While still a music student at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, in 1980, Magnus Lindberg wrote some incidental music for a stage play by Mikhail Bulgakov, Molière, or the Conspiracy of Hypocrites. The following year, the composer drew upon some of this material for a piano quintet. De Tartuffe, Je Crois takes its title from the well-known character from Molière and is unusual in Lindberg's output for two reasons. First, he has not been otherwise drawn to the theater, composing instrumental concert music almost exclusively. It should be noted, however, that his music is always dramatic, even if the structure is built from purely musical concerns. Second, the composer integrates a couple of quotations from the music of Molière's time and place (seventeenth-century France) into the fabric of the piece.
Compared to his other works from around that time (such as Linea d'Ombra), De Tartuffe, Je Crois is rather neo-classical. Part of this character comes from the quotations of Rameau and Lully, but also no doubt comes from the traditional formation of the ensemble. There are certainly passages of full modernist flourish, but the harmonious sonorities of the string quartet, playing rich unisons or held chords, and the poignant harmonies of the quotations are unusual (though they do point forward to Lindberg's later style).
About two and a half minutes into the piece, the strings and piano close in on a unison, which then expands to a chordal sonority that becomes a rather surprising quotation from Rameau. The music moves on to other, more dissonant, contemporary passages, but the dramatic origin of the piece returns a couple of minutes later, with the musicians whispering various words (and whistling, as well), ending the gesture with a clearly perceptible quote: "Molière! Il est mort?" (Molière! Is he dead?). After another modernist interval, a lyrical piano solo appears, built from transformations of a Lully quotation. The fabric of the music darkens, becoming more aggressive, leading to a march-like restatement of the Rameau progression to close.
While De Tartuffe, Je Crois may be something of an anomaly in Lindberg's output, it is a fascinating piece nonetheless. The composer's ability to integrate the stylistically distant musical and dramatic quotations into more characteristically contemporary music is impressive. And, more importantly, he successfully draws on the expressive power of the tonal elements without weakening the force of his original voice. This ability would serve Lindberg well in developing a mature style that is lyrical as well as dynamic.