Vykintas Baltakas: Poussla

Vykintas Baltakas Poussla

Vykintas Baltakas: Poussla

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for ensemble and orchestra
Vykintas Baltakas
orch.: 2 2 3 3 - 4 2 2 1 - perc(3), vln(16), vla(10), vc(10), cb(10); ens.: ob, clar(Eb), s.sax(Bb), vln-solo, acc, pno, tb.
Instrumentation details:
orchestra: 1st flute
2nd flute
1st oboe
2nd oboe
1st clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb))
2nd clarinet in Bb
bass clarinet in Bb
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
1st trumpet in Bb
2nd trumpet in Bb
1st trombone
2nd trombone
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
ensemble: oboe, clarinet in Eb, soprano saxophone in Bb, solo-violin, accordion, piano, tuba
Die Originalfassung 2002 wurde vom WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln in Auftrag gegeben. Die revidierte Fassung 2006 entstand im Auftrag von MaerzMusik – Festival für aktuelle Musik | Berliner Festspiele.
für Harry Vogt und Peter Eötvös, die das Entstehen des Stückes angeregt haben
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

The ensemble work Pusline was the starting point for this orchestra piece. The pusline is a Lithuanian string instrument with an animal’s bladder for a resonating body; the sound is quite pungent. The poussla could be called a large kind of pusline if it were not written “pusla” in Lithuanian; therefore, poussla is a neologism, a play on words belonging to no particular language and containing all meanings of pusten (Ger. – to puff), pousser (Fr. – to push), Blase (Ger. – bladder), blasen (Ger. – to blow), stossen (Ger. – to thrust), drängen (Ger. – to urge), an/vorantreiben (Ger. – to urge/drive forward), etc. But I especially associate poussla with a specific directness of expression.

In Pusline I tried to form a nonlinear dramaturgy, an energy field prominent at every moment, constantly rotating and providing ever-new listening perspectives. A vibrating object has its own laws of motion; its amplitude can be large or small, it can move faster or slower, it can come to a standstill, resume vibrating and set other oscillations in motion. Such behaviour is very similar to the physical structure of a sound: its make-up of many partials which themselves vibrate and which are yet have specific ratios to one another. A sound is like a large wheel with many small wheels in the gears. The meaning of vibration has no objective; its meaning is the vibrating itself. This idea forms a basis of nonlinear structure.

Yet Poussla is not an illustration of this process – I do not even know if this association applies to the essence of the piece at all. Such an image can be a mode of thought for a composer, but that does not mean that the resultant music is actually identical to it or even has anything to do with it. Music is a living entity; it has its own will and the composer does not have sole power over controlling that entity completely. He can influence it, initiate it, give it direction, make decisions – but composing is more of an interplay between the composer and the organism, viz. music. One gives impulses but receives other impulses back, in turn, which one processes and which then swing back.

Therefore I am very skeptical about attempts to describe music in words. Many listeners are practically obsessed with “understanding,” in the sense of rational, verbally oriented (“logical”) thinking. Every composer is repeatedly obliged to write explanatory texts; this is a tradition which developed from the rationalistic utopia of the 1950s and 1960s and which has transformed onto a kind of production routine.

This is senseless, in my opinion, since once does not “understand” music better for knowing the structure or random details. Nor does the story of the work’s genesis say anything about the music itself; that is as if describing butter would bring one closer to the essence of bread, just because they have a “bread and butter” relationship.

You’re smiling, aren’t you? – but that is I how I feel when I am supposed to describe my music. My way out of this situation is to say, “Of course, I’ll do it – but first, you describe the colour ‘green’ to me. That is necessary for me,” whereupon the conversation ends and we start to talk about other things.

We must be clear on the fact that there are various kinds of “understanding.” Music is a different medium which affects another, non-logical-verbal level. Music only exists when it is sounding; it does not exist in the thought preceding it, or in the description of its characteristics, in critiques or analysis. It does not even exist in the score, which is only a collation of “performance instructions.” It is only possible to “think” about music within the medium of music itself. A sound can only be described in terms of another one, and only one sound can be recalled, not the description of a sound. In that case, one remembers the description, not the sound. Music is only “understandable” with the help of the music itself, from within itself.

Besides, an attempt to approach music on the level of language is doomed to failure before it even begins, since it develops a “fiction” of music. Very often, talking about music leads to extremely complex texts which few people can even read and which entail no greater profit. And believing that one has expressed anything in words is nothing other than self-deception of perhaps a cry for help from someone who, in fact, has no grasp of music.

I do not wish to take that path. I do not proceed on the assumption that listeners can only perceive a work when they have acquired information about it. No – listeners need not know anything! They need only be inwardly open to the sound, to the unknown, to something which they can perhaps capture with the help of conventional notions. They must also be unafraid if something confronts them which destabilises their ideological principles or makes them feel uncomfortable; they must decisively plunge into the world of sound.

Vykintas Baltakas

Translation: Grant Chorley, 2013

Special prints


Vykintas Baltakas: Poussla

full score
for ensemble and orchestra , 20’
Instr.: orch.: 2 2 3 3 - 4 2 2 1 - perc(3), vln(16), vla(10), vc(10), cb(10); ens.: ob, clar(Eb), s.sax(Bb), vln-solo, acc, pno, tb.


Vykintas Baltakas: Poussla

study score
for ensemble and orchestra , 20’
Instr.: orch.: 2 2 3 3 - 4 2 2 1 - perc(3), vln(16), vla(10), vc(10), cb(10); ens.: ob, clar(Eb), s.sax(Bb), vln-solo, acc, pno, tb.

World première

Philharmonie, Berlin (DE)
SWR-SO Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Sylvain Cambreling

Press reviews

“From the loud, sharp blast of an opening to the great slabs of sound tilting this way and that, from the lovely little plinks and plonks of the solo piano to the really ripping timpani work, Vykintas Baltakas’ Poussla was a real orchestral attention-grabber, one of several orchestral pieces that were quite surprisingly satisfying–surprising to me, anyway, who in the 1980s had rather gotten out of the habit of attending orchestra concerts in the US.”

(Michael E. Karman, Asymmetry Music Magazine, on the 2008 ISCM World Music Days)

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