A Look into the World of fin de siècle and William Bastian
He is not what one would expect for a classically trained musician. He can only be described as the man with that familiar booming voice, long hair tucked behind one ear, exposing a pierced lobe, and friendly smile. That man is William Bastian.
Bastian performed in the fin de siecle concert last Saturday, Oct. 22 in the Mitchell Auditorium at the College of St. Scholastica. He described fin de siècle as a term used to describe the time in the 1800’s when society began to move away from the aristocratic hierarchy. This was a time of great change in society. With the end of WWI, there came a new way of thinking and doing things, where the aristocracy did not wield as much power.
Quoting Beethoven, Bastian said “It doesn’t matter that I was born poor and you were born rich, it only means that you have more silver spoons to deal with.”
He described the music as “…Three pieces of music that represent three different aspects of this movement. The last piece is actually the earliest piece. Gabriel [Fauré] is a romantic artist that is challenging the music, bending tonality… moving and bending the sound but it’s all coming out of the romantic era. Ralph Vaughan Williams, an early 20th century composer, likes the romantic era and the music of the 20th century is able to blend the two.” And the first piece, written by Peter Warlock, “is dark, very dark… you don’t get comfortable music, it’s edgy,” said Bastian.
Despite the commonalities between the pieces, Bastian explained that there are challenges.
“When people say they don’t like music, it is inevitably because they want to be entertained and not challenged…” he said.
He also said that signing these pieces can be a challenge because they do not follow the natural pattern one expects music to take.
Bastian went on to describe the love-hate relationship he had with “On Wenlock Edge.” Having heard it originally for the voice and piano, he found it intriguing, but nothing incredibly special. It wasn’t until Bastian heard that the piano and string quartet composition of the piece that he said, “That’s cool. That’s really cool, I want to do that now.” And he accomplished it.
Accompanied by The Highland String Quartet and several other musicians, Bastian brought to life music remarkably unique for its period. The complexity of the three pieces complimented one another well in their ability to create three separate stories that were tied together with the ending piece “La Bonne Chanson.” The first piece “On Wenlock Edge,” composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams and with poetry by A.E. Housman, told the story of man remembering a fling from his youth; days when he was a happy man, when he was quite himself. The second piece “The Curlew,” with the poetry of W. B. Yeats set to music by Peter Warlock, describes the sadness felt by the man at losing his love while he looks to nature for solace. “Three Early Songs” — Gabriel Faure and poetry by Leconte de Lisle — describes the trysts the man is involved in after having had his heart broken only to realize in the final piece, “La Bonne Chanson,” that there is only one women whom he loves and this realization gives him joy once more.
When asked whether or not Bastian believed he could could have a perfect performance he commented “People get so obsessed about perfection, getting all the notes exactly right, but perfection is doing what you set out to do.” Fin de siècle ended with a standing ovation.