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Johannes Maria Staud: Polygon

  • Music (2002)
  • for piano and orchestra
  • 3 2 2 3 - 0 3 2 1 - perc(4), hp, acc, sax(2), wagner tuba(3), str(12 10 8 6 5)
  • Duration: 12’
  • Soloists:
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute (+picc)
    2nd flute (+picc)
    3rd flute (+bass fl(C))
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    1st clarinet in Bb
    2nd clarinet in Bb
    soprano saxophone in Bb (+bar.sax(Eb))
    alto saxophone in Eb (+bar.sax(Eb))
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    1st wagner tuba in B
    2nd wagner tuba in B
    3rd wagner tuba in F
    1st piccolo trumpet in B
    2nd piccolo trumpet in B (+tpt(C))
    3rd trumpet in C
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    contrabass tuba
    1st percussion
    2nd percussion
    3rd percussion
    4th percussion
    violin I
    violin II
  • Composer: Johannes Maria Staud
  • Dedication: für Thomas Larcher

Work introduction

The title Polygon – according to the dictionary, a geometric form consisting of n points (the corners of the polygon) and n connecting lines (the sides of the polygon) – was a sure thing fairly soon after work on the composition began.

This so absolute and beautiful-sounding expression from the world of abstraction has fascinated me, somehow, for a long time. The unshakeable objectivity of the term, combined with its seemingly archaic sound (probably due to the symmetrical distribution of the vowels) gave the mind games which it ignited more latitude than other possible titles, aiming in a more definite, poetically determined direction, would have been able to. The word served me as a motto and an inspiration, as an always available key with which I was able to instantly put myself into a bizarre state of mind peculiar to this work, which I always need in order to be musically inventive.

At the same time, however, the word Polygon also provided new fuel to my enthusiasm for the American visual artist Walter De Maria (*1935). His "The 2000 Sculpture" (1992), in particular, made a deep impression upon me when I got to see it for the first time. 2000 five, seven and nine-cornered rods lie (combined in all possible mathematical combinations) in an exact arrangement on the floor, thereby creating a field of 50 x 10 meters. The individual outer surfaces of the white plaster rods, with their various angles and outer surface areas, reflect light in just as many different ways. The fact that an extremely reduced basic vocabulary was employed fades into the background when one walks along this sculpture, since – if one takes the time – numerous geometric patterns suddenly become perceptible, which create an impressive effect by virtue of the rods' seemingly infinite length. Only by way of an individual manner of observation can this pure, seemingly meaningless form of sculpture (which is in turn dependent upon the lighting conditions at any given moment, etc.) acquire meaning. The observer is necessary in order to complete the poetic act – and without his participation, the sculpture remains "without meaning".

In no case did I want to produce an analogy set to notes, because musical and visual vocabularies are completely different and irreconcilable. And I really didn't want to get stuck doing an esoteric and kitschy misinterpretation of De Maria (read: not being able to stop on the auditory threshold). Another way in which I wanted to avoid this danger was by keeping my work to a concise length, in complete contrast to De Maria's expansive sculpture. I was much rather at pains to use De Maria's sculpture as my model in terms of the diverse relationships between very few, simple basic building blocks (and the multiple formal meanings resulting therefrom). Clear time proportions, small and large sections laid out to include formal double entendres (through self-recursion), seemingly new material which results from the linking of already-known basic vocabulary in combination – all this played a decisive role in the final outcome. The availability of multiple meanings, however, also makes demands on the listener, who contributes his own interpretation – through which the piece receives "meaning" to begin with, and thus the ability to live.

I tried to get closer to the bizarre state of mind alluded to above, in which the word Polygon put me while I worked, by way of the instrumentation, as well (including 2 saxophones, Wagner tubas instead of horns, piccolo trumpets, …). But the orchestration, as well as the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra, was determined exclusively by the self-recursive formal model, is in fact itself a constituent part of the formal model, which I also wanted to pit against the traditional piano concerto dramaturgy. The work is dedicated to Thomas Larcher, in friendship.

Johannes Maria Staud, 4 August 2002


World première

Musikverein, Großer Saal, Wien (AT)
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien
Bertrand de Billy
Main soloists:
Thomas Larcher, Klav

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