From the first swelling chord arise dense, initially improvised percussion solos; they falter, then regain their tempo but they totter again and again. The ensemble begins with cross-fading instrumental layers, beginning quietly and becoming louder. Like the solos, this sonic surface also remains poised between recurring decelerations and accelerations, directionless among fade-ins and fade-outs of orchestral colours. Although the tempo of the continuously recurring ritardando-figures is soon coordinated between the solo and the ensemble, the sonic events are scarcely displaced, despite their common rhythm. In addition, a new motion – pitch series gliding into the depths, self-contained in a spiral shape - remains subject to inescapable repetition. There is no foreseeable objective, any more than M.C. Escher’s drawing of the illusionary self-contained staircase.
The image becomes driven, heftily intensified; the ensemble’s highest and lowest extremes and the metallic sounds of the solo fall silent, the powerful gesture leaving behind a spurious peace: triads shift microtonally, ultimately thinning out to become open fifths.
The quiet, flat, metallic sounds of the percussion again become audible while the increasingly displaced fifths merge into two-voice motion. This mixture-like sound develops into a second dynamic climax, followed by another collapse. The piece fades away with a regular pulse and indifferent accents.
Neither listening to a commissioned work nor composing it for months can influence the horrific reports in the news broadcasts. “Art can change nothing – at most, it can evoke something,” as Haas says. “Every kind of despair formulated in art is beautiful.” The composition’s name is also an evocation of such helplessness; the title relates the music’s elevation to the high tone of resignation in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies: *
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir gerade noch ertragen, und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht, uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.
From “Next Generation” Programme of the Salzburger Festspiele 1999
* If I cried out, who among the angelic orders would hear me? And even assuming that one of them suddenly took me to his heart: I would founder at his stronger entity – for beauty is nothing but the beginning of the awfulness which we just manage to bear, and we marvel at that beauty because it serenely scorns to destroy us. Every angel is dire.
Translation copyright © 2012 by Grant Chorley