Wolfgang Rihm: Fremdes Licht

Wolfgang Rihm Fremdes Licht
Fremdes Licht

Wolfgang Rihm: Fremdes Licht

Year of composition:
2005
Scored for:
for high soprano, violin, clarinet and small orchestra
Composer:
Wolfgang Rihm
Text author:
Clemens Brentano de la Roche
Soloists:
soprano, violin, clarinet
Instrumentation:
2 2 0 2 - 2 0 0 0, str
Instrumentation details:
1st flute
2nd flute
1st oboe
2nd oboe
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
violin I
violin II
viola
violoncello
contrabass
Commission:
Im Auftrag der Stadt Augsburg zur Aufführung anlässlich des "Mozartjubiläums", 2006
Duration:
30’
Dedication:
Diese Komposition wurde geschrieben für Mojca Erdmann, Sopran Carolin Widman, Violine Jörg Widman, Klarinette
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Fremdes Licht
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Work introduction

A talk with the composer

Your new work Fremdes Licht is based on Brentano’s poem Phantasie. How did you come to find it?

I have always been very involved with Clemens Brentano – I came across this peculiar poem at a very early stage.

It is of course a kind of key or guide – in poetical form and with metaphysical images – to finding happiness in life within oneself.

Yes, you can see it that way. It is a notion reaching far back into antiquity – that an individual carries within himself the strength and the responsibility for his own happiness. Eastern philosophies also express it: “He who is not good to himself cannot be good to others.”

You chose the term Fremdes Licht from the poem as the title for your piece. It is often said that your choice of titles for your pieces is often an aspect of its composition as well …

In this case, a “strange light” shines on the score, from a short distance – Mozart’s. The uncluttered scoring, the transparency of the arrangement, the choice of instruments in the orchestra – two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings – all suggest Mozartian stimulus.

Three soloists and a small orchestra – that seems very much like a sinfonia concertante …

Yes – sinfonia concertante e cantante. Brentano structured the poem as an “instrumental cantata.” The “setting” starts in the text itself. Some years ago, I composed a piece for soprano and piano which I called Brentano-Phantasie, in which I pooled seven poems together; I had this poem in the scope of discretion. It is indeed a cycle, a comprehensive, cyclical, cantata-like entity, so I did not want to resort to that form then; I reserved it for later, although I did call the piece developing at the time Brentano-Phantasie especially in view of this poem. These things often take convoluted paths with me.

Then I wrote Gesangsstück for violin, clarinet and piano; the piano part is almost identical to the one in Brentano-Phantasie but the violin and the clarinet play something entirely different, their commentary making something new from it.

The third “Brentano piece” is now this one for violin, clarinet and high soprano. It quotes nothing from the two previous works.

Would you see these three works as a kind of cycle?

No. A certain poetical world characterises all three, but they do not make a cycle. Each piece is solitary, although they certainly affect one another.

This piece is dominated by the ideal of a Mozartian transparency which, of course, I do not achieve, but at least I strive for it. No one who hears it will say, “There’s Mozart being quoted,” but the approach to the voice-leading, occasionally – the transparency, that is – is indebted to Mozart.

The group of soloists seems to be divided into two layers – the soprano on one side, as she delivers the text and the violin and clarinet on the other side. What is their function?

None in particular. The two soloists are led freely; it is as if the vocal energy, the soprano’s linear vocal evolvement, is reflected in the other two soloists[‘ music].

It is conspicuous that a long, purely instrumental passage is inserted after every verse – or rather after every completed idea. Are they quasi reflections or expression of an internalisation of the idea just perceived? – that is, a kind of “lingering resonance?”

That would be saying too much. Listeners should decide for themselves whether they are being invited to reflect or perceive a reflection. I think that the line spins out farther, that a completely natural will, a tendency of the line itself, keeps diffusing.

Does your choice of solo instruments have to do with the artistic personalities at the first performance?

I certainly hope so. I wrote [the piece] for those three artists. I’ve often worked together with them and I esteem them highly. They also like one another very much – and so there was the chance to develop something almost familial, something very organic.

Was it the words which inspired you? – or was there perhaps an overall concept behind the piece?

The mere term “concept” is distasteful to me. I do not think in concepts. I have ideas, wishes, notions – the feeling of finding a connection to a natural flux. “Concept” sounds so bureaucratic; it has so little to do with me. It is an essential characteristic of mine that I work from my imagination, not from strategic prescience. That is why I feel so close to poems – like Brentano’s – where the language often seems to speak on its own volition.

How should listeners approach your new piece?

When it’s a question of art, the notion is often expressed that one must have a comprehensive educational background. On the contrary; one should preserve a childlike curiosity – that is the only thing which can discover something new. I’m always amazed by assertions that one must know so much more with new music. What does the audience know with Mozart, then? The professional, technical secrets are still known and perceptible to only a few – and ultimately, none of that is at issue. When you look at a building, you need not have the static calculations in your head to understand it in the sense of an aesthetic totality, in the sense of an entirety revealing itself to you.

Who understands the phenomenon of double counterpoint? – yet one can “understand” Bach nevertheless. I think here that pseudo-problems are piled up like mountain ranges to motivate one’s own disinclination to move: “There’s a whole mountain range in front of me, I’ve got to stay where I am.” But there are no mountains there, the ground is wide and even, the air is fresh; better to rise up from one’s seat and confront things – to bestir oneself, and not always wait until the bestirring happens otherwise.

That is also one of the key aspects in the poem – if nothing is there itself, in the first place, then nothing can augment it from without. “He who does not lovingly embrace himself is doomed to become a poor beggar. Everything must sound in one’s own bosom”… then comes the phrase so crucial to Brentano: “and shell and spirit devour each other to live.” That is, both are important: the exterior and the interior.

The poem also talks about childlike curiosity: “and he who does not speak childlike with both …”

“ … no light enlightens him.” You are right. And even more expressively: “He who hears not his own sound, must listen until it returns … “One’s own sound – that’s it! – I find that idea entrancing. A tone can only resonate at all where one’s own already exists. One can only hear speaking if one is able to speak in the first place. That is the peculiarity, especially in art: those who are incapable of speaking will ultimately hear nothing. The problem today is that the listeners’ speechlessness, their inability to be articulate, is evidently often the objective of programmatical planning; similar programmes constantly attempt to hinder listeners’ development – although there is nothing finer than curiosity in progressing in the discovery of something one does not yet know – and in receiving anew the gift of something familiar.

Now, despite all that I do, I am no utopian. I am very realistic. It is clear that Utopia is not sustainable; that would be an applied art. By contrast, the utopian element accrues – that cannot be planned. It is something which radiates onto us from somewhere else, like a “strange light” [Fremdes Licht] – and suddenly we are the ones who have nourished that light.

Translation Copyright © 2012 by Grant Chorley

Special prints

Fremdes Licht

Wolfgang Rihm: Fremdes Licht

study score
for high soprano, violin, clarinet and small orchestra , 30’
Instr.: 2 2 0 2 - 2 0 0 0, str

Fremdes Licht

Wolfgang Rihm: Fremdes Licht

study score
for high soprano, violin, clarinet and small orchestra , 30’
Instr.: 2 2 0 2 - 2 0 0 0, str

World première

Location:
Augsburg
Date:
27.01.2006
Orchestra:
SO des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Conductor:
Peter Eötvös

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