JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: The Art of Fugue
»Fuga« is »flight« in Latin. In music, the word was taken to describe a polyphonic work in which the individual parts chase and run away from each other, or in other words: they make a staggered entrance, each with the same melody, which therefore must be structured in a way that allows it to accompany itself. The original form of the fugue is the canon, which goes around in an endless circle; it reached its highest perfection with Johann Sebastian Bach’s »Art of Fugue« in 1750: 24 four-part fugues that run through the basic theme in every conceivable way, including horizontal and vertical reflections.
Bach escaped the stresses of daily life as the church musician with this abstract composition of mathematical beauty. And the fact that he died just as he integrated his own name into the music with the notes B-A-C-H gives this work added mystique.
VALENTIN SYLVESTROV: PRAYER FOR UKRAINE
»Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a refugee«, was one »New York Times« headline in March 2022. They were referring to 84-year-old Valentin Sylvestrov, who went to Berlin to escape the war in his homeland. His music was already performed around the world before the war, and the composer’s profile is higher now than ever before. For his admirers, this is a late satisfaction, because Sylvestrov has wrangled with Soviet and Russian (cultural) politics his entire life – whether through twelve-tone music or the spiritual sounds of orthodox sacred music.
He wrote his »Prayer for Ukraine«, which is based on an old Ukrainian hymn, in response to the brutally repressed protests on Kyiv’s Maidan Square in 2014, which he witnessed first-hand. But that was nothing compared to Putin’s invasion: »What’s happening now is Maidan times a thousand.«
ARNOLD SCHÖNBERG: A SURVIVOR FROM WARSAW
Arnold Schönberg emigrated to the USA shortly after the National Socialists seized power in 1933 and he was stripped of his post as professor in Berlin. In Los Angeles, the inventor of twelve-tone music met several other prominent intellectuals who had happily found refuge there, among them the writer Thomas Mann and the film director Billy Wilder.
Schönberg processed his personal experiences and the horrific reports from his homeland in a series of compositions; the most famous of these thematises the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Despite being relatively short, the work – through radically expressionistic stylistic devices – achieves an almost physically painful intensity, and is surely the most expressive musical exploration of the Holocaust in music history.
This is an article from the Elbphilharmonie Magazine (issue 03/2022), which is published three times per year.
Banned from working because he performed with female singers? It sounds absurd, but that’s exactly what happened to Majid Derakhshani. In Iran, where he was born, women have been forbidden from singing in public ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Derakhshani isn’t just anyone: he is one of Iran’s leading artists, an acknowledged virtuoso of the long-necked lute tar and a prominent representative of Persia’s 1000-year-old classical music tradition, which is passed on orally from teacher to student. But he also had the audacity to start the women-only ensemble Mahbanoo. And so, driven by necessity, the then 61-year-old found a new home in Hamburg-Bergedorf in 2018. There is a lively Persian community here – and new inspiration for blending traditional music with European influences.
CLAUDE VIVIER: LONELY CHILD
Placed in a Montreal orphanage as an infant in 1948, adopted at the age of three, later expelled from the Catholic novitiate for »lack of maturity«, openly gay, journeys of self-discovery to Asia: this is the biography of an outsider, culminating in a tragic death at the age of 35, murdered by a prostitute in Paris. Claude Vivier found refuge only in music: he was taken under the wings of the sound guru Karlheinz Stockhausen.
But he also remained an outsider even within the avant-garde scene – which a visibly impressed György Ligeti explicitly regarded as a mark of quality. On one hand, Vivier’s works are strongly autobiographical: he described »Lonely Child« as a »long song of loneliness«. But on the other hand, they captivate with glimpses of something beyond time, »moments of revelation«, as Vivier himself said, and they radiate an almost hypnotic magnetism.
Live at the Elbphilharmonie
On March 8, 2023, star soprano Aphrodite Patoulidou, conductor and all-around talent Veronika Eberle, and the London Symphony Orchestra will present Vivier's »Lonely Child« in the Great Hall.
Elbphilharmonie Magazin | Refuge
TAN DUN: BUDDHA PASSION
The word refuge has a very special meaning in Buddhism. Buddhists take refuge in the »Three Jewels«: the Buddha, his teachings (dharma) and the community of spiritual companions (sangha). To take refuge describes both the initial ceremony of initiation, which is comparable to a Christian baptism, as well as a daily prayer, a kind of credo.
The Chinese composer Tan Dun, known to millions through his soundtrack to the film »Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon«, has a special interest in such traditions from cultures and religions all around the world. He has composed a St. Matthew Passion borrowing from J. S. Bach, as well as the »Buddha Passion« (2018), which was inspired by Buddhist statues, murals and manuscripts dating back more than 1,500 years in the Mogao Caves in north-western China.
BOB DYLAN: SHELTER FROM THE STORM
»’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood … they gambled for my clothes … and she was standing there, with silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair, she walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns. ›Come in‹, she said, ›I’ll give ya shelter from the storm‹.« Who is this talking here? Jesus Christ, having found himself in Woodstock by mistake? A modern-day tramp fantasising that he is the son of god? As in so many of his songs – whose poetic lyrics he mumbles to the accompaniment of just a handful of chords – Bob Dylan enigmatically leaves the answer open.
»Rolling Stone« magazine put »Shelter from the Storm« (1975) at number 66 in its list of the 100 greatest Dylan songs, while the »Guardian« placed it at number 34 out of »80 Dylan songs everyone should know«. And the conclusion is clear: yes, you can seek refuge in art or religion. But the most important refuge will always be love.
Text: Clemens Matuschek, last updated: 01.08.2022
Translation: Seiriol Dafydd