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The Reincarnation Of Henri Herz

by Thollem

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From the many deviations of books, accounts and misfortunes of life, history provides us with only a very narrow version of reality. Romanticized and frequently distorted, it usually depicts the side of the winner, the stronger or the more influential. After 219 years from his birth, few people remember Henri Herz. French pianist, composer and manufacturer of Austrian descent, Herz was a virtuoso not fortunate enough to be credited in all music history books like some of his contemporaries, despite his successful career as a celebrated concert pianist that took him all over the world and his renown as a piano manufacturer. Still, after all these years, we find some echoes of his spirit in the most unexpected places. When Sonoscopia (Porto´s collective for experimental music) moved to our new headquarters in 2021, an old and completely out of tune piano was there to greet us. As enthusiasts for anything that might sound weird, we embraced the piano and moved it to the big room where we have artists in residency, and where Thollem and Ángela stayed last December. We would start work in the early morning, sometimes with the piano improvisations Thollem generously offered us. One day he told us that the piano was made by Henri Herz, someone who we had never heard of. From that moment, the piano was not an anonymous instrument anymore. We have a history for it now, and we are also romanticizing it. We like to imagine Herz very proud of these recordings that take us 200 years back in time, and at the same time, project us ahead. Who knows if someone, 200 years from now, will find these recordings on the other side of the world and discover a virtuoso pianist called Thollem McDonas, who travelled nomadically around the world, carrying only the music in his heart?
- Gustavo Costa (Sonoscopia)

When ACVilla and I arrived at our residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, Portugal, last December, everyone there was excited for me to see/hear/play an old piano they had inherited. Over three weeks, I became more attached to the instrument as it revealed its story to me. Throughout my travels, I have found that the most neglected pianos have the most interesting stories to tell. Through natural entropy, this piano continues to find its own unique sounds and voice. I was grateful to be able to spend time with the instrument, exploring what I found most beautiful about it which resulted in a series of approaches, compositions and structured improvisations that were eventually recorded by Alberto Lopes in a private session just before we left. The recording, a collaboration between this piano and myself, is exactly what I heard while sitting in front of it in that room and with the sounds of seagulls, dogs and workers outside. This all played a part in my approach and the final album.

I had never seen a Henri Herz piano, nor even heard of Henri Herz before. After a little research, I realized that he had quite a life story and one that deeply resonated with me. For instance, he wrote a book about his touring as a solo pianist across the U.S. in 1845, the first tour by any European pianist of the U.S. on record. This is what I've been doing for years of course, only 180 years later.

This particular recording is enabled by my many years of perpetual travel, playing at different types of venues and myriad pianos in varying states of maintenance. I've always loved this aspect of touring as a pianist, playing unique pianos from night to night. Any piano will reveal its uniqueness when approached with respect and curiosity.

Pianos represent many different things to us in our society, some are instruments of incredible precision, machines at the height of the industrial revolution, performed by virtuosi in theaters built for listening to them. And of course, their intonation becomes a dictator of all other instruments in an ensemble. Many pianos are made for the masses. They are usually perfectly functional and are incredible machines in their own right.
Every piano enters into a collaboration with nature as soon as it leaves the factory. It begins the decay process immediately based on fluctuation of temperature or moving it from place to place. Many pianos are regularly maintained and therefore retain the qualities desired in them when they were purchased. Yet other pianos are moved around or played in family homes, churches, schools, studios and smoky bars. Often a piano is used in many types of situations at different points in its life; many pianos are simply discarded because they are no longer wanted. These are often the most interesting of all.

This singular performance at Sonoscopia and resulting album, The Reincarnation of Henri Herz, illuminates the idiosyncratic beauty of this particular, and otherwise neglected, piano.

Thollem has spent his life investigating sound through the pianoforte from traditional classical repertoire through collaborations and sight specific works. His album On Debussy's Piano And... was the first published recording of the last instrument Claude Debussy owned. He has delved into the world of just intonation, mathematical intonation, Indonesian intonation and wild intonation, to name a few. He has performed in great halls as well as a wide variety of venues throughout some twenty different countries. He is renowned for his virtuosity as well as his fearless experimentation and his humanity as an activist for many causes.


released April 7, 2022

Created/recorded during Thollem and ACVilla's 3-week residency at Sonoscopia in Porto, Portugal - December, 2021.
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Alberto Lopes
Composed, performed and edited by Thollem in communication and collaboration with the unique instrument in the 2nd floor of Sonoscopia.
Cover art by ACVilla

Thanks to everyone at Sonoscopia for hosting us and supporting our work, the work of many others as well as their community at large.
Dedicated to Henri Herz




Thollem San Francisco, California

This account is mostly a series of compilation albums of tracks from Thollem's approximately 100 releases on 23 different labels. Over 150 different collaborators or so. Approaches ranging from Punk to Blues to Free Jazz to Post-Classical to Noise, everything in between and everything outside.
To see his full discography go here: www.thollem.com/albums
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