The defining feature of Georg Friedrich Haas' creative work is his work with the minutiae of sound creation. “The love of sound, the love of the sounds that unfold like living beings in time and space“, he wrote in his Notes on Composition, “is for me one of the founding principles of my work“. Like, for example, Giacinto Scelsi – but with the key difference that he created his tonal effects with precisely noted scores – Haas focuses his attention on the possibilities of microtonality and the complex internal life of sound (for example the combined effects of different overtones or partial tones), creating sound worlds and harmonic colours that go beyond the possibilities of the traditional eleven-note tempered half-tone scale. Along with Scelsi's sound experiments and the microtonal concepts of, say, a Harry Partch or a James Tennery, the most sustained influence on Haas' music has been that of Ivan Vyšnegradski's attempt to create an “ultrachromatic“ sound, and his conception of a sound continuum of barely distinguishable tones, distinct by only the tiniest of distances. Similarly fundamental to Haas' work was the recognition that microtonal gradations are actually not as unfamiliar to us as we might think: whether in music – even that of central Europe, where performers create the inflections which give each performance its own allure with almost unconscious microtonal shifts, or in the complex sound worlds of the everyday, or in the melodies of speech, where we can all recognise the smallest differences in tonality. Haas concluded from it that microtonality should not be understood as a distortion of a tempered system, but could also be used a natural, consciously deployed material for musical composition.
This can also be seen in the cycle ...wie stille brannte das Licht for soprano and chamber orchestra. In writing the vocal part, Haas was inspired by Sarah Wegener's enormous vocal range and incredible facility with precise microtonal intonation – and wrote the part as if tailor-made for Wegener, the soloist at the premiere. The vocal part is divided in two sections. On the one hand, in pieces 2, 4, 5 and 7, based on poems by Georg Trakl, Theodor Storm, August Stramm and Else Lasker-Schüler, the vocal part is tied to the text in a relatively conventional way, with even the quarter-tones and glissandi based on the melody of speech, thus sounding anything but “unnatural“. On the other hand, the voice takes on almost “instrumental“ qualities, particularly in pieces 1, 3 and 6, which sound almost like instrumental preludes or interludes, being based not on a semantic text, but exclusively on the vocalisation of differently textured sounds. The harmony of the orchestral part is similarly subtly constructed, for example in the composed overtone scales and the beat effects they produce (in the sixth piece), the admixtures of the second piece, which betray the influence of the music of Oliver Messiaen, or the complex chord sequences, which return repeatedly to the so-called Vyšnegradski chord and its variants.
© Andreas Günther