Instrumentation: high voice, piano
Duration: 15 minutes
– Trost und Rat
– Der rätselhafte Geistergast
– Am Abend der ersten Extraktion
– Am Vorabend der Vierten
– Die kaiserliche Botschaft
– Gelungener Abend
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I began writing these songs after several months of studying the music of Josquin Desprez as a part of my counter point studies. After some time however I felt the need to write some music that was not restricted by the rules of the classic vocal polyphony or by any other music tradition.
Through my teacher I got to know the poetry of Robert Gernhardt, a German author who lived from 1937–2006 and whose texts often have a simple, funny or even silly appearance, yet carry a deeper meaning which makes them entertaining without drifting into insignificance.
I tried to write a music that corresponds to this ideal of transporting a complex message by simple means. The songs operate with elements taken from jazz, waltz, music of the cabaret and other kinds of popular music. However, they are not mere representatives of these genres: They go further than their archetypes, take melodic, harmonic or rhythmic gestures from these and combine them with other ideas. Am Vorabend der Vierten contains the harmonic pattern of a simple 12-bar blues and a melody that seems to be improvised. But the time is 7/4, the bass-line reaches peculiar notes and the harmonies contain unusual dissonances, thus creating a music in which the blues is clearly present but which is at the same time something else than a blues. Another example could be Dreiakter: The ‘chorus’ could almost be taken from a pop song or a jazz ballad, the ‘verses’ however follow their own melodic and harmonic rules that are very much drawn from content and rhythm of the words.
In most songs, the music does not follow the text in detail. Instead it tries to capture and support a general impression of the whole poem. Therefore the gestures of accompaniment and melody hardly change throughout the pieces. As the poems are very short and as the songs do not stretch the words through repetitions, long interludes etc. and are thus also short, this musical uniformity adds to the understandability of the texts and their meaning. A greater variety in musical material within each song would have led to pieces in which the attention is drawn away from the text and onto the form and the progression of the music, so that the deeper meaning of the text would have been lost. By keeping the music simple however, it helps the text to be understood not only acoustically but also in meaning.