Steps Volume 9: Les Fleurs de la Maladie - piano solo - duration c. 49 minutes - 2020-1

An Empty Bench - My Garden (1881)
Snowdrops (now is the globe shrunk tight)
Imagined Bouquet from Berthe Morisot
Helleborus Foetidus (hope in winter)
Imagined Bouquet from Suzanne Manet
Tulips (the flame)
Imagined Bouquet from Antonin Proust
Dandelions in flower and in seed (any way the wind blows)
Imagined Bouquet from Stéphane Mallarmé
Delphinium (nothing can restrain this heart)
Imagined Bouquet from Victorine Meurent
Lilies on a Windowsill (outside-in)
Imagined Bouquet from Charles Baudelaire
Rosa Glauca (departures)
Imagined Bouquet from Émmanuel Chabrier
Marigolds on a blue chair (last summer)
Imagined Bouquet from Méry Laurent
An Empty Chair - My Garden (2020)

In 1883 the painter Edouard Manet was a dying man. Over the course of his last months he painted an extraordinary series of sixteen small still-lifes of flowers brought to him by his family and friends, among whom were painters, musicians, poets, novelists, models and collectors. It was a final act of artistic defiance, joy and summation. Too ill to paint large canvases, these miniatures condense and distil the essence of his art.

In 2020 my wife, Marcelle, also a talented artist, lived out her final months under the cloud of cancer. She, too, painted flowers though her intended series for this collaborative project remained unfinished. Alas, Fate intervened; thus I have completed the project alone in her memory.

My piano cycle imagines the free-ranging of both artists' thoughts, recollections, resonances, and emotions as they painted, each piece carrying particular associations (in Marcelle's case explained to me or only imagined).

For both artists their final creative acts were not morose but life-affirming and summatory.

Manet counted the composer Emmanuel Chabrier and the famous operatic baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure among his closest friends. Music is a recurring theme in his life's work. Furthermore his wife, Suzanne, was an accomplished pianist (Chabrier wrote his Impromptu for her), so the choice of instrument for this work is doubly appropriate.

Another of Manet's closest friends was the poet Baudelaire. My title makes obvious, punning reference to his most famous collection, Les Fleurs du Mal.

This cycle comprises sixteen "paintings" - eight respond to some aspect of Marcelle's works; these alternate with a further eight imagined "bouquets" given to Manet by a friend, each revealing something of the donor's character or work. None of these movements is, however, a direct depiction of flowers.

Providing a frame are Manet's late painting of an empty bench in a garden, and a small sketch by my wife of an empty chair in our garden - perhaps flowers transported both artists into imagined internal garden havens as they worked whose flowers remain eternally beautiful. A thrush sings, as if speaking for them.

This work will be recorded by my friend Simone Rugani and is only allowed in complete public performance after this. However, players are free to include single movements if they wish.

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