Shiraz, a city in Iran—a pearl of a city, a diamond vigorously cut—inspired me to write a work for piano, which also would be carved out of an idea: the hands’ movements on the piano.
The work is dedicated to the wonderful pianist Louis-Philippe Pelletier, and is indirectly dedicated to two blind singers whom I followed for hours in the marketplace of Shiraz.
— Claude Vivier
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.
Claude Vivier used to describe Shiraz in these terms:” Shiraz, a city in Iran—a real pearl of a city, a diamond vigorously cut—inspired this piano work that was itself also cut according to an idea: hand movements on the piano.
The strict four-part writing (two parts for each hand) remains constantly homophonic in its directions, slowly allowing the emergence of a two-part counterpoint. Following a return to these abrupt figures, the work concludes with a chorale.
The work is dedicated to the wonderful pianist Louis-Philippe Pelletier and, indirectly, to two blind singers that I followed for hours in the marketplace in Shiraz.”
I was delighted to be associated in such a manner with two unknown Iranian musicians whose life was dedicated to perpetuating in an ancient tradition. Although Vivier rarely went unnoticed in public in fact quite the contrary, always doing his utmost to draw attention to himself, he remained very discreet and secretive when the nature of his works was questioned. The idea that Shiraz “is cut according to an idea: hand movements on the piano: does not evoke much.
How did the work and its content come about? I had asked Vivier to composer a brilliant, virtuosic piano piece featuring double notes, in the style of Schumann’s Toccata. He began working on it very shortly thereafter and would often phone me late at night or early in the morning, while he was composing, to play for me, at an extremely slow speed, the chord progressions he had just discovered and which had sent him into raptures. He was as anxious to develop new techniques that would free him from certain habits and allow him to explore new paths as he was determined to remain intuitive in his compositional approach. By the same token, he would never have used any musical means that were incompatible with his inner self. Since Shiraz represented a step in Vivier’s quest for uncharted musical territory, it stunned and trouble him when he first hear it performed. Unlike his other works, based mostly on melodic ideas, Shiraz is based on a singe chord (C-E flat-E-G) that gives way to a constant, four part, melodic line. Vivier used the Fibonacci series to construct the work’s vertical harmony, horizontal development and proportions. The piece is in a three-part form. In the middle part, the material born in the first part suddenly becomes lyrical and contrasted with the use of ascending and descending appoggiatura groups, incantatory reiterations, opposite dynamics (fortissimo-pianissimo) and rhythmic superimpositions inside different tempos, the kind which would late appear in Samarcand, written for piano and wind quintet. Powerful and gleaming, the work reaches its climax and then subsides into the final chorale, an intense prayer. Its finely detailed dynamic markings, phrasing and accentuation reflect the devotion that went into its composition. During the summer of 1982, shortly before his ill-fated trip to Paris, I had invited Vivier for dinner and, just as we were about to sit down at table, we decided to go over Shiraz together. Since he was not satisfied with the work’s proportions, de decided to cross out bars 166 to 187. I believe he considered this section redundant so I have never played it again. I had also commented that the very conventional A7 chord in the bar preceding the return to the first tempo fell rather flat. He immediately picked up his pencil and reharmonized the chord as G#, C#, G, A, and D# in the extreme high register. Unfortunately, these changes did not appear in the Salabert edition published after Vivier’s death.
— (From Liner notes by Louis-Philippe Pelletier)