A meditative piano piece. Minimalist music. “Auf einem anderen Blatt” – on another page. The German expression that gave this piece its title invites to change the perspective. While listening to it my mind started wandering: changing the perspective, being flexible, giving the other the right to have a different view than myself. Empathy, putting myself in someone else’s shoes, feeling how he feels – how difficult that is at times. “Auf einem anderen Blatt” also refers in German to the unsaid, often opposed to what has been said or written. Yes, but…
To Rihm or not to Rihm
Yes, first impressions often are wrong, but sometimes it is difficult to overcome a first negative impression. “Auf einem anderen Blatt” was written by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm in 2000, commissioned by the Royal Festival Hall for Pierre Boulez on the occasion of Boulez’ 75th birthday. Rihm – I don’t like his music. Or rather, I did not like what I heard back then in 2014: “Jagden und Formen” (Hunts and Forms). I still shudder when I think about it. And I refused for many months if not years to listen to anything written by Rihm. I refused to explore this composer’s work. Stubborn I am, yes. And yes, those with a good memory will remember that I discussed Rihm’s work “Astralis” in a previous post, but that was an exception I still can’t quite explain.
Rihm’s student Rebecca Saunders had to show up on my radar to make me turn around and plunge into Rihm’s works – this time with unlimited enthusiasm. Having explored Saunders’ works (a little), I bought within 24 hours several recordings of works for orchestra, piano and string ensembles written by Rihm. Two piano pieces will be discussed here and now: “Auf einem anderen Blatt” and “Zwiesprache” (Dialogue), performed by Siegfried Mauser.
The unsaid and the dead
”Auf einem anderen Blatt” is very short; when performed by Mauser it lasts 4 minutes 21 seconds. Isolated notes, speaking about antonyms, about this and the other, about what we believe to know and what we certainly do not know. Rihm himself apparently had misgivings about celebrating someone else and struggled with the question of the appropriate gift for somebody like Boulez: “To give is always risky […] In this instance, only a few obscure harmonic chords and two or three forlorn octaves – honi soit qui mal y pense.”
The context of “Zwiesprache”, also composed in 2000, is less humorous. Its five movements honor friends of Rihm. He pictures a dialogue with Alfred Schlee, a musicologist and the publisher of his works, with Paul Sacher, a Swiss conductor and promoter of contemporary music, with the art historian Heinrich Klotz, the musicologist Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht and finally with the sociologist Hermann Wiesler. All five died in 1999. Rihm wrote five movements “in memoriam”. Another invitation to meditate, this time about the vagaries of life and the randomness with which death strikes. Carpe diem and listen to classy(c) music of the 21th century.
© Charles Thibo