Stille Sprache (Language of Silence) for soprano, violin and piano (2009)
1. Da stieg ein Baum
Stille Sprache (Language of Silence) is a setting of three poems from the first part of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus (The Sonnets of Orpheus) for soprano, violn and piano. The work was composed in Sydney in mid-2009 for Felicitas Fuchs (soprano), Aki Saulière (violin) and Bernard Lanskey (piano) who perform under the name of Ensemble Soirée. The work was composed with the assistance of an Australia Council Composer Fellowship.
The three movements of the work are settings of the poems “Da stieg in Baum” (poem 1 from part 1), “Nur wer die Leier” (poem 9 from part 1) and “Ein Gott vermags” (poem 3 from part 1). Rilke’s rich language and immense sensitivity to music and sound makes his poetry highly apt for setting and musical expansion. In the case of these poems the presence of Orpheus’ lyre – by turns enchanting and wild – suggested the inclusion of the violin as an integral part of the settings. In that sense, the work is as much like a three movement sonata as it is a group of songs.
The title of Stille Sprache, Language of Silence in English, reflects my concern with the manifold ways in which silence functions in music and in everyday communication between people. John Cage’s musings on silence may have distracted attention from this as silence is loaded with specific meaning and constitutes a kind of language. In verbal communication, as in music, it is rarely random in its intent. To give but three examples of different types of musical silence: the exclamatory silence of surprise and interruption; the silence that lies at the borderland of sounds; and the structural silence where a musical idea is shaped and directed by silence as a kind of bridge between ideas or their components. The incorporation of silence into my music has been something of an interest for a while so it is hardly a surprise that I would choose to make that clear in a title of a work based on poetry where silence and sound are pivotal to understanding.
There are numerous translations of Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus (The Sonnets of Orpheus) into English and other languages in existence, and they are easily to be found on the web. In composing the work I referred to Stephen Mitchell’s 1995 versions in the book, Ahead of all Parting and recommend the translations. Howard Landman’s translations are on the web.
Rainer Maria Rilke – Die Sonette an Orpheus, 1:1, 1:9, 1:3.
Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
Tiere aus Stille drangen aus dem klaren
sondern aus Hören. Brüllen, Schrei, Geröhr
ein Unterschlupf aus dunkelstem Verlangen
2. Nur wer die Leier
Nur wer die Leier schon hob
Nur wer mit Toten von Mohn
Mag auch die Spieglung im Teich
Erst in dem Doppelbereich
3. Ein Gott vermags
Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll
Gesang, wie du ihn lehrst, ist nicht Begehr,
an unser Sein die Erde und die Sterne?
vergessen, daß du aufsangst. Das verrinnt.
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