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18 Studies on the “The Art of Fugue” by Reinhard Febel

Studies based on Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” for two pianos
by Reinhard Febel (born 1952)

Commissioned by the Ansbacher Bachwoche (Ansbach Bach Week)

Studien nach Bachs Kunst der Fuge von Reinhard Febel

It seems a bit strange. Bach’s fugues as originally written are complex and in themselves - as it were - perfect, and now a contemporary composer turns up and wants to further develop this polyphonic structure. How can that work?

Studies can be understood as a synonym for études, the sort of exercise composed by Czerny, for example, or on a higher level, by Chopin or Debussy. In other words, pieces of music that enable the performer to practise a specific musical difficulty and that increase his competence by being constantly repeated. They can be rhythmic, pianistic or purely tonal exercises.

But studies can also be understood as compositional études, in other words pieces that demand that the composer practises a certain skill. The difference being that the composer doesn’t start from scratch, but takes a piece that already exists as his starting-point and “practises” on it.

“A study based on” can therefore also be understood as “a fantasy on” or “inspired by”. It is possible for a composer to hear a work by another master and be completely thrilled or even aroused by it - he would really love to have written it himself. But that is of course impossible. What he can do, though, is give free rein to his own creativity, set it free and lend it wings and present the result as a “study”.

In Febel’s case all these interpretations apply. The two pianists will have to practise a great deal together to master the work, and the composer had to study the brilliant original very carefully in order to understand it properly, to devise and to develop such ingenious and exquisite modifications.

The concert with reading took place in a private setting in Basel on 21.8.2021. Here are some photos from the event.

Konzert mit LesungKonzert mit LesungKonzert mit LesungKonzert mit LesungKonzert mit Lesung

Photos: Robert Schär


For some years now, we have – with great pleasure – repeatedly played a work composed in 1991 for two pianos and orchestra by Toru Takemitsu (1930 – 1996); "Quotations of Dream". In his composition Takemitsu several times quotes from excerpts from Debussy’s "La Mer", subsequently weaving them further and, lost in his dreams, wandering through his own patterns of sounds. Takemitsu refers to a line from a poem by Emily Dickinson: "Say, sea, take me". In this poem the lyrical I, who yearns for this fate, prays to be accepted by the sea and ultimately to be dissolved in it.

On 12th December 2014 we are going to perform this work with the NDR Orchester (North German Radio Orchestra), and for the first time we will also be playing on the same evening the source of his inspiration: Debussy’s "La Mer", in a fascinating transcription for two pianos by André Caplet (1878 – 1925).

As musicians we of course constantly come into contact with Debussy’s music, but for about three years now our relationship to his music has been developing a new dimension. Intensive study of "En blanc et noir" and "L’après-midi d’un faune" aroused in us special acoustic antennae and with this "equipment" we have now conquered "La Mer" for our ears. In this work the sensuous understanding of nature, which cannot be put in words, is expressed with a perfection of expression that is beautiful beyond expectation.

Homage to Wagner on both banks of the River Rhine

R. Wagner Ouverture du Vaisseau Fantôme
(The Flying Dutchman)
(Version of 1860, arr. C. Debussy 1890)
C. Debussy En blanc et noir (1915)
R. Wagner Twilight of the Gods
Siegfried’s Death
(arr. Alfred Pringsheim 1879)
R. Wagner Tannhäuser
Bacchanale – Le Vénusberg
(version of 1861, arr. Paul Dukas 1893)
C. Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
(1892-1894, arr. C. Debussy 1895?)
R. Wagner Twilight of the Gods
Siegfried’s Funeral and Final
(arr. Alfred Pringsheim 1879)

The programme has two main axes. On the one hand it reflects the specific phenomenon of ‘Wagnérisme” in France and on the other it presents for the first time Wagner arrangements from the pen of Alfred Pringsheim (Thomas Mann’s Jewish father-in-law).

The wide-ranging subject of Wagner and France has frequently been discussed and described in the past. Nevertheless, the Wagner transcriptions by Debussy and above all those by Dukas have remained fairly unknown. Compared with ‘Wagnérisme’ in France, however, the connection between Wagner and Pringsheim is virtually non-existent to Wagner scholars, let alone to the general public.

We are in the fortunate position of having been given access to largely unknown arrangements by Alfred Pringsheim, which still languish unpublished in his estate.

Apart from this sensational discovery and Wagner’s superb artistry, the fascinating and exciting thing about this programme is the versatility of Debussy’s music. In “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” his musical inspiration still derives from the eroticism of Wagner’s Tristan, whereas “En blanc et noir”, a work written during and about the World War I and a sort of intellectual creation in music, he has completely distanced himself from Wagner. If we discern the hidden symbolism, we realise that his once ardent admiration has turned into brusque rejection.

Nike Wagner
Yaara Tal, Nike Wagner and Andreas Groethuysen

Alfred Pringsheim

Alfred Pringsheim

"PANORAMA": Programme for two pianos

W.F. Bach Concerto in F Major
W.A. Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, KV 546
W.A. Mozart Sonata in D Major, KV 448
T. Ysaÿe Variations op. 10
C. Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
(arr. Claude Debussy)
R. Strauss Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche
(arr. Otto Singer)

This mixed programme has been compiled in such a way that it includes something for everyone, as it were: pre-Classical, Classical, late Romantic, polyphonic and virtuoso pieces, original works, transcriptions, rarities …

At first glance it may seem like a rather random mixture, but beneath the surface correlations between these works can be seen. W.F. Bach served as a model for Mozart with his polyphonic studies, and Strauss was a great admirer of Mozart. Théo Ysaÿe’s marvellous variations, totally forgotten today, oscillate between the styles of César Franck and Claude Debussy, whose dreamy faun was composed at about the same time as the anarchic Eulenspiegel.

Critics and audiences alike greeted this programme with enthusiasm. The headline of the review in the ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ of 17 November 2011 was “Brilliant” and continued: “What makes the evening with the Duo Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen in the Herkulessaal unique is this constant, naturally subtle, persuasive flow in the fullness of its variety … In the end, a mysterious dramaturgy runs through this entire programme, too.”

The ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’ of 20 March 2012 described the rendering of Strauss’s tone poem as follows: “Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen play together brilliantly and with an ease that makes us forget that from a purely technical point of view what they play is demanding in the extreme.

“No less impressive are the singing legato and the cultivation of the pianissimo, which had just made the ‘Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un faune’ such a revelation. What would the long note on the flute with which the work begins sound like? What about the interaction of tone colours? These questions did not arise, so smoothly and elegantly did the duo perform Debussy’s own version for two pianos.”

To conclude with, the “Kieler Nachrichten” of 31 January 2012: “In the second half of the concert, the enraptured audience were truly intoxicated with the sounds.”


Till Eulenspielgel

Toulouse Jacobins Cloitre

Toulouse. The cloisters of the Church of Les Jacobins. As part of the superlative piano festival “Piano aux Jacobins”, Tal and Groethuysen performed the “Panorama” programme there on 7 September 2012.


Beethoven’s “Great Fugue”, one of the most innovative works of all times, is known as a composition for a string quartet. What is not so well known by comparison is that the master himself also produced a version of this avant-garde work for the four-handed piano.

In 2005, this version for a time became the focus of public interest when the manuscript, long thought to have been lost, turned up by chance in a library in Pennsylvania. Following the discovery of this manuscript, the publishers G. Henle produced a revised edition of the work, with fingering by Andreas Groethuysen.

For a long time now, the duo have repeatedly turned their attention to this unique work, and it was only logical that they cherished the idea of performing the “Great Fugue” in a concert in which the version for a string quartet would also be part of the programme.

This dream will come true in February 2013. The Artemis Quartet, the crème de la crème of all quartets, has agreed to take part in the project. Together with the two versions of the “Great Fugue” the programme for the concert will also include two works by Mendelssohn. The evening of chamber music will come to a brilliant culmination when the quartet and the duo combine to perform the octet opus no. 20 by Mendelssohn in an unusual transcription by C. Burchardt.

Manuskript Grosse Fuge

Tal & Groethuysen: Große Fuge

Applause for T&G and Artemis