The young Victor Hugo looked through the telescope of the high-performance Paris Observatory and, gazing into the darkness, believed that he saw nothing but a “hole in the darkness”. But he was looking at the moon. His gaze was lost in the ickering shadows of the “Promontorium Somnii”, the foothills of the dream.
The inventors of sound, painting, stories, fragrances, mechanisms, as well as readers, actors, audiences, economists, politicians and we ourselves – when they look through their own telescopes, when they explore the landscapes of their own dreams, they are searching for the moment, the happy moment in which a new idea will occur to them. We are all searching for inspiration.
CANTIQUE is the first part of a series consisting of three CDs. This series is dedicated to works, inspired by pictures by Swiss painters. The project intends, in a subtle way, to expand “the lis- tener’s horizon”: He is invited to take part in a journey through an unknown land in which three composers – whose respective aesthetics differ greatly – seem to observe and speak to each other. The texture of their respective cultural reference systems becomes compatible. As in a strange dream, a landscape of timbres forms before our “eyes” – a fairytale consisting of meeting reactions, memories and surprising atmospheres.
The three composers: Max Reger, the Bavarian Catholic organist, composing in the face of the atrocities of the First World War and finding his style, Ernest Bloch, a young musician from Geneva still searching for his own tone in his Jewish roots, and Andreas Pflüger, a century younger, an agnostic from Basel with a slender style and quite unconventional background, experienced as a composer of operas and film music. All three are united by a love of painting and symbols; All three concern themselves with ancient texts and sagas and with the supernatural.
We have been working intensively with Andreas Pflüger since 2006. In late 2013 I commissioned him to write a cello concerto for the young cellist Estelle Revaz. We quickly had the idea that each movement of the work should be a “picture”. The composer explains: “These six pictures strongly inspired me whilst composing Pitture: La Confiture aux péchés by Louis Soutter is a dark, enigmatic drawing; it is somehow connected to the Skt.Adolf-Broggahr-Chatzli-Stok und Skt.Adolf-Krohn-Printzen of Adolf Wölfli; One discovers traces of his schizophrenia in it. The transparent palette of impressionistic tones in Giovanni Segantini’s Amor am Lebensbrunnen (“Cupid at the Fountain of Life”) evokes a metaphoric atmosphere of lyrical refinement, the counterpart to which is found in the scene with walkers and a carousel in Carl Pflüger-Gotstein’s In den langen Erlen. Two contrasting conclude the concerto: Insula Dulcamara by Paul Klee is a magical vision full of humour; in Felice Filippini’s La caduta della ballerina, impending death leads to compulsive frenzy.
After he heard the Four Tone Poems based on Arnold Böcklin, Richard Strauss said to Max Reger: “Reger, one more step and you’ll be with us”. To which Reger replied: “Indeed, dear Strauss, that’s one step I’m not going to take”. The form of the “Böcklin Suite” reveals, in a somewhat antiquated manner, the traditional scheme of Andante–Allegro–Andante–Allegro. In the first “picture”, Der geigende Eremit (“The Violin-Playing Hermit”), the solo violin stands antiphonally opposite a double string orchestra through which an introspective, mystical atmosphere is created. In the painting Im Spiel der Wellen (“In the Game of the Waves”), the water-nymphs excite a sensual, vertiginous scherzo-whirl. The Die Toteninsel (“Isle of the Dead”) is imbued with a dark, unsettling power and seems to further intensify the antiphony of the first movement, whereas Bacchanale, a picture often designated as a “classical Roman-managed German beer garden” reminds us of the rhythmic energy of the scherzo with a grand, insistent crescendo.
Ernest Bloch himself wrote the programme text for a performance of his work Schelomo in Rome in 1933. In it, he explained the circumstance of its composition and the initial source of inspiration for the work: [...] “Here is the story of how ‘Schelomo’ was written. I was in Geneva in late 1915. For years I had tried to write a setting of the ‘Book of Ecclesiastes’, but I could not quite get on with the French, German or English translation, and my knowledge of Hebrew was insufficient. Many sketches piled up, but my project lay dormant. One day I met the cellist Alexandre Baryanski. [...] I regained hope and began to think about the composition of a new work for this wonderful musician. Why not take up my material for the ‘Book of Ecclesiastes’ again, and entrust the declamation invoking the Biblical world of images not to the human voice, but to the deep sound of the violoncello that can speak ‘all languages’? I then brought together all my sketches and got to work again. At the same time, Mme. Baryanski worked on the creation of a statuette that she had designed for me. At first she had planned to make a Christ figure for me, but ultimately decided in favour of a King David. After a few weeks, her statuette and my new ‘Book of Ecclesiastes’ were finished. Since the book is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, I entitled my work ‘Schelomo’.”
Without really noticing it, we have ended up on an artistic search for what one could call the “transfer of inspirational material”. What does inspiration consist of? How can one art-form inspire another, how can colour become sound? Or, expressed more technically: What is the mean- ing of a sound and through what magic does it wander through the room? And at the recording and in conversation about the works being presented here: Is it possible to imagine a new kind of balance between the soloist and the orchestra that approaches an actual concert performance of Schelomo? How can a relatively small symphonic ensemble reproduce the rich dynamics of Reger? What perspectives are there for a new Concerto en six tableaux for cello and orchestra?
CANTIQUE is the result of an artistic collaboration begun in 2013 with the young Swiss cellist Estelle Revaz and the Orchestre Musique des Lumières. The programme has been performed on a tour in Basel, Delémont (Delsberg), Geneva and in La Chaux-de-Fonds, where the present record- ing was made in co-production with RTS SRF 2 Kultur and NEOS. This CD gives no answers, but rather encourages the listener to look through new telescopes.