Photos: Priska Ketterer


räsonanz Lucerne - The concert evening

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All flesh is grass,
and all the goodliness thereof
is as the flower of the field.

Isaiah 40:6–7

The räsonanz – Donors’ Concert in Lucerne saw the third performance of Requiem-Strophen by Wolfgang Rihm, former Siemens Music Prize laureate and currently curator at the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation. In this respect, the concert marked a point on the way to one of the goals of the räsonanz initiative: taking up major contemporary orchestral works into the regular programme. One can only hope that this monumental work, which was received with enthusiasm at its Munich premiere, will enter the repertoire of many orchestras. In Lucerne too, there was similar acclaim for both Rihm’s work and the performers: the sopranos Anna Prohaska and Mojca Ermann, the bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann and the Choir and Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio, all conducted by Mariss Jansons.

Thematically speaking, the Lucerne Festival’s Easter Festival was the ideal setting for Requiem-Strophen: interwoven between the liturgical words from the funeral mass were poetic texts – Rilke, Bobrowski, Michelangelo, biblical poetry and, as the eponymous capstone, Hans Sahl’s Strophen. The poetry casts light not only on death, but on death in life – the connection between life and death. It is inevitable, this connection.

My death must come; but when, I do not know.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, translated by John Addington Symonds

How does the certainty of death influence life – artistic creation in life? What sun ripens the fruit in Bobrowski’s verses?

Over you
in the days’ branches he hangs.
He enshrouds himself with fragrance and with saps.
You will not resist him.

Once, as a fruit,
he will nourish you.

Johannes Bobrowski, Death

More than a funeral mass, Rihm’s Requiem-Strophen is a musicalization of the questions raised by death in life. Perhaps that is why the Choir of Bavarian Radio often sang the few text excerpts from the liturgy of the funeral mass with clear pauses between syllables; such lines as ‘Lux perpetua luceat eis’ and ‘Lacrimosa dies illa qua resurget ex favilla’ are broken up into their component parts. Not so the various settings of Rilke’s words: all of them recall chorales, yet with a playful, almost dancing character. The ‘laughing mouth’ can be clearly heard, but a weeping
lamento accompanies it.

Death is great.
We are his own
Though our mouths are laughing.
When we think ourselves in the middle of life,
he has the gall to weep
in our midst.

Rainer Maria Rilke, concluding piece from The Book of Images

Rihm takes a similar approach with Hans Sahl’s Strophen: after a viola duet, the choir sings a chorale that seems to be in a state of constant becoming and fading. Melodies flow together into harmonies, yet these never remain in one place, continually shifting towards sonorities that open up into uncertainty. 

I am slowly leaving the world
going to a place beyond all distance,
and what I was and am and will remain
goes with me, free from impatience and hurry,
into a still-unknown country.

I am slowly leaving time
to go to a future beyond all the stars,
and what I was and am and will always remain
goes with me, free from impatience and hurry,
as though I’d never or only just existed.

Hans Sahl, Strophes

But Wolfgang Rihm does not let end Requiem-Strophen end on the last word of the poem kaum, ‘hardly’; the choir closes with oder, ‘or’ – the questions of life and death in a nutshell.

Translation: Wieland Hoban
English translations of the poems by Bobrowski, Rilke, and Sahl: Thomas May