Wolfgang Rihm: Verwandlung

Wolfgang Rihm Verwandlung

Wolfgang Rihm: Verwandlung

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for orchestra
Wolfgang Rihm
2 1 2 1 - 4 1 2 0 - timp, perc(3), hp, pno, str(14 12 10 8 6)
Instrumentation details:
1st flute (+picc)
2nd flute(+picc)
1st clarinet in A
2nd clarinet in A
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
3rd horn in F
4th horn in F
trumpet in C
1st trombone
2nd trombone
1st percussion
2nd percussion
3rd percussion
violin I
violin II
NDR Symphonie-Orchester, Alte Oper Frankfurt
Wilhelm Killmayer zum 75. Geburtstag
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Work introduction

This fifteen-minute piece could be the slow movement of a lost late-Romantic symphony. Or, more likely, it could be a dream of such music, a reach towards memory, in which echoes from Bruckner, Mahler, Berg, Richard Strauss and others are reheard in an atmosphere of exquisite difficulty and regret. The gestures we seem to recognize: melodies of search and dissatisfaction, that keep restarting, or sombre horn chords, or a solo violin bent on the heights, or freshness bubbling in on flutes and clarinets. These and other events are drawn into a narrative we are likely to find compelling. But the underlying logic is missing. The experience is a bit like that of watching a passionate film scene with the sound turned down. Things of great moment and expressive power are happening; we can sense that, and feel it. At the same time there is a mystery in how things go, will go. 

Rihm wrote the work in 2002 as a seventy-fifth birthday tribute to a fellow German composer, Wilhelm Killmayer. For the same occasion he wrote a plaudit in words, suggesting that his feelings for Killmayer have to do with qualities he would surely wish us to find in his own music, and not least in this piece: ‘Killmayer's music looks nowhere for protection, least of all by hiding behind technique....Everything is open, transparent—if you will, “defenceless”. But of such great strength in itself.’ 

Strength in this piece is achieved with a relatively modest orchestra, more on a Beethoven than a Strauss-Mahler scale. Moreover, there are no tuttis; rather, the ensemble is constantly changing, with only the horns and the strings as more or less permanent players. The resulting fluidity of colour may be one connotation of the title, which means ‘transformation’. Certainly, though, there are others. The magical opening has a single note — the G just over the treble staff — repeated by different instruments and groupings, constantly transformed. Right after this, the strangely and affectingly hesitant passage begun by strings is based on a melody that starts out from a rising fifth. One might have the impression of an old-style passacaglia, where a short melody is repeated over and over again beneath variations. Here, though, the melody is itself subject to variation, and eventually it dissolves — though it will make a return shortly before the end. Yet another transformative aspect of the piece has already been described: the misted mirror it offers to the musical world of around a century ago. 

There is more than this. The mirror is not only misted but cracked. The music shocks. As the piece winds its elusive way, the power of imagination — to define, to redefine, to retrieve and indeed to transform — is assaulted by a different kind of power. Yet this is not the end. The movement goes on. 

© Paul Griffiths: contact [email protected] for permission to use

Special prints


Wolfgang Rihm: Verwandlung

full score
for orchestra , 15’
Instr.: 2 1 2 1 - 4 1 2 0 - timp, perc(3), hp, pno, str(14 12 10 8 6)


Wolfgang Rihm: Verwandlung

study score
for orchestra , 15’
Instr.: 2 1 2 1 - 4 1 2 0 - timp, perc(3), hp, pno, str(14 12 10 8 6)

World première

Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main (DE)
Christoph Eschenbach

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