Wolfgang Rihm: Versuchung

Wolfgang Rihm Versuchung

Wolfgang Rihm: Versuchung

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for violoncello and orchestra
Wolfgang Rihm
1 2 1 2 - 1 1 1 1 - perc(2), hp, pno, vln(2), vla(3), vc(3), cb(2)
Instrumentation details:
cor anglais
clarinet in A (+bass cl(Bb))
horn in F
trumpet in C
1st percussion
2nd percussion
1st violin
2nd violin
1st viola
2nd viola
3rd viola
1st violoncello
2nd violoncello
3rd violoncello
1st contrabass
2nd contrabass
Co-commissioned by Festival Musica, festival international des musiques d’aujourd’hui de Strasbourg, France Casa da Música, Portugal Festival Ars Musica Brussels, International Contemporary Music Festival, Belgium Feldkirch Festival, Austria
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

When he was a child, Wolfgang Rihm first wanted to be a painter, then a writer and then, finally, a composer. Accordingly, his path from the visual art to somewhat objectified, physically gestural composing was shorter than one might have assumed. Entire groups of his works exemplify his close ties to visual art and the many artists among his friends are testimony to the flux of energy coursing between his music and painting. His composing is a sculptural working on the endless sound he perceives within himself. Says Rihm: “I have the notion of a great block of music inside me. Every composition is at once a part of that and a physiognomy chiselled from it [ … ] With me, it is similar to my block of music – a temporal thread separates a measured part; only then does it create my physiognomy.”

The subjects in Rihm’s compositions recount hazard and compulsive behaviour; those traits also typify his music-writing itself. In his musical ideology, imagining music, presenting a new excerpt, a new form from the endlessly flowing musical flux with every work is comparable to obsession. The sound is jeopardised in his volatile presence, just as his body’s envelope is subject to spatial distortion; in “cutting into my own flesh” (Rihm) he can see, enter and perceive inner spaces and conditions far from every conventional concept of beauty – describable, perhaps, as varying degrees of brittleness.

Brittleness of line and jeopardy of perspective are concerns in Rihm’s homage to Max Beckmann’s Versuchung [“temptation”] for cello and orchestra, in which he draws from Beckmann’s triptych The Temptation (of St. Anthony), painted in the 1930s. (At the same time, he produced another “Beckmann” composition, Der Maler Träumt [“The Painter Dreaming”] for baritone and orchestra, based on Beckmann’s text Über meine Malerei [“About my Painting”]).

Rihm actually does manage to formulate precisely the prismatic “brush-up” of the individual lines in the Klangfarbe in the relationship between the solo instrument and the orchestra; the polish loses its foundations in the frenzy, only to survive the tonal free-fall into the abysses of the brooding instruments, as that very temptation/jeopardy of Anthony exemplifies.

In a certain sense, the orchestra constitutes the colour and gestural spectrum which, like a rebound of the solo voice, leads to the onset of inspiration, i.e. concentrating the music’s ray through the composition’s prism back to the initial impulse. Chronology and recollection rendezvous to mourn the loss of complete innocence – and to withstand the hazard/temptation.

Achim Heidenreich

From the Maerzmusik programme booklet, 2012

Translation Copyright © 2012 by Grant Chorley

Special prints


Wolfgang Rihm: Versuchung

study score
for violoncello and orchestra , 25’
Instr.: 1 2 1 2 - 1 1 1 1 - perc(2), hp, pno, vln(2), vla(3), vc(3), cb(2)


Wolfgang Rihm: Versuchung

for violoncello and orchestra , 25’
Instr.: 1 2 1 2 - 1 1 1 1 - perc(2), hp, pno, vln(2), vla(3), vc(3), cb(2)

World première

Cité de la musique et de la danse, Strasbourg (FR)
Les Siecles
François-Xavier Roth
Main soloists:
Sonia Wieder-Atherton, vc

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