Interview with Tabea Zimmermann
Introduction by the composer
In 1994, I read a book about the Pythagorean concept of the Music of the Spheres – music which, according to the great Greek thinker, is produced by the rotation of the heavenly spheres and is audible to God, but inaudible to human ears. This book made me want to write music that would be as 'pure' as possible. I called this initially rather abstract project 'Mysterium'. With this concept in mind, I have written, over the last few years, a series of orchestral and chamber music works which I wanted to have a very serene sound and in which I consciously avoided any kind of romantic pathos. In the light of this, my new work for viola and orchestra, Monh, presented itself as a challenge: I couldn't imagine at first how I could possibly reconcile this rather objective way of composing with the romantic concept of the subjective, virtuoso solo concerto. It was only after I stopped considering the soloist as a hero, but rather as a fragile individual within a huge entity that I felt free once more to continue writing my own music within a new context.
Monh is not a solo concerto in the conventional sense. Rather, the solo viola acts as a guide through the work – it connects, completes, questions, comments, tries to make sense of the vastness that surrounds it. Dynamically speaking, much of Monh is rather soft. In one spot, however, about two thirds into the piece, the music grows into a brief but enormous fortissimo which completely covers a 'ghost-like' trio of violas, which is visible, but totally inaudible at first. Computer-manipulated harp sounds are heard towards the beginning as well as at the end of the piece. Perhaps because of my familiarity in early childhood with Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, the sound of the harp has always had a 'celestial' quality for me (the cliché of the 'angelic harp' comes to mind …). My discovery of a painting by El Greco entitled 'Angel Concert' (complete with harp-playing angel) at first only seemed to confirm this cliché. However, that same painting also showed me the way to a somewhat different interpretation. Dark, threatening clouds hang over El Greco's apocalyptic angel concert and cancel out any thoughts of paradise. Similarly, my 'angel harp' – with its dark, dense chords and microtonal inflections, impossible to play on a normal harp – gives the instrument a shadowy, almost demonic quality, begging the question: is an untroubled 'Music of the Heavens' still possible in this day and age?
The title Monh (a word meaning 'stars' in one of the Australian Aboriginal languages) points to another influence on my music: the isolation of the vast Australian landscape with its radiant night skies, as well as Aboriginal art and its well known 'dot' technique. There seemed to me to be a clear analogy between a dot painting and the starry night sky as experienced in the silence of the Outback. Ultimately, my music is concerned with the problem of how to bear this silence, with the problem of our existential loneliness