The Inward Beauty of Helmut Lachenmann

Lachenmann at 75: Inward Beauty PosterIn cel­eb­ra­tion of Helmut Lachenmann’s 75th birthday, University of Manchester new music en­semble Vaganza are presenting two con­certs of his music this Friday. A free lunch­time con­cert will see Ad Solem Chamber Choir per­form Lachenmann’s Consolation II along­side works by stu­dents, in­cluding Tom Coult and Joy Chou. The evening sees a more thor­ough ex­am­in­a­tion of Lachenmann’s early music with per­form­ances of Trio fluido, Guero, Wiegenmusik and Notturno. To com­plete the focus, former stu­dent and scholar of Lachenmann Matthias Hermann, from the Musikhochschule Stuttgart, is giving a talk at 2pm on the Thursday on com­pos­i­tion tech­niques in Notturno. That is fol­lowed at 4.15pm by a panel dis­cus­sion and open forum on the im­port­ance of timbre as a struc­tural para­meter in con­tem­porary music.

For those of you equipped with 2011 di­aries, it is also worth noting that Lachenmann’s temA will be per­formed by Trio Atem (formed for that very work) on 17 March and the university’s string quartet in res­id­ence Quatuor Danel will be per­forming all three Lachenmann quar­tets between January and May. I will be talking with the Danels on that very topic on 20 January.

I was asked to write pro­gramme notes for the Lachenmann works being per­formed this Friday and thought it might be in­ter­esting to post them here, along with videos or re­cord­ings where avail­able. However, this is music to which first-hand listening is es­sen­tial, so I would urge you to get to the Martin Harris Centre later this week.

Concert 1 (1.10pm)

Consolation II, for 16 voices (1968)

The late ‘60s saw Lachenmann focus heavily on writing for voice, com­posing Consolations I and II (1967 and ’68 re­spect­ively) and the trio temA, for flute, voice and cello (1968), some­thing he didn’t re­turn to until the 1990s with his opera Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern (1990−96). It has been sug­gested that in periods of rapid de­vel­op­ment the phys­ic­ality of the voice and the frame­work of a text have sup­ported avant-garde com­posers in their ex­per­i­ment­a­tion. Arnold Schoenberg led the way with works such as Pierrot lun­aire and the Vier Lieder für Gesang und Orchester at cru­cial points in his de­vel­op­ment, the same can be said of Anton Webern, and later Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono all turned to the voice at turning points in their re­spective mu­sical lan­guages. The late ‘60s marks Lachenmann’s coming of age as a com­poser and the de­vel­op­ment of the first stage of his ma­ture style, so per­haps it is no sur­prise that he found him­self be­gin­ning to ex­plore his newly coined idea of ‘mu­sique con­crète in­stru­mentale’ with the help of singers.

Consolation II sets an eighth-century prayer known as the Wessobrunner Gebet and, in a fashion not un­common for the 1960s, frag­ments the se­mantic ma­terial, leaving only the phon­etic ma­terial ex­posed as the bare bones of the text. The prayer’s med­it­a­tion on finding God in the noth­ing­ness be­fore time is dis­solved into a shud­dering land­scape of let­ters, hissing with a hollow wind, shiv­ering with rolled ‘R’s, stut­tering away into the noth­ing­ness where God can per­haps be found, ending on the ‘t’ of ‘Gott’, not sung but struck: two fin­gers coming to­gether in a quiet clap.

Mir gestand der Sterblichen Staunen als Höchstes
Das Erde nicht war, noch oben Himmel
Noch Baum, noch ir­gend ein Berg nicht war
Noch die Sonne, nicht Licht war
Noch der Mond nicht leuchtete
Noch das ge­waltige Meer
Da noch nir­gends nichts war
An Enden und Wenden
Da war der eine all­mächtige Gott

Mortal wonder as the greatest was con­fided in me
That there was neither the earth nor the heaven above
Nor was there any tree nor moun­tain
Neither the sun, nor any light
Nor the moon gleam
Nor the glor­ious sea.
When there was nothing
No ending and no limits
There was the One Almighty God

Concert 2 (7.30pm)

Trio fluido, for cla­rinet, viola and per­cus­sion (1966)

Though written six years after Lachenmann left Venice and full-time study with Luigi Nono, Trio fluido is still heavily in­flu­enced by Nono’s punc­tu­alist music. Rather than ac­cepting this concept fully, it ex­plores the various po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ments of and es­capes from such point-to-point writing. In the course of the work the sep­ar­ated se­quence of sounds is gradu­ally both dis­solved and para­lysed, pushing the music at dif­ferent points into the ex­treme world of sparse, sep­ar­ated ges­tures common in his music as well as a more con­tinuous, co­hesive tex­ture of blown, bowed, rubbed and stroked sounds. The kind of ges­tural ma­terial that is in­creas­ingly vital in Lachenmann’s later music is fore­shad­owed in Trio fluido by a form of pitch ges­ture where in­stru­ments move through nar­rower and wider fields of pitch, and the el­ev­ated im­port­ance of in­stru­mental tech­niques and phys­ical ges­ture also fore­shadow his more com­plete move away from pitch that began not long after this piece was completed.

Guero — Study for Piano (1970)

Between 1968 and ’70, Lachenmann de­veloped a more defined ver­sion of his lan­guage to de­scribe which he coined the phrase ‘mu­sique con­crète in­stru­mentale’. Having spent time during 1965 at the elec­tronic music stu­dios of the University of Ghent and written his only purely elec­tronic piece Szenario, Lachenmann bor­rowed tape music pi­oneer Pierre Schaefer’s term ‘mu­sique con­crète’ meaning music con­structed with con­crete sound re­cord­ings rather than ab­stract not­ated struc­tures and for­mu­lated a com­pos­i­tional ap­proach that treated in­stru­ments and per­formed ges­tures as con­crete phys­ical in­stances, the en­ergy of whose per­form­ance formed the struc­ture of a work.

While de­vel­oping this idea he wrote a series of solo studies that in­clude Guero as well as Pression, for cello, and Dal ni­ente, for cla­rinet. Each of these studies take as their starting point a thor­ough ex­plor­a­tion of the instrument’s acoustic pos­sib­il­ities — in­spired by a col­lec­tion of short piano pieces by Alfons Kontarsky — and pro­ceeds to build struc­tures that re­veal the mech­an­isms of per­form­ance. In his pro­gramme note, Lachenmann de­scribes Guero as a ‘six-manual variant of the eponymous Latin American in­stru­ment’. The piece moves from the ver­tical sur­faces of the white keys, to their ho­ri­zontal sur­faces, via the black keys into the piano, playing the pegs and fi­nally the strings. An ex­treme ex­ample of Lachenmann’s concept of re­jec­tion — in which all fa­miliar as­pects of tra­di­tional in­stru­mental tech­nique are avoided — Guero is an at­tempt to build struc­ture not from ex­isting for­mulas but from the ground up, taking the con­crete, rip­pling sound of the fin­ger­nails along the keys as its basic material.

Wiegenmusik [Cradle music], for piano (1963)

Trained ori­gin­ally as a clas­sical pi­anist and still per­forming, Helmut Lachenmann has al­ways had an im­portant com­pos­i­tional re­la­tion­ship with the piano, having written a dozen solo, chamber and con­cer­tante works for the in­stru­ment. One of the earliest works still in­cluded in the of­fi­cial Lachenmann cata­logue, Wiegenmusik is an early ex­ample of Lachenmann’s par­tic­ular in­terest in stasis as a mu­sical phe­nomenon. Unlike the re­pet­itive stasis of Steve Reich or the weight­less stasis of Morton Feldman, Lachenmann uses sparse tex­tures to in­duce an at­mo­sphere of ten­sion and draw at­ten­tion to small, pre­cise, richly de­tailed sounds. Later works such as the Second String Quartet ‘Reigen se­liger Geister’ (1989) or Mouvement (— vor der Erstarrung) (1982−84), for en­semble — which makes its theme (the shift from move­ment to para­lysis) evident in its title — both take this concept to lo­gical ex­tremes. Consolation II and Notturno, both of which are per­formed to­night, also make use of this type of writing. In Wiegenmusik, Lachenmann takes a gentle ap­proach, drawing on the idea of a child falling asleep as the work gradu­ally falls into still­ness. Like his earlier pieces for piano, Fünf Variationen über ein Thema von Franz Schubert (1956) and Echo Andante (1962), Wiegenmusik still treats the piano in a re­l­at­ively tra­di­tional fashion. As you have heard, by 1970 with Guero Lachenmann was finding an al­to­gether dif­ferent way of making sound with a piano.

Notturno, for small or­chestra with cello solo (1966−68)

Helmut Lachenmann writes of Notturno that it is ‘a meeting point for two dif­ferent aes­thetics: one older, which treats sound as the result and ex­pres­sion of ab­stract or­gan­isa­tion con­cepts, and one newer, in which all or­gan­isa­tion should serve a con­crete and direct acoustic reality.’ The cello writing is close to the solo cello work Pression written the fol­lowing year — for the same cel­list, Italo Gomez — and mainly takes the latter ap­proach, ex­ploring the acoustic po­ten­tial of the cello ap­proached not as a tra­di­tional in­stru­ment but as a mul­ti­fa­ceted sounding body.

Despite the ex­tended solo pas­sage that makes up the core of the work, the cello’s role is not so much as tra­di­tional so­loist ac­com­panied by a sub­ser­vient or­chestra but as a kind of leader and opener of doors, drawing the en­semble into dif­ferent worlds and un­cov­ering new per­spect­ives. In a sense, the work is for a meta cello or ex­tended cello as the en­semble all con­tribute to a uni­fied sound, led and de­rived from the cello proper, a powerful real­isa­tion of Lachenmann’s sug­ges­tion that ‘com­posing means building an in­stru­ment’ and an in­triguing take on the con­cer­tante tradition.

This entry was written by Chris, posted on Tuesday, 23 November 2010 at 8:00 am, filed under Odds & Ends and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

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  1. By Acheronta Movebo – 26th November on Tuesday, 23 November 2010 at 2:25 pm

    […] are due to be hap­pening). For more in­form­a­tion on all the Lachenmann go­ings on, I refer you to Chris Swithinbank’s Programme Notes for the […]

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