LUIGI DALLAPICCOLA: IL PRIGIONIERO
Hope is all that the prisoner has left as he languishes in a jail of the Spanish Inquisition in Luigi Dallapiccola’s 45-minute opera. His hope is nurtured by the jailer of all people, who murmurs about a possible coup d’état and even leaves the cell door open. The prisoner can scarcely believe his luck and imagines he is already free, then he realises that they are just playing cat-and-mouse with him, with the illusion of a happy ending as the last and most perfidious form of torture.
Dallapiccola was something like Italy’s answer to Arnold Schönberg: he too made use of 12-note technique, but combined it with traditional harmonies and a kind of post-Puccini cantabile. Thus he produced a milestone of expressionism and at the same time an insistent manifesto against fascism and tyranny.
GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN: L’ESPÉRANCE DE MISSISSIPPI
Telemann, who held the position of Hamburg’s General Director of Music for 46 years, never actually went to America. The title of the last movement of the Baroque composer’s suite »La Bourse« refers to the great stock market crash of 1720. The French Crown had allowed a Scottish financial wizard by the name of John Law to open a private bank in Paris and introduce the country’s first paper money.
As his intended greatest coup, Law founded his »Mississippi Company« with plans to set up a French colony and exploit the natural resources of Louisiana and adjoining states. Hopes ran high, and the company’s share price skyrocketed. But once the news spread that there was absolutely no gold to be found in the muddy riverbed, the bubble burst and half of France went bankrupt. Telemann devoted an orchestral suite to the ups and downs of the stock market and presented the score to the City of Frankfurt as a gift. To this day, people haven’t learned their lesson, as can be seen from the recent Wirecard scandal.
RICHARD WAGNER: PARSIFAL
Two Biblical relics symbolise hope for Richard Wagner, or for the main characters of his last and most ethereal opera »Parsifal«: the Holy Grail – the goblet used at the Last Supper – and the spear with which Jesus was wounded on the Cross. The ailing Knights of the Grail place their hope in its healing powers, as does a mysterious woman – the perfect incarnation of male sexual complexes.
Too bad that the spear has been lost, and can only be reacquired by a »pure fool« who has not been corrupted by money, power and sex (this rules out the composer, for a start). Wagner cast this heady mixture of art and religion in mystic, wafting sounds that even captivated the sceptical Thomas Mann with their »pious depravity and monstrous expression of pain«: »Nowhere in any of the arts does one find such terrifying expressive power.«
Elbphilharmonie Magazine | Hope
LUDGER EDELKÖTTER: KLEINES SENFKORN HOFFNUNG
The era of pop music even left its mark on the Church. Young people who listened to Bob Dylan, the Beatles or even, God forbid, the Rolling Stones at home didn’t only want to sing Gregorian chant in church. This led young Christians in Germany to get their guitars more or less tuned and create »new spiritual songs«.
Apart from simple tunes and chords, one characteristic of the genre is the generous use of brisk syncopated rhythms: the aim was to exude a touch of rock ’n’ roll, though in practice this tended to turn the German texts into something close to an attack of hiccups. One of the founding fathers of the »new spiritual song« was Ludger Edelkötter, who took a parable from St Matthew’s Gospel for his hit song »Kleines Senfkorn Hoffnung« (A Little Mustard Seed of Hope): » Danke für diesen guten Morgen, kleines Senfkorn, dass du wirst zum Bahau-mee, der uns Scha-ttenn wirft, denn du bist wu-hun-de-herba-har He-herr…« (Thank you for this good morning, little mustard seed: may you turn into a tree-ee that casts sha-ade over us, for you are wo-onder-er-ful, o Lor-ord…)
EDWARD ELGAR: LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY
It probably wouldn’t occur to anyone today to describe Great Britain as the »land of hope of glory«, stricken as it is by the coronavirus, Brexit and Boris Johnson. But things were very different at the beginning of the last century. Thanks to the unyielding Queen Victoria, the Royal Navy »ruled the waves« of the world, and the British Empire stretched across half the globe. When her eldest son succeeded her in 1901 as King Edward VII, it was fair to pay lavish tribute to a monarch who had ruled for over 63 years.
To mark the occasion, Edward Elgar arranged part of the first of his highly popular »Pomp and Circumstance« marches with a text by the poet Arthur Christopher Benson that even advocated the expansion of the Empire. First performed before the coronation, the Elgar piece soon threatened to outstrip the popularity of the official national anthem, »God Save the King«. And to this day, the audience at the annual »Last Night of the Proms« sings along in a mood of patriotic bliss.
EDDY GRANT: GIMME HOPE JO’ANNA
The »Jo’anna« of the title doesn’t refer to a woman from whom Eddy Grant was hoping for a sign of love in 1988 »before the morning comes«. The singer was actually thinking of the city of Johannesburg in South Africa, and hoping that the inhuman apartheid system would finally be abolished. This was a longing that accompanied Grant as long as he lived: he was born in 1948 in what was then a British colony, Guyana, in one of the first villages to be bought back from their masters by the former slaves.
Eddy Grant later founded the band The Equals in London, the first group to consist of both black and white musicians. He combined reggae, rock, disco and Caribbean calypso, and was the first non-white person to run a recording studio in Europe. Asked whether his condemnation of apartheid wasn’t too cheerful-sounding, Eddy Grant gave a quick-witted reply: »Music is a fantastic medium – like water. If you need to swallow a bitter pill, drink some water and you’ll find it goes down easily.«
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: WEINEN, KLAGEN, SORGEN, ZAGEN
»Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, Angst und Not sind der Christen Tränenbrot.« (Weeping and lamentation, worry and despair, fear and need and the Christians’ tearful bread.) Hope certainly doesn’t feature in the opening chorus of this early Bach cantata. Especially as Bach set the words of lament to sighing figures and painful dissonances.
Written for the Weimar court church in 1714, the work reflects beautifully the heart of the Protestant faith: endure things with patience, for »after the rain comes the blessing«, as the tenor sings bravely in a later aria. At least the composer has a solo trumpet accompany him, bringing him and the congregation alike the required powers of endurance with the hopeful melody of »Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring«.
Text: Clemens Matuschek, last updated: 16 Apr 2021
Translation: Clive Williams
This is an article from the Elbphilharmonie Magazine (issue 02/2021), which is published three times per year.