As a young person I used to perform Viennese folk
music as second violinist in suburban establishments of Hernals in pre-war Vienna; among them were academies,
balls, weddings and banquets. In the 80s I started to engage myself with
non-European folk music; around that time, when I was once again browsing in
the Viennese poems of my friend Ernst Kein, I suddenly realised that, as a
composer, I had so far completely ignored Viennese folk music, although I had been
carrying it inside me from early childhood. I wanted to change this. Thus,
parallel to finishing my opera Baal,
I wrote the I. Keintate.
The title is an amalgam of “Kantate” („cantata“), i.
e. something to sing, and the name of Ernst Kein, the author of its text. The
text I have set to music is taken from his volumes Wiener Panoptikum and Wiener Grottenbahn. Before the premiere
at the Metropol theatre (1983), a bar that reminds of the suburban “establishments“
frequented by Johann Strauß at that time, I said to the audience (which knew me
from other circumstances): “After the rehearsal of Keintate I was asked whether I took seriously what I was doing.
This question took me by surprise, and it deserves a serious reply. I did not
want to make fun of the folk music models. I did not want to improve them or
use them as a joke. They simply provided a basis. I have taken them up in order
to return to a distance, often an ironic distance, by stylising and
defamiliarizing them. Furthermore, I wanted to investigate the models. One
should not confuse this fundamental attitude with the kind of naivety that does
not know what cliché means“. This is also Ernst Kein's opinion, who observes
how people talk and takes up phrases of this dialect jargon in order to
emphasise them by exaggerating. This is where the main difference between this
literature and the one of H. C. Artmann lies: while Artmann’s vernacular poems
distil poetry from the Viennese folk milieu, Kein takes up the “literal”
meaning and exaggerates the reality.
The musical models take up well-known melodies and cite
them, such as allusions to O du lieber
Augustin and O du mein Österreich in No 4 („Der Himmel für uns Wiener...“) or Wien, Wien, nur du allein in No 34 („Falls Sie ein Fremder sind...“). But more
often I take the characteristic inflection of Viennese folk music and
interweave its elements. The orchestration (2 clarinets, 2 horns, string
quintet, accordion and percussion) aims to create sounds that are reminiscent
of a “Heurigenpartie“.
By de-familiarizing more and more of its elements
during the last section, this piece documents an essential layer of Vienna’s mentality. Thus,
the number of resolutions as well as delirium, fatalism and death of the piece
start to dominate – ancient topics of folk and Viennese art.
Not only do colour slides that feature a translation
into standard German and English (the latter was done by Ernst Krenek) exist, but
also a series of slides after pictures of Franz Hubmann, who has created the
well-known illustrated books about Vienna, which are unique in their artistic
quality. Thus the I. Keintate is continuously
accompanied by expressive, poetic or also sarcastic pictures of Viennese types
and scenes. The combination of music and pictures has so far been
extraordinarily suitable for performances in foreign countries, for representing
a realistic Vienna
without weakening its force of attraction.