Georges Lentz: Jerusalem (after Blake)

Georges Lentz Jerusalem (after Blake)
Jerusalem (after Blake)

Georges Lentz: Jerusalem (after Blake)

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for orchestra and electronics
Georges Lentz
3 3 3 0 - 4 3 3 0 - perc(4), pno, cimb, e.guit, electronics, str(14 14 12 10 8)
Instrumentation details:
1st flute (+picc)
2nd flute (+picc)
3rd flute (+picc)
1st oboe
2nd oboe
3rd oboe (+c.a)
1st clarinet in Bb
2nd clarinet in Bb
3rd clarinet in Bb (+bass cl)
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in C
2nd trumpet in C
3rd trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
bass trombone
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
4th percussion
electric guitar
violino I (desk 1)
violino I (desk 2)
violino I (desk 3)
violino I (desk 4)
violino I (desk 5)
violino I (desk 6)
violino I (desk 7)
violino II (desk 1)
violino II (desk 2)
violino II (desk 3)
violino II (desk 4)
violino II (desk 5)
violino II (desk 6)
violino II (desk 7)
viola (desk 1)
viola (desk 2)
viola (desk 3)
viola (desk 4)
viola (desk 5)
viola (desk 6)
violoncello (desk 1)
violoncello (desk 2)
violoncello (desk 3)
violoncello (desk 4)
violoncello (desk 5)
double bass (desk 1)
double bass (desk 2)
double bass (desk 3)
double bass (desk 4)
Commissioned by Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, David Robertson, Philharmonie Luxembourg & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
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Jerusalem (after Blake)

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

Jerusalem (after Blake) was inspired by the poetry and visual art of William Blake (1757-1827), that great visionary of English Romantic literature who remained completely misunderstood and ignored by his contemporaries and only gained recognition one hundred years after his death, in no small part due to the advocacy of such 20th century writers as W. B. Yeats and Aldous Huxley. Today of course, Blake is a classic of English literature and widely regarded as one of the strangest, most fascinating writers of his time.

For several years now I have been reading, and trying to understand, Blake’s so-called Prophetic Books. These are difficult works that abound in surreal visions in both words and images. Blake, a trained graphic artist, illustrated his books himself with the help of a special printing technique of his own invention. Blake’s pictorial worlds, with their multitudes of bleak fiery landscapes, their hosts of sinister angels, starry night skies, interwoven muscular bodies, heavenly gates, distorted faces, monsters, ominous cathedrals, wavy robes, hair manes etc. etc. are stylistically far ahead of the artist’s time – or at least very hard to anchor within it. Some elements are reminiscent of the dark world of Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, others of Art Nouveau, even early Picasso! Blake’s accompanying poetry is every bit as overwhelming in its mighty visionary language. “Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion” (1804-1820), the author’s last, longest and perhaps most extraordinary book is a high point in his oeuvre, both literary and visual, and is the book that, above all others, I have been reading and studying for years now. My success in comprehending Blake is still rather limited, but my fascination is undiminished. (Note: this poem is not to be confused with the hymn “And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England's mountains green”, also known as ‘Jerusalem’, also by Blake, but unrelated).

It would be easy of course to dismiss Blake’s “Jerusalem. The Emanation of the Giant Albion” as the self-absorbed ravings of a lunatic cut off from the real world – and considered in a purely literal way, it may well be just that! Nonetheless, to my mind nothing would be further from the essence of Blake’s vision and message. Blake writes about the Fall of Man, the End of the World, the Apocalypse. All very old-fashioned concepts, one might think, with no relevance whatsoever to our world today. But how about our own world? Is it so much more sane? When planes intentionally crash into skyscrapers, when innocent people are beheaded in front of a camera to avenge a madly twisted conception of God, when despite the threat of ecological disaster we keep steering cheerfully towards the abyss - if that is our world, then it might seem reasonable to assert that we too live in somewhat apocalyptic times. For Blake, ‘Jerusalem’, like so many things in his work, is a multi-layered concept: it is at once the Heavenly City, man’s final goal, but it is also our own terrestrial world. Considered in the word’s latter meaning, we might do well to heed the poet’s warning when he exclaims: “Awake! Awake Jerusalem!”

I dedicate the end of the work to the victims of another plane tragedy – that ill-fated flight MH 370, which in March 2014 disappeared off the radar without a trace and probably crashed into the Indian ocean thousands of miles from its destination. A lilting barcarole (Venetian gondolier's song) briefly evokes gently lapping waves, only to abruptly contrast its harmlessness with an altogether more sinister aspect of water: a violent crash and human bodies at the bottom of the ocean. When people in the towers of New York made their final frantic phone calls, the world heard the desperate human side of the apocalypse. There were no phone calls from the passengers of the MH 370. I’d like to think that the final sounds of my piece (soft brass sounds played via mobile phones from the back of the hall) might represent those phone calls that never were – a brief elegy to those who disappeared. It isn't for sure of course that the MH 370 incident constituted an act of terrorism. Nonetheless, the possibility remains and its mystery haunted me. I'd therefore like to dedicate Jerusalem (after Blake) to the memory of all victims of violence, madness, fanaticism, terrorism and hatred.

Georges Lentz 2015

World première

Philharmonie, Luxembourg (LU)
Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Duncan Ward

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