Wolfgang Rihm: Vers une symphonie fleuve

Wolfgang Rihm Vers une symphonie fleuve
Vers une symphonie fleuve

Wolfgang Rihm: Vers une symphonie fleuve

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for orchestra
Wolfgang Rihm
4 4 6 4 - 4 4 2 2 - perc(2), str(14 12 10 8 7) - in the distance: tpt(2), perc(2)
Instrumentation details:
1st flute (+picc)
2nd flute (+picc)
3rd flute (+picc)
4th flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe
1st cor anglais
2nd cor anglais
1st clarinet in A
2nd clarinet in A
3rd clarinet in A
4th clarinet in A
1st bass clarinet in Bb
2nd bass clarinet in Bb
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st contrabassoon
2nd contrabassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st piccolo trumpet in C
2nd piccolo trumpet in C
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
3rd trumpet in C (in the distance)
4th trumpet in C (in the distance)
1st trombone
2nd trombone
1st contrabass tuba
2nd contrabass tuba
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion (in the distance)
4th percussion (in the distance)
violin I(14)
violin II(12)
More Less

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

I see my orchestra compositions vers une Symphonie fleuve I-IV, which I wrote over the past years, as a kind of spring. Tributaries flow together in the direction of a (perhaps never realized) "Symphonie fleuve," a flowing symphony; and like a "Roman fleuve" (flowing novel) figures and situations appear, disappear and reappear again ...

A river of events and of associations: river shapes, currents, dams and rapids. A river without banks?

Hang on to that image. And also to the point of departure: "Vers une musique informelle... ". (Towards an informal music.) Let us think of music in the shape a river; as the forward-movement of sound substance, as emotion in forms - they're all just attempts at putting the idea in words; about the most inexplicable: that music has no body and yet movement. I follow energy lines, the gradients, and attempt to record where they are heading. But then there is a riverbank: my viewing point from which I see the river.

A symphony of nature can only be a copy of the quintessence of nature, i.e. her forms of growth and flowing. [It can] never be a concrete reference to a particular little stream, a certain mountain, valley or moor. "Nature" is the effect, the structure of developments.

The MEANS of communication; nothing more, but only music can turn it into sound. That is: ... everything.

Wolfgang Rihm


Excerpt from a text by Dr. Ulrich Mosch (English translation by Dr. Robert Lindell):

... Rihm's composition is characterized by the use of concrete "sound-objects," comparable to the way a painter uses colours or a sculptor stone and iron. Edgar Varèse was the most important model in this respect. Unlike composition based on thinking in parameters, such as we have seen in many works written since the Fifties, Rihm arrives at his composition in a kind of dialogue with a sound-object that determines all of its elements. In a dialectic of compositional setting, and at the same time as an almost physical reaction to it, it is able to unfold its own individual dynamics. The result of this process is often comparable to an aesthetic object which is less the realisation of a previous compositional idea than a report about his "Searching for the composition", as Rihm put it in a lecture titled "Musical Freedom" which he gave in 1983 at the Römerbad-Musiktagen in Badenweiler. Musik für drei Streicher [Music for Three Stringed Instruments] (1977) or Ohne Titel (Fünftes Streichquarett) [Untitled (Fifth String Quartet)] (1981-1983) and Sechstes Streichquartett - Blaubuch [Sixth String Quartet - Bluebook] (1984) can be considered as examples of this kind of composition.

It seems only logical that Rihm, since the beginning of the Nineties, has gone beyond the borders of the individual work towards the wider search for music per se. Now various series of works are created in which the individual composition always represents a stage within the basically open mutational process. They belong together because they arise from the same roots without, however, forming cycles in the traditional sense. Among these works, we should count the five attempts at "Musik in memoriam Luigi Nono" (Cantus firmus, Ricercare, Abgewandt 2, Umfassung and La lugubre gondola/Das Eismeer) and the two "Zustände" von Séraphin, Versuch eine Theaters, Instrumente/Stimmen/... nach Antonin Artaud (1993-94 and 1993-94/1996 respectively).

The four (until the present) orchestral compositions with the title vers une Symphonie fleuve (1992/1995-98) also belong to this group. During the revision of these pieces, the score of the earlier work was literally absorbed by the later one. It was copied, written over or cut up, and the individual pieces were added to the new score. The original musical substance appears in a different form as a part of a multi-layered process, in ever-changing units of development. The sheer concept of such a procedure is only possible by his use of those concrete sound-objects which the composer employs and which in principle are changeable and flexible. At the same time, the process is also characteristic of a composition whose activity is stimulated by previously existing material - whether this be his own or that of others. Rihm himself describes his technique, which is strongly influenced by the ideas of art, as an "overpainting," a process that plays an important role in, for example, the works of the Austrian painter Arnulf Rainer. By listening we can only experience such a mutational process by directly comparing a variety of "states."

The series of compositions vers une Symphonie fleuve started in 1995, is based on the one-movement piece et nunc II for winds and percussion dating from 1993, which was in itself a revised version of et nunc I (1992). In the sense of a "contrafacture" - a technique in the Middle Ages of setting new texts to existing songs - a newly composed counterpart was added to the existing music of et nunc II for vers une Symphonie fleuve I (1995), which was reserved for the string parts that hadn't been employed up to that point. In Sphere, a sister work composed a year earlier on the same model, a completely different counterpart was set for the piano. (This later became Nachtstudie [Nocturne] for piano solo.)

Although vers une Symphonie fleuve I does not differ as a "contrafacture" from the formal development and length of the model, the composer changes a variety of aspects in the course of the further works in the series. Parts are extracted; new material is added. The previous piece is therefore no longer complete but rather covered by new layers, enriched, and even commented upon. The parts that are used are put in a new relationship in which the newly-composed material influences the existing models and creates new developments.

Vers une Symphonie fleuve IV differs from the preceding third "state" first of all in its length, which has almost been doubled. But only 233 bars (from measure 160 to the end) were taken over and that with numerous changes in the musical content: thickening or thinning out the polyphonic material, changes in colour of the orchestral sound by adding more instruments or by moving the agonic balance, or increasing repetitions of entire sections. On the whole, it is this particular passage that most clearly refers to the symphonic writing of Gustav Mahler, where the intervention in the status quo is most evident, as compared to the preceding three "states." It would be interesting to confront vers une Symphonie fleuve III and IV to demonstrate not only the dynamic contrasts or how the variety of different sound qualities are pushed to extremes, but also to consciously focus on the increased presence of repetitive aspects so that they can be emphasized, even to the point of stagnation, a kind of marching in place.

The composer placed this block, which ends with a gigantic increase in sound matter, in newly-composed material of a similar dimension while at the same time creating seamless connections. Thus the original ending flows into a gigantic singing melody played by the entire orchestra. What follows is based partly on the material from the adapted block, and partly on newly-presented material ( in which the repetitive element is also given decisive importance). Unlike the previous "state" which steers toward a climax briefly before the end, the new work is expressed as a clear arch form.

The title of the series of works, vers une Symphonie fleuve, obviously refers to Hubert Fichte's idea of a roman fleuve, which is the basis of the seventeen volume Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit. Not the individual piece is in movement; the character of the symphony is what leads the composer on without his ever reaching it. It merely creates the perceptive of conscious composing , i.e. that every musical form is solidification, which could be like this but also different, and that at the same time, the employed compositional material contains a potential that may never be exhausted. It is no coincidence that this reminds us of Theodor W. Adorno's lecture Vers une musique informelle, which he gave at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in 1961. The philosopher developed perspectives there of an informal music, which could fulfil the demands for compositional freedom set in modern music history without succumbing to the conceptual contradictions of the 1950s. It is possible to see Vers une Symphonie fleuve, as well as the other analogous series, as the attempt to realize the ideal of informal music, or at least as an attempt to move closer to that ideal in a very personal manner.

Special prints

Vers une symphonie fleuve

Wolfgang Rihm: Vers une symphonie fleuve

full score
for orchestra , 25’
Instr.: 4 4 6 4 - 4 4 2 2 - perc(2), str(14 12 10 8 7) - in the distance: tpt(2), perc(2)

World première

Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Gerd Albrecht

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