A hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud would have loved him. Roman Nagel, a pianist from Lindlar, Germany, prefers to stand on the edge of the chasm where the unconscious lurks, or expressed differently, where the psychological structure that influences both the ego and the superego. Whereas for Freud the dream was the ideal path to the unconscious, for Nagel it is improvisation. He looks for patterns and repetitive elements and develops a vocabulary consisting of modules he enjoys varying. Suddenly he had arrived in Neo-classical music, a music that oscillates between meditative calm and underlying turmoil. Granted, Ludovico Einaudi was an influence, but Nagel only listened to other stars of the genre, such as Nils Frahm, Joep Beving and Martin Kohlstedt, after finding his own personal aesthetic.
Roman Nagel likes to define music as a kind of attention getter. It should not be an end in itself – but should point towards important social issues and lead to concrete action via the emotions it triggers. He spares no effort to advance his mission. For a video, for example, he took his piano to the Oberbergischen woodlands that had been ruined by the bark beetle, which inspired him to compose “Signs & Promises.” The tension between culture and nature is very well portrayed in this video. “There is calm in both, but in art it should trigger something. After all, music is also a connection to emotion and memory.” He practically wrote the piece “Signs & Promises” while “looking out of the window.” “The way the trees fell, that moved me deeply.” And so it is not surprising that Nagel wants to shake people up with his music and incite them to take action. As he did when when the flood was raging in the Ahrweiler district of Rhineland-Palatinate and he spontaneously put off his holidays in order to help: with the rough clean-up efforts and then with a piano recital for the helpers.
Nagel, who studied classical music, no longer wants anything to do with perfection. “I used to strive hard for it. Then I realised it makes me sick. Then I made the decision not to allow it to happen at all. Turning away from perfection is also important when composing. Otherwise, you go on correcting yourself forever.” He sees the creative process as a struggle with the unconscious. “In good moments there is a kind of dialogue. But I can’t compose every day either. The best ideas come to me in the evening. When that happens, time flies by.” It is all the more astonishing that Nagel can unrepentantly let even the sweetest melody he has developed die on the grand piano in order to reach new shores. Many things can be beautiful. We mustn’t forget that beauty can also be what filmmaker Alexander Kluge once defined as: the gap left by the devil.
Haven’t all the attractive melodies been invented yet? Nagel says, “No.” He still sees numerous possibilities for musical beauty. “You can always find something. Of course, there are chords that are repeated, but it’s amazing how many different things you can do with the same chords. Every musician has a different musical idiom. This results in endless possibilities.” He offers proof of this with his varied debut album in which originality and a strong work ethic converge. And the will to be social. “In Memory” is dedicated to George Floyd, an African-American man who was murdered by the police. The melancholy “Wehmut” (Sorrow) is a monument to the silent pain that burns in the chest of every adolescent. In the floating piece “Aero” he flirts with the weightlessness of thoughts. Here Nagel comes quite close to his ideal of music devoid of all ego.
© Samir H. Köck