Johannes Maria Staud: Berenice

Johannes Maria Staud Berenice

Johannes Maria Staud: Berenice

Year of composition:
Oper after Edgar Allan Poe
Johannes Maria Staud
Durs Grünbein
Writer of pre-existing text:
Edgar Allan Poe
Egaeus 1, actor Egaeus 2, bassbaritone Berenice, soprano Der Vamp, mezzo-soprano Edgar Allen Poe, actor Das Hausmädchen, high soprano in the choir Die tote Mutter, alto in the choir Der Hausarzt, bass in the choir Ein Diener, tenor in the choir
Chor der Familiengeister, gemischtes 8-stimmiges Vokalensemble
1 0 1 0 - 1 2 1 1 - perc(2), harm, pno, sax, vln(2), vla(2), vc(2), cb(1), tape, live-electronics
Instrumentation details:
flute (+picc
alto fl
bass fl)
clarinet in Bb (
soprano saxophone in Bb (+alto sax(Eb)
horn in F (+t.tuba(Bb)
wagner tuba)
1st trumpet in C (+picc.tpt in Bb)
2nd trumpet in Bb (+flhn)
trombone (
contrabass tuba (+cb.tuba)
1st percussion
2nd percussion
1st violin
2nd violin
1st viola
2nd viola
1st violoncello
2nd violoncello
Auftragswerk der Landeshauptstadt München für die Münchener Biennale, der Wiener Festwochen und der Berliner Festspiele
für Heidrun
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

My first full-length work is based on the arabesque Berenice, published in 1835 by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). This dark horror story revolves around the unequal, incestuous marriage of Egaeus and Berenice, facing each other like archetypal opposites. The underlying horror at the heart of the piece comes out from human anatomy, the human soul. It plays out, like so much of Poe’s work, on the threshold between daily life and the world of nightmares.

Strings of variations arise from the most varied seeds of inspiration, constantly combining and recombining, and developing gradually into an almost inescapable tangle of relationships, in which unexpected trapdoors and dead ends threaten to open up at any minute. Sung passages are interspersed with the spoken passages, underlining the schizophrenic separation of the role of Egaeus between a singer and an actor. This also heightens the contrast with the fragile figure of Berenice.

An eight-voice vocal ensemble playing the choir of family ghosts commentates on the action as if in a Greek tragedy, with a range of expressions from whispers to shouts. Minor characters like the Dead Mother are recruited from the vocal ensemble, the performers momentarily escaping from the shadows of anonymity. The musical basis of the whole piece is a lightly amplified harmonium and five electronically generated spatial sound patterns based on the sounds of metalworking machines. The aim was not to integrate these electronic textures into the rest of the work, but rather to replicate a sonic idea which would not have been possible with voices or instruments alone.

(Johannes Maria Staud)

Special prints


Johannes Maria Staud: Berenice

study score
, 85’
Instr.: 1 0 1 0 - 1 2 1 1 - perc(2), harm, pno, sax, vln(2), vla(2), vc(2), cb(1), tape, live-electronics


Johannes Maria Staud: Berenice

study score
, 85’
Instr.: 1 0 1 0 - 1 2 1 1 - perc(2), harm, pno, sax, vln(2), vla(2), vc(2), cb(1), tape, live-electronics

Press reviews

This introduction is so chillingly beautiful that it could hardly ever be surpassed - even if Staud's sonic inventiveness and talent for imaginative instrumentation do seem to be inexhaustible. (Eleonore Bühning, FAZ).

Musically, Staud has opened up considerably compared to his earlier works. Particularly in the moments when Berenice sings, he approaches the realm of entertainment music, tango, blues and jazz. These are not employed in the post-modern sense of a musical-linguistic collage, but function as a lascivious, soft mass of immediate, superficial, sensuous attraction. (Reinhard Schulz, SZ).

His openness is notable, and his approach is non-dogmatic. A delicate tango here, a bluesy musical ballad there, creepily floating glissandi, eerily abstract cantilenas. Not to mention a wonderful musical stalactite cavern of the orchestra, of noise-like sounds from tape, of jazz from the brass. And lots of percussiveness to go around. (Ljubisa Tosic, Der Standard)

In Staud's universe, word and sound achieve unity …. The result is musical theatre in the most literal sense. (Peter Jarolin, Kurier)

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