The more I listen to French composer Mathieu Karsenti, the more I appreciate and admire his music. Over the last few years, Karsenti has released captivating insights into the world of modern polyphony and counterpoint. Each project seems to show a different facet of the composer—whether through his passion for Eastern Asia, Baroque music or the Impressionists—and with a choice of instruments that is always well thought and surprising. After the cello, the violin and the percussions; the guitar. In his latest release, Guitar Impromptus, Karsenti uses the instrument’s sonorities like a painter uses colours to create his contemporary interpretations of musical tableaux and esquisses.
Impromptu Number One places two acoustic guitars in parallel, the initial one framing a treated guitar which holds the melodic motion; a main theme with contrasting ideas and polyphonic lines of multiple guitars, building up and returning to the main theme repeatidly. Echoes in the Park reflects the musical signature of Karsenti; based on the same compositional device than the previous piece, it builds blocks of sounds one after the other. Harmonically. there is a strong presence of 4th and 5th intervals that—although familiar in rock guitar—here give a feeling of plainchant. Ibérique is the only piece that features percussions—the only actual noticeable additional instrument. It seems to reflect the Arabic influence over the Iberian Peninsula, its culture, its music, and the development of the guitar. Although titled very traditionally, this project offers an alternative on the classical impromptu, especially through the modern treatment of the instrument and its sonorities, well illustrated in the grainy Above Grey Skies. Estampes after Debussy—the pearl of the EP—is inspired by the textural music of the French Impressionist. It takes an interesting harmonic twist that moves away from the simple homage, and uses guitaristic techniques to convey images and sensations to the listener.
The impromptu aspect of the pieces lies mostly in the approach to structure and form. Aside from this, Guitar Impromptus reflects the contrapuntal and polyphonic style of the composer and his interest in layering sounds in a modern way. A lot of Karsenti’s recurring influences can be heard in this last project, whether in the evocative Debussy-esque aspect of the pieces, or their rigorous Bach-esque organisation. With Guitar Impromptus—and notably the aspect of esquisse—, the French composer is hinting at the fact that these miniature instrumental study-projects that he has been releasing during the past few years might slowly be announcing something bigger and more ambitious.