"Charmed with Verdi" is a musical account of the life of Alexander Schiffgen, pianist at the mountain sanatorium in Arosa, Switzerland, in the years leading to World War I. The "Verdi" novels by Franz Werfel and Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain" inspired Stefan Winter to elaborate the character Alexander Schiffgen and his story. Since Winter has stayed at the guest house Hof Maran at Arosa each year for the past ten years, the choice of Arosa as the setting for the story was almost an obvious one. Also, Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain" is set in Davos, in the neighboring valley (Mann himself knew Arosa, having been a guest at its Waldhotel). And it was also in Arosa that Stefan Winter rediscovered Franz Werfel's "Verdi" novellas. However, it was his encounter with the Japanese composer and pianist Fumio Yasuda which ultimately opened the door to the creation of "Charmed with Verdi". Fumio Yasuda, who recorded the album "Kakyoku" last year for Winter & Winter with the European Art Orchestra, was, in Stefan Winter's eyes, the ideal candidate for the part of Alexander Schiffgen. Andreas Obst wrote about Fumio Yasuda's album "Kakyoku" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of December 8, 2000: even Yasuda can't describe with words that which he offers to our ears. He concisely explains that his motivation is to invent new things, and that he does not feel at home doing this in the world of classical nor in the world of pop music. When one has entered Yasuda's sound world - and this is by no means a question of choice: as soon you have had one taste of the CD, you will want to hear it over and over again - one can easily understand why he mentions the compositions of Franz Schmidt (the Austrian Late Romantic) and John Cage's experimentation at the boundaries of sound as decisive influences. Yet contributions by several other spirits can be detected -broad orchestral sounds by Mahler, a dose of Pärt's melancholy, minimal music waves, echoes of Debussy's almost oriental piano sounds and even Schubertian melodic delicacies, thanks to the participation of cellist Ernst Reijseger. But every time, Yasuda stands out boldly. As he explains, he is Japanese, and therefore permeable to a wide range of influences. Still, this isn't the main distinctive feature of this strange and wonderful recording. Its magic is rather that of making out of things known its own, of reproducing a model until, through the work of tiny mutations, something new has come into being (end of quotation). In the "Charmed with Verdi" project, Fumio Yasuda plays the part of Alexander Schiffgen. Schiffgen hears, from his music room at the sanatorium, the Radetzki March and is reminded of Venice, of the Piazza San Marco with its Austrian marching bands playing to pass the time, of Verdi's opera La Traviata, and so he begins to play La Traviata, lost in thoughts of another world. Schiffgen is in love with Verdi's music, plays it over and over again, transforming it, quoting it - he plays his Verdi for himself. Sometimes, bells from the village resound all the way to the sanatorium above, mixed with marching music. Schiffgen hears the Alexander March, played in honor of the Russian guests at Arosa, and he plays Otello, Aida, Rigoletto. Fumio Yasuda is Alexander Schiffgen. Schiffgen's letters to his mother recount his life up above, far away from this world and charmed with Verdi: Dearest Mother! This is the place where angels live. Warmest regards to the lowland.
This graduate of the Kunitachi College of Music was born on December 30, 1953 in Tokyo and began composing at the age of 17. Soon, he found an interest in improvisation, performing alongside the guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi, one of Japan's best-known improvisers. In the 90's, he recorded a solo piano album and collaborated with the Slovak National Philharmonic Orchestra for several compositions and arrangements. In 1995, he began working with photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. "Tokyo Comedy" (Vienna, 1997), "1999 Taipei-Summer" (Taipei, 1999), and "Shijo" (Hamburg, 1998) are some of the richest fruits of their collaboration. Fumio Yasuda's "Kakyoku" was released by Winter & Winter (Nº 910 051-2) in the Fall of 2000.
The Elmau Castle near Garmisch in the Alps is the location which was chosen for the recording of Fumio Yasuda's solo piano works. The aura of this special place - this lonely, remote place - influenced the production. Stefan Winter thanks Dietmar Müller-Elmau for his kind support.
The atmosphere was captured at Hof Maran, above Arosa. The producer wishes to thank the Hotel directors Gaby and Simon Jenny.
The music box belonged to Stefan Winter's great-grand-parents, Hermann and Centa Kieninger.
The recording of the Alexander March was produced and its use kindly authorized by Bauer studios. Special thanks to Eva Bauer Oppelland.