musical staves to dissect 'self-evident truths' which are no such thing, preconceived ideas and other mental aberrations, which so rigorous a being cannot stop himself from denouncing. He makes skilful use of paradox and problematical assertion, but always to move the debate forward. Whether speaking as a specialist, an eyewitness (notably when evoking the Communist Bloc where he was born and lived before coming to France) or an enlightened amateur (as in the essays discussing André Gide or J.D. Salinger), the pianist offers us a fine set of chorale variations that radiates intelligence and independence of thought.
Le gai Ecclésiaste : regards sur l'art / Andreï Vieru
What a delight to read a book of such a dazzling intelligence, unfolding in a language with a purity worthy of that of a Cioran! One has to wonder if it is at all possible, perhaps, that the Romanian writers could be our last major prose wordsmiths.
The first book of a great pianist
Andreï Vieru is an oblique thinker. He is the paragon of oblique thinkers. He is more oblique than the most oblique of oblique thinkers. Here is a pianist of an extreme stylistic rigour who is also a philosopher and a mathematician.
Romanian by birth, approaching the French language with the same meticulous culpability as his compatriot Cioran, Vieru is in agreement with no one, and subtler than anyone. In this collection of texts (reminiscences, portraits, essays, reviews), he raises bad faith to the status of a fine art, as someone else did with murder. Whether his subject is J.D. Salinger, André Gide or Cioran, Glenn Gould or Miles Davis, his composer father or collectors, he insinuates his powerful, austere pianist's hands into the least questionable 'obvious facts' and gives them a stir, slowly and gravely, in his punctilious, obsessive way, not always devoid of a Mitteleuropa irony so charming that it makes anything palatable.
For Andreï Vieru is terribly intelligent, and admirably proud. Hats off!
Revue des deux mondes
Le Gai Ecclésiaste
One might think that Andreï Vieru improvised this book, that the words came at the same speed as the notes he plays when he performs Bach or Mussorgsky. One might believe this hypothesis of improvisation if one were to forget that the writer is closely associated with mathematics, which implies a logic and a concentration rare in the saturated world of letters. Here we are light years away from the customary vanity, the contempt that consists in sprinkling an essay with mediocre quotations and pompous references. The aim here is not to impress the reader. The primary quality of the critical texts assembled in this volume is irreverence. The artists Vieru meditates on are not untouchable models. This produces an iconoclastic method in three points: absence of fascination for creative activity, rehabilitation of irony, observations well off the beaten track.
By turns, and each time in resonance with the art in question, Andreï Vieru explores interpretation, chance, narcissism, the dangers of style (with reference to Cioran), the political unconscious of Russian intellectuals at the time of the ideologue Zhdanov. For the author often amuses himself by confronting the simplest aspects of thought with the least obvious of axioms.
Andreï Vieru is truly persuasive when he is closest to interpretation - in the musical sense, that is to say when he monopolises rhythm, modulation, cadence, energy. From this point of view, the chapter 'Art and accessibility' is perhaps the most representative example in the book. Against the 'virus of vulgarity', Vieru paints a portrait of Miles Davis as a subtle opponent of kitsch. He calmly writes: 'That a fanatic of style should have adopted a cool tone is hardly a surprise. Once matured, a style rids itself of the tachycardia and fevers that have engendered it. To practise such a style already presupposes all the discipline of a certain type of coldness.'
Le Monde de la Musique
Reflections of a pianist
Andreï Vieru is a cheerful pessimist, if we are to believe the title of his book. He dispels our illusions, clarifying the subjects he treats with pitiless lucidity but also with a taste for paradox. From Cage, Gould, Bach and Miles Davis, we move on to literature and philosophy. It cannot be denied that there is something of a (keenly creative) obsession here, but what the reader gets out of it is a stimulus that preserves him or her from that scourge of the present age, monolithic thinking.
Leafing through this collection of texts by Vieru, one again comes across the 'consolatory melancholy' perceptible in the Romanian pianist's recordings of The Well-tempered Clavier.
Whether dealing with music, literature, painting or mathematics, Vieru combines erudition and nostalgic irony in a lively style that is a pleasure to read. On the steep pathways explored by this original philosophy, we will encounter the figures of Anatol Vieru (his composer father) and Cioran (whom the general tone of these reflections often calls to mind), but also Salinger, Gould, Shostakovich. This demanding and unpredictable book will surprise its readers, prompting them to question their views on the relationship between music and language or the association between styles of piano playing and styles of thought. And it will make them want to listen again to its author's recordings, in order to see how he deals in practice with some of the paradoxes he analyses in so unexpected a fashion.
Most composers sink without trace on the day of their death - by which I mean that no one worries about the survival of their œuvre, and it is after all fairly seldom that remote posterity repairs injustices. And then there are the caring sons; it is they who come to mind as I read Le Gai Ecclésiaste (Le Seuil), a collection of articles written for the Nouvelle Revue Française by the pianist Andreï Vieru. Articles that reveal a wide-ranging literary culture and an original vision of the musical world - the 'Martian' Gould, 'at once wonderful and monstrous', Shostakovich who succeeded in transforming his panic into genius, or Miles Davis, an expert in equivocation...
And then there is the first chapter, entitled 'Art and necessity', which testifies to the lucid admiration the author felt for his father, 'the only man without ulterior motives I have known'. The Romanian composer Anatol Vieru was a stranger to envy and rancour alike; he worked from morning to night in a country 'where it is always siesta time'. In the end, with his 'pathological modesty', he found it hard to accept praise.
May I testify in my turn? I was lucky enough to meet Anatol Vieru, a modest and talented man, in 1971, when we programmed the world premieres of his Eratosthenes' Sieve and Screen at the Royan Festival, the latter conducted by Maderna. Anatol Vieru died in 1998; thanks to this filial care, Screen and Eratosthenes' Sieve may perhaps be saved from the waters of oblivion...