Wolfgang Rihm’s La musique creuse le ciel for two pianos and large orchestra is an early work, written between 1977 and 1979. The composer was just 25 when he started out on the score. It is a stroke of genius by an ‘untamed’ young composer, who at the start of his career caused some consternation amongst the establishment of the avant-garde at the time. In this work, Rihm cuts through the hermeneutic dialogue of serial music: the clear outlines as well as the tightly woven net of motivic structures and characteristic gestures conjure up a musical cosmos that may be viewed from various standpoints and which avers blocks of sound, appearing to be in a state of permanent flux. It turns out to be an early example of Rihm’s notion of ‘flowing music’, an idea which he was to take up again and re-examine in later years, most importantly from the early 1990s onwards.
The title is taken from an extant poem by Charles Baudelaire and may be translated roughly as ‘music hollows out the sky’. When Rihm started out on this work, he had already become well acquainted with the expressionist poets and the lyric poetry of Paul Celan. In the case of his relationship with this latter figure, the composer had already reached the stage of ‘an actual dialogue’, as Josef Häusler once aptly put it.
Dialogue is also the central moment in this composition, in many ways as it turns out. At the centre are the two soloists. They are given passages that are obviously dominant, and are accompanied – at least in terms of impulse – by the percussion. But they also act as soloists, either singly or joint, who take the form of two persons in dialogue with the orchestral forces. For long passages of the work they are part of the whole, their conversation forming part of various constellations within the entire performing body.
Formally, the work is quite clear. Fermatas and extremely reduced passages mark acute caesuras within the musical flow. At the beginning there is a three-note motif that constantly reappears as the piece progresses, at one point narrowed to a quarter tone gesture. The reply to this three-note motif is another elemental motif – a tremolo that threatens to multiply itself in the solo instruments. An intricately intertwined to and fro is the result.
The progress of the music is however not only governed by the thematic treatment of this material. And the two basic elements provide only the corner stones, Rihm casting around continually for points of contrast, surprising new developments and novel processes within the web of sound. This is music that explores its borders, which remains powerful as well as energetic, and which imbues the overall texture with superficial virtuosity. The more peaceful passages never lack a sense of being highly charged, but often act as the initial signs of immanent catastrophe or storm-ridden developments of material previously presented. The tremolos appear again and again, even if their dramaturgical function within the work often arises from many a disparate source. Despite this, they act as formal bookends, ones which serve to hold together plethora heterogeneous musical materials.
La musique creuse le ciel is no hermetically sealed musical cosmos, but a work that meanders, grows protuberances, branches out and constantly changes its outline and direction. Musical density is in a state of change too, as are the colour of the music as well as its silhouette too, and this within a space of just a few bars. It is like a fluid sculpture, one which is in permanent motion. This leads to an open form with various degrees of certainty, although the clear and obvious character of the work itself is never questioned – all in all a wonderful example of the sudden flowering of neo-expressionism at the end of the 1970s.
Rhythmic visions – Über-Schrift
Über-Schrift for two pianos was written in 1992/2003. Along with In-Schrift for orchestra and Nach-Schrift for ensemble, this work is one of a series of pieces that form a central part of the composer’s œuvre and in which the theme turns out to be the way music is written, the actual compositional process lying at the music’s core.
Single pitch heights are given at the beginning of this formally ambitious piece lasting about half an hour. They dictate the inner rhythm of the work, in front of which new figures and patterns emerge continuously. At the outset there are only short, abrupt gestures, Rihm insisting seemingly on the rhythmic pattern ‘short–long’. Only later do these terse phrases develop into more complex structures and arches, single events gradually taking on welcome contextual reference. For many a passage the score resembles a puzzle, the empty spaces of which are filled only by and by, the whole turning into a kind of musical tort with insinuations of the dance, or a gradually emergent tango like a cheese riddled with holes: music is born from the rhythm of the soul.
Die gewissenhaft edierten CDs des Münchner Labels NEOS verdienen Aufmerksamkeit. Abseits eingefahrener Wege bemüht man sich hier um interessante Angebote, bei denen es auch für den Musikkenner noch einiges zu entdecken gilt. So gehört die vorliegende Aufnahme mit Kompositionen von Wolfgang Rihm zum Profundesten, was derzeit in den entsprechenden Musikkatalogen zum Schaffen dieses interessanten Komponisten zu entdecken ist.
Die beiden Kompositionen auf der vorliegenden CD entstammen zwei verschiedenen Phasen des Schaffens von Wolfgang Rihm. 'La musique creuse le ciel‘ wurde in den Jahren 1977/79 komponiert, 'Überschrift‘ begonnen im Jahre 1992, beendet aber erst im Jahre 2003. Die Kategorie des Fortschritts, die für die Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts stellenweise so bedeutsam war, hat für Wolfgang Rihm kaum eine Rolle gespielt. Ihm ging und geht es stets um kommunikative Prozesse, aber auch vor allem um das genaue Hinhören oder emphatisch formuliert, Musik als Abenteuer im Kopf.
'Über-Schrift‘ für zwei Klaviere ist eine Expedition in die Tiefen der Klanggestaltung, hervorgerufen durch faszinierende Flagolett-Effekte, rhythmisch-melodische Figurationen usw. Das Klavierduo Andres Grau und Götz Schumacher fesselt durch klar angelegte klangliche Gestaltung und rhythmische Pointierung. Fazit: eine in sich bewegte, aber trotzdem meditative Interpretation.
'La musique creuse le ciel‘ für zwei Klaviere und Orchester antizipiert die Komposition 'Dialoge‘ von Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Grundsätzlich neue Aspekte ergeben sich bei Rihm nicht, aber das ist auch nicht bedeutsam. Wichtig ist vielmehr, dass hier eine quasi irreale Klangästhetik mit harmonischen Schwebezuständen, klangsüchtiger Instrumentationsartistik geschaffen wird, die bei aller ‚Traditionslastigkeit‘ und Anklängen an Bekanntes stets neu klingt, so als würde man ein Familienphoto unterm Mikroskop betrachten und dann die Einzelteile neu zusammensetzten. Das Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin unter Peter Rundel musiziert solide mit Bestimmtheit und Hellhörigkeit für motivische Zusammenhänge. Das Duo Grau-Schumacher präsentiert sich hier mit der gleichen Eloquenz, wie eben besprochen und realisiert seinen Part virtuos, sensibel und genau.
Die Aufnahme lässt klangtechnisch kaum Wünsche offen, bis auf die Tatsache, dass man sich des Gefühls nicht entledigen kann, dass die beiden Flügel zu sehr in den klanglichen Vordergrund gestellt worden sind. Es lohnt sich, diese Musik kennenzulernen. Zudem erschließt die Aufnahme durchaus kompositorisches Neuland und stellt einen gewichtigen Beitrag zur Rihm-Rezeption dar.
La Musique greuse le ciel
Many American listeners may be surprised to discover that the music of Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952) is regarded by many in German new-music circles as dangerously reactionary. This has to do with where one defines the boundaries of “tradition.” For Rihm, ever since he burst on the scene in his twenties, “history” has been defined by the expressionist language of the early 20th century, leavened with many of the techniques derived from later modernist advances. Though thoroughly Germanic and less overtly romantic, one can perhaps think of John Corigliano as a useful American analogue. But as I said, many in Germany find his approach anathema. The ur-revolutionary Helmut Lachenmann and the late/high/mannerist modernist Brian Ferneyhough each continue to write a music that suggests that the discoveries of the last century are far from done, and that music will eventually be something barely recognizable from its state even 60 years ago. Rihm seems to believe that our mission is to rediscover a sort of “primal piece” and rewrite it, and that because we are now the living, it will of necessity be new.
I’m not enamored of the highly dogmatic view represented by Rihm’s adversaries, and as a result, I have sympathy for his more “historicist” approach. But I do find problems with his work. He’s incredibly prolific, and it seems he barely stops to refill his pen, he writes so fast. The music is dramatic, spectacular, and overwrought. It also has struck me as somewhat superficial, despite (or maybe because of) all the Sturm und Drang.
This disc gives us two works featuring Piano Duo (Andreas Grau and Götz Schumacher). La musique creuse le ciel (1977/1979) is for duo with orchestra, and Über-Schrift (1992/2003) for duo alone. Of the two, the former (title from a line of Baudelaire, “Music hollows out the sky”) strikes me as the far more successful and engaging. It often projects somber mystery and foreboding, quite chilling. There are episodes of stunning orchestration; for one example, there’s a passage that seems to be a combination of dotted woodwind rhythms with string tremolos that becomes like a giant whirling sonic buzz saw. Though over a half hour, I found myself willing to give myself up to it. But when it was over (and more than once), I remained wondering what it all meant, if anything. There seems to be here a strong desire to please the listener, though not with easy or pretty sounds, but rather with spectacular sonic shock effects. And the role of the pianos is problematic for me. For long stretches they are submerged in the texture, so they seem an afterthought, and are a little shocking whenever they reassert themselves.
Über-Schrift is more recent, but for me even less satisfying. It’s jarring, disjunct, and abrasive in its sounds; there are lots of sharp attacks against soft backgrounds. For me, this is by now something of a new-music cliché. The music does slowly coalesce from isolated events into something more continuous, but that doesn’t seem like a big payoff.
In the end, the effect of Rihm’s music seems like elevated film music. This isn’t a facile put-down; indeed it’s what intrigues me the most about it. At its best, this music seems to accompany some sort of not-quite-seen scenario, forcing you as a listener to exercise your imagination to its highest to link the sound and interior visuals. Going back to tradition, perhaps Rihm’s closest musical grandfather is Richard Strauss.
The performances are committed, accurate, and suitably intense. In the double concerto, there’s a lot to enjoy, dark and sensual. But I’m still not sold on any particular profundity here.