It would be so convenient if we could simply pigeonhole creative artists. Then we would know where to look when we need this or that to lift our spirits. Or we could simply leave them in there. But they refuse to stay. Helmut Lachenmann, for example, just wrote this Marche fatal in E flat major, the key of Ein Heldenleben as well as C minor-variations on a Japanese cherry-blossom-song. The melody of the march, he said, simply came from somewhere. The air of history is full of such things. You can use them if you can. Modernism, he says, is the plough to break up tradition.
Or maybe it is the other way around. Lachenmann’s teacher Luigi Nono demanded: Wake up your ears! Because then, the eye and the mind will wake up too. Toshio Hosokawa is concerned with emancipation from the dictate of the visual. Bird Fragments were inspired by (nearly) blind students in Japan who only know birds by hearing, touch or hearsay and have modelled them from clay. Thus, the composer attempts to create the suggestion of a bird from sounds and to reactivate experiences “that are often neglected in the modern era: the sense of materiality, the haptic, the depth and natural spatiality of music.” His main instrument: the shō, this wonderful mouth organ that Lachenmann has also used in his opera.
In Secret Kiss, Peter Eötvös draws on a Japanese tradition. The piece was written for Ryoko Aoki. She studied what we call classical music as well as the art of Nō-theatre, which used to be a domain reserved exclusively for men. Ryoko Aoki changed this. Peter Eötvös selected excerpts from Alessandro Baricco’s novel Silk as texts for this work. In this very special love story, Eötvös explains, thought and language achieve wave-like motions of time and time measures which allowed him to merge Nō with ideas of European origins. The Sonata a sei, twelve years older, is quite different. Bartók’s sonata for two pianos and percussion can be made out in its background, but so can the knowledge of this composer’s odysseys. A keyboard is added, contributing sounds that did not belong to the inner sanctum of modernism. Sister Lowbrow can be refreshingly provoking if you know how to get along with her.