Madeleines (2016)

I. Mémoire triste dans un café

II. Il pleut à Brest

III. François et ses yeux dangereux

IV. Promenade dans la ménagerie de Versailles

V. Madeleine déteste les devoirs

Composed in 2016, Madeleines is similar to my two sets of Spanish Lessons (1988 and 2001) which are both suites of character pieces for piano inspired by my admittedly limited travel in Spain. Madeleines is inspired by a much earlier hairbrained trip I took to France (and the rest of the Grand Tour) with my sister when I was in college. The title refers to Prousts "episode of the madeleine," in which involuntary memory overwhelms the protagonist when he bites into one of these small cakes. I also sometimes experience poignant memories from our fondly remembered trip triggered by various catalysts.The five episodes in this set of pieces attempt to capture the essence of some of these memories. The first piece, Mémoire triste dans un café (sad memory in a café) serves the purpose of a prélude. One might conclude that the madeleine is sampled in this location. Il pleut á Brest (It is raining in Brest) evokes memories of the wet weather in Brest, a city in Brittany near the coast. I was curious about this area because, during our travels, we met a boy in Paris with dark and dangerous eyes named François (François et ses yeux dangereux) who was from that area. In Il pleut the sound of rain alternates with church bells and fog horns (one of the poetic sensations I remember vividly about Brest). The third piece (François) is a blend of a barcarolle and a funeral march. I continued to send one-way letters to François after we returned and one day the French police called to tell me that he was dead and that they had found one of my letters on his body, which had been tossed into the Seine. They wanted more information, and they revealed that he had been smuggling drugs out of Turkey. I think the next piece, Promenade dans la ménagerie deVersailles (Walk in the zoo atVersailles), is tempered by later memories of a trip I took to the zoo at Schönbrunn palace near Vienna, the oldest Baroque zoo, which was in a terrible state of decay when I saw it, hence the wistful air. The finale of the set, Madeleine déteste les devoirs (Madeleine hates homework) is a bow to the French primer I grew up with, which had as one of its main characters a little girl who I think may have been named Madeleine. I know her father was named François. My memories are mixed up, the actual François Thibaud is remembered as the inventor of the fast-track method of learning French, which was in vogue when I first studied it in 6th grade. The idea here is that Madeleine, the daughter of François, is having a tantrum and playing with her hoops or a bike rather than doing her English homework.

John Carbon 

© John Carbon 2015