Jesus Christ Superstar came into being in 1970, written by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. It remains famous for the 1973 film version directed by Norman Jewison.
Stefano Bollani has reinterpreted on piano the original score for symphony orchestra, choir, rock band and solo voices. The title, in fact, specifies that they are piano variations, so it is not a transcription for piano but a free interpretation on a predetermined narrative structure.
Bollani has stripped away the musical and vocal systems – in fact, the lyrics of the songs are not included, with the exception of the penultimate track, “Superstar,” sung, almost recited, by the pianist – but he leaves almost unchanged the engaging melodies and some strong points, we could call them the pillars, as we can see, for example, in the famous “Heaven on Their Minds.” In this piece, in fact, we can hear the incisiveness of the bass ostinato in which the main theme develops, giving way to fantasy, changing the rhythms, the chords, inserting clusters of notes, or appoggiaturas, jazz notes, innovating as regards times and structures.
All this gives the music another flavor, another taste, while preserving the original deep sense. His piano, moreover, is tuned at 432 Hz (and not 440, as usual), a choice that, according to Bollani, gives a warmer and deeper sound suitable for these pieces.
To conclude, here is a quote from the musician himself, who presents the reason for his choice to reprise the musical in this way: “Jesus Christ Superstar still speaks to many people because it is a narrative that deals with mystery: Jesus is the resounding mystery of life and, faced with this mystery, human beings do not know how to behave. Judas betrays him because he is afraid. Pontius Pilate washes his hands of him. Herod tries to crush him, or have him crushed by others. The apostles try to understand him. Mary Magdalene, the only female character, welcomes him. Welcoming him means loving him, even if not understanding everything with the head, but loving him with the heart. Jesus Christ Superstar gives us the possibility of seeing all the human characters and all the reactions to the presence of mystery in our lives.”
If you are the same vintage as Jesus Christ Superstar, you will be pleased to hear a vinyl edition of Bollani’s variations is available at Amazon, as well as CD or at popular streaming services like Spotify.
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no. 6 art. 6, 0621: 10.32009/22072446.0621.6