In Catania, the “sacrilegious” Chopin of Cyprien Katsaris

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“Years ago we were all amazed by Russian pianists. Now there are Korean, Chinese, Japanese and… Catanese pianists! Some young talents come from Catania and win important international piano competitions. It’s a new phenomenon that you should be proud of.” Thus ruled the legendary Franco-Cypriot pianist Cyprien Katsaris, one of the protagonists of the international piano scene, who was recently a guest of the “Vincenzo Bellini” Conservatory in Catania for an intense week of masterclasses for pianist students. It was inaugurated by an extraordinary recital in the setting of the Institute Auditorium, in which the musician proposed his divisive interpretation of Chopin’s Waltz Op.64 n°2. A week dedicated to great music and great stories, in a continuum between precious memories and enigmas of the past and interesting projects for the future.

THE SWAN AND CATANIA. It seems that the Etna city occupies a prominent place in the musician’s memoirs: «My first concert in Italy was here in Catania, at the Teatro Massimo Bellini: as soon as I entered I was shocked, it was like finding myself in the 19th century, in a parallel universe. It is one of my best memories », he says. As if that weren’t enough, Katsaris declares himself a great admirer of Vincenzo Bellini: «He’s one of my favorite composers, there’s something really special about him. Perhaps today, in theaters around the world, he is not represented as much as Verdi or Puccini, because he is too difficult to sing: there are not many singers capable of interpreting Caste Diva like Callas did».

«An air of “Gabriella of Vergy” contains a measure identical to one of “Caste Diva”. Was it Mercadante who copied Bellini or vice versa?”

BELLINIAN PLAGIARISM? Katsaris announces that he is working on a studio recording dedicated to the Greek composer Nikolaos Mantzaros, best known for having set the Greek national anthem to music. The record will try to outline the historical-stylistic framework in which Mantzaros was active: «There will be Rossini, Mercadante and, obviously, Bellini, with whom Mantzaros studied at the Naples Conservatory». But during this operation, the eccentric pianist reveals, a great little mystery re-emerged: «An aria from the opera Gabrielle of Vergy of Mercadante contains a measure identical to one of Caste Diva. There premiere of Mercadante’s work was in 1828. Then, in 1831, came the Norm by Bellini and finally, after the premiere of NormMercadante published the revision of his work [la versione oggi reperibile, ndr]. This second version makes the whole thing a puzzle. I also met with the musicologist prof. Giuseppe Montemagno to try to understand who copied who: was it Mercadante who copied Bellini or vice versa?».

THE “INCENDED” WALTZ. The maestro expressed his admiration for the Catanese Swan by paying homage to him also during his highly anticipated recital, which opened with an improvisation on themes from The Sleepwalker. Katsaris then gave away a carousel of rather well-known pieces from the gallant and romantic repertoire, but the most sensational moment came with the audacious interpretation of Chopin’s Waltz Op.64 n.2, in which the pianist chose to sing notes that officially they do not belong to the melody, but to the harmonic scaffolding of the piece, altering the waltz rhythm and revealing secret melodies of the piano poet. It is a workhorse of the French-Cypriot virtuoso, capable of raising a fuss among the public, divided between defenders of tradition and supporters of the most innovative interpretations and already known to the web community.

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FROM KOREA TO WAGNER. The musician demonstrates his boundless personality even when he recalls with great irony the most solemn moments of his authoritative career. Of the boundless gallery of famous names he has known over the years, Katsaris mentions in particular the one and only Chick Corea, a close friend of his: «He and I always talked about jazz piano. He once told me: “Debussy is the father of jazz. The final chords of the Prelude of the suite Pour le piano they are the first real jazz chords in history”. With a moved smile he also recalls Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of the immense Richard and great-grandson of Franz Liszt, whom he met at a special evening organized by German television on the occasion of the 75th birthday of the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin: «I was dressed like Liszt for a sketch by virtuosic improvisation. So I ran with open arms to Wolfgang, who was sitting in the audience, and shouted at him: “Wolfgang, my nephew, you are here!”. That time I improvised on themes by Wagner and… Bellini!».

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