In medias – An approach to terra incognita

By Rémy Ballot

The question of interpretation always arises when confronted with a score such as this. For a violinist, the pieces of the standard repertoire for solo violin are the sonatas and partitas of J.S. Bach, the caprices of Niccolò Paganini, and the sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe; of course, one can expand this repertoire to include the sonatas of Bartók and Prokofiev. Because of the performance practice of these works, we have play-related reactions, quasi-mnemonic, such as how to break a chord. This can lead to an artificial character that does not necessarily fit the piece in question.

In medias has its own inner laws, and although it is probably inspired by Bach, one needs to find the way to one’s own playing and style. Beyond that, there are but few clues to character, articulation, and dynamics. It is terra incognita, so to speak.

There are also some chords that do not allow you to lead the voices properly.

My main dilemma was to vacillate between the options of giving the illusion of polyphony as in Bach’s fugues, that is, not holding all the values all the time and letting the main part stand out, or trying as much as possible to play the integral values. I have decided on the second option, because in this way many special harmonies come into resonance, which raises additional technical problems: fingerings must be found to make this possible. In this way it is possible to understand the cadences better and also to find the right bow strokes, meaning: harmonic tensions and relaxations are found in the natural physiology of the bow movements.

After this initial approach, the different parts and the way they correlate must be identified. In the absence of an indication, only harmonic tensions and rhythmic movement can give an indication of semantics and character.

What I find in the piece is the impression of a continual lament that cannot prevail, an idea that tries to resist the preordained, intertwined in passages of setbacks described by these movements of descending quarters as well as by the periods of doubt expressed in quietly creeping periods.

Eventually, however, the slightly altered motif of the opening prevails, and the final fifth ends the conflict as if it were a victory marked by resignation.

Rémy Ballot
French violinist and conductor Rémy Ballot analysing Eliasson’s In medias.