Georg Friedrich Haas: „I can't breathe“

  • for solo trumpet
  • Duration: 13’
  • Instrumentation details:
    trumpet in C
  • Composer: Georg Friedrich Haas
  • Commission: Kompositionsauftrag des Ensembles Musikfabrik, gefördert durch das Ministerium für Familie, Kinder, Jugend, Kultur und Sport des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen

Work introduction

Commissioned by the Musikfabrik Ensemble, supported by the Ministry of Families, Children, Youth, Culture and Sports, Province of Rhineland-Westphalia

I live in the USA. I like it here. It is a wonderful country with wonderful people and wonderful culture.

But …

When I walk on a lonely street in New York in the evening, I am afraid. Of criminals. If my skin were black, I would be more afraid of the police than I am of criminals.

Eric Garner has become a symbol.

He had doubly bad luck. On the one hand, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But above all, his skin was the wrong colour. His offence: he had bought cigarettes. And he was African-American. The police thought he was a black marketeer and acted accordingly. During this official action he suffocated – he was asthmatic. His last words were “I can’t breathe!”

Those who brought about his death were not even indicted – they did not have to stand trial in any court.

That was not just one isolated case.

Protest stirred. “Black Lives Matter!” was the slogan heard throughout the land at much-noted demonstrations. I declare my solidarity with that protest in this work.

I can’t breathe for solo trumpet in memoriam Eric Garner begins quite traditionally with a dirge: a free cantilena in twelve-tone space. Then the intervals constrict; the song becomes more and more smothered, ultimately in a 16-note scale. The dirge constricts within a sonic space of other trumpet notes of extreme registers and changing colours – cautionary symbols, perhaps, of the world from which the victim was violently torn away.

I give no notes to the perpetrators.

Performing the piece requires many rapid changes and slow alterations of mutes; Marco Blaauw’s double-bell trumpet is ideally suited for this.

I thank the Cologne Philharmonie, Heinz Holliger and Marco Blaauw for making this performance possible on such short notice. And I am especially thankful to the persons responsible at the Musikfabrik Ensemble for waiving their vested right to premiere the piece in one of their concerts so that it could be made accessible to the public at the earliest possible date.

World première

Kölner Philharmonie, Köln (DE)
Main soloists:
Marco Blaauw, tpt

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