Contributed by Lee Jia Yi (BMUS4, YST)
Rattling noises, scraping sounds and air tones: You wouldn’t believe that these noises could come from an instrument, let alone belong in music. Yet these sounds contribute to an extended palette of sound which Lachenmann employs in his ensemble piece Mouvement (– vor der Erstarrung) (1983/84), “…zwei Gefühle…”, Musik mit Leonardo for speaker and ensemble (1992), and String Quartet No. 3 “Grido” (2001). If one keeps in mind his philosophy in music – “to create beauty and transcendence” – one develops an appreciation for his extended palette of sounds.
Born in 1935 in Stuttgart, Germany, Helmut Lachenmann is a leading figure in the European contemporary music scene. He was a student of the Italian composer Luigi Nono, and since the late 1970s he has frequently lectured at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. He served as Professor of Composition at different times in Hannover and Stuttgart. His musical background has had an influence on his desire to innovate and depart from the traditions of German classical music.
The idea of “musique concrète instrumentale” is often used to describe Lachenmann’s music. This term was developed from “musique concrète” by electro-acoustic composer Pierre Schaeffer to describe recorded sounds that were mixed to construct music. Hence “musique concrète instrumentale” retains the idea of transformation and manipulation, but using just the sounds an instrument can create. This opens up unexplored possibilities of sounds that can be created with extended techniques on instruments.
In Lachenmann’s own words, Mouvement (– vor der Erstarrung) is “music of dead movements … pseudo-activity which consists of nothing more than rubble … like a beetle floundering on its back”. This piece is largely divided into three sections, each of which is centered around the idea of movement, paralysis and emptiness respectively. Despite his vivid descriptions, Lachenmann utilizes serial methods to organize what he terms as “sound families”, a technique he often uses to construct a framework for his pieces.
Lachenmann describes the first section with phrases such as “arco-machine”, “fluttered organ point”, “trembling fields” and “stop-and-go throbbing frenzy”. One hears sounds being passed frantically around the ensemble. A few minutes into the piece, one hears the sound of a “Klingelspiel” – a toy also known as a “frog-piano”. It has a distinctive sound, almost like a relentless bicycle bell, and is clearly represented by Lachenmann’s imagery of the “fluttered organ point”.
The second section of Mouvement features a quotation of the Viennese folk song “O du lieber Augustin” which Schoenberg also quoted in his String Quartet No. 2. However, it is heavily distorted and almost unrecognizable. Lachenmann appoints to each pitch of the song a specific instrumental timbre, such that the song is almost impossible to determine apart from its rhythm, or by looking at the text quoted in the score.
The rest of the piece is another reference to the tarantella-like rhythms and the harmonies used in the Romantic period. The last section is music of perpetual motion; but there is a sense of emptiness and lack of meaning in the flurry of motion, like the beetle that “lies struggling on its back”. At the end of its struggle, the music comes to a standstill, as if solidifying into “rubble”. This provides meaning to the title, which translates directly into “movement (– before the solidification)”.
Mouvement (– vor der Erstarrung) was commissioned by the Ensemble InterContemporain Paris, and written for an ensemble consisting of flute, alto flute, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 trumpets, 3 percussions, 3 bell keyboards, 2 violas, 2 cellos, and 1 double bass. Listen out for the rattling sounds and toneless bowings by the strings, the air and key noises produced by the winds, and not forgetting the “Klingelspiel” which will be replaced by 6 violinists in the upcoming performance. The beauty in each of these sounds would surely unveil a new perspective.