«Peter Ruzicka: Orchestra Works Volume 2»
Über Unstern for Large Orchestra,
Mahler Bild for Orchestra,
Trans for Chamber Ensemble.
Deutsches Symphony Orchester Berlin – Peter Ruzicka.
Ever since creating his earliest works, Peter Ruzicka has been acutely conscious that composing occurs within a place in history in which the past serves not merely as a breeding ground, but also as a part of the present and as an enquiry of it. The dialectic of adopted, suppressed and violated history has assumed a particular role in this reflexive creativity. Time and again, quotations from Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Arnold Schönberg, but also earlier masters such as Robert Schumann, Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Haydn, Thomas Tallis and especially Gustav Mahler have appeared in his works, serving as a critical mirror or catalyst of his own musical language. Now, after almost five decades of musical creativity, his own quality has also acquired its own specific historicity and has become, like foreign elements, an object of his late style.
Unstern! Sinistre. Disastro. Everything having to do with doom and futility is contained in this title and in the piece by the aged Franz Liszt that bears it. It is an example of the composer’s late oeuvre, the importance of which was only recognised in the 1970s when it duly took its place in the prehistory of modernism. The composer wanted no more mediation, posturing or embellishments, but only thoughts themselves: an initial theme on which the “diabolus in musica” makes its imprint, a threatening march, a chorale that finally breaks through “quasi organo” and is directed, compressed, into the dying away of the piece. Heinz Holliger expanded Unstern by orchestrating it.
Ruzicka, on the other hand, allows Liszt’s material to intersect the areas of sounds and events that he, Ruzicka, has created. It is a sonic surge that rears up, dies away and yet develops hardness and suction, a field out of rapid figures and motivic fragments, of attempted and scattered virtuosity, a splintered sound as if from sonic glass powder. All three form a number of variable topoi in Ruzicka’s oeuvre. One will hear certain fragments from Liszt’s piano piece as something sonically different, but not all of them, for what is one’s own and what is foreign are interlocked – through a shared harmonic vanishing point that lives up to its name, through partial community of substance and an inner dynamic that indeed allows one to recognise tensions, but hardly heterogeneous sources.
Unstern is a nocturne and a farewell piece; ÜBER UNSTERN is a scene in sound that take a long look at this farewell. Ultimately, Liszt’s material determines the tone – it is enveloped in the haze of Ruzicka’s glassy, splintered sound as if the two belonged together.
TRANS. The title suggests the overstepping of boundaries. The first of these takes place at the beginning, when the music arises “out of oblivion” – not within a moment but during the course of a longer process during which it vacillates between a form of reality and one of possibility. The second one takes place on the border between art and existential experience. The headings that Ruzicka has given the seven parts of his composition are a foreboding of this: Dal niente (Out of Oblivion) – Ergebung (Surrender) – Kampf (Struggle) – Erstarrung (Torpidity) – Im Innersten (In the Innermost Region) – Schattenhaft, Flucht (Shadowy, Flight) – Erinnerung (Memory). This piece, turned outwards, is about the expression of an internal drama – the third overstepping.
This is indicated by the sequence of the sections – Surrender before Struggle, In the Innermost Region following Torpidity. It is realised by the musical structure of the individual sections. In the section Surrender, Ruzicka takes his music a long way back. He composed Struggle as a sound-field consisting of burst virtuosity. The excited playing agglomerates to form fortissimo blows, is arrested through moments of torpidity and lacerated by tutti rests. Torpidity appears as a paralysis whilst containing inner motoric excess. Ruzicka dismantles the ambivalence in seven acoustic signs as a framework, and in fragments from the Struggle section as a centre.
In the Innermost Region appears to be a conjuring up of singing in different manners of playing. The sixth part takes up gestural material from the Struggle; in the seventh, a variety of reminiscences culminate thrice in an orchestral cry.
In TRANS, two principal forces act as layers that both replace and partially penetrate each other. One line leads from Struggle to Flight and, in between, turns up in the Torpidity section. The other encompasses the soft, slow parts. During the 25-minute course of the work, a great deal is melted down that was, in itself, still manifest in early compositions.
In many respects, Ruzicka has referred to Mahler, the composer who led music into modernism without himself entering it: to his motifs, themes, formal processes, signs and symbols. What H. H. Eggebrecht called “vocabularic composing” in Mahler, pointed the way for Ruzicka out of aporias of the New Music. Certain sound images and “modes of speech” are ever-present in his oeuvre, in constant variants, like keys to his specific idiom. Many levels of reference are present in MAHLER | BILD, a “second glance” at the creations of pre-modernism.
The piece begins with the long, soft, high note that opens Mahler’s First Symphony, then expands it into a small cluster, displaces it and moulds it into another marginal phenomenon of music: rustling noise. Mahler is thus “translated”. A glassy sound is faded in; it gains in cutting sharpness and hard-pressing energy. Rhythms in the harp are reminiscent of the birth of music in Mahler’s First and Ninth; they foreshadow drumbeats, reminiscences of the marching steps which underline the trauma of Nazi persecution in Ruzicka’s opera CELAN: symbols of degraded and stolen life as are often found in Mahler’s works as well. They achieve obstinate intensity through the tenor drum backstage.
Mahlerian signals congeal into sounds; a chorale fragment mixes tones from Parsifal, a moment from the beginning of Ruzicka’s HÖLDERLIN opera and the trombone theme from the first movement of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. The middle of MAHLER | BILD, itself an adagio, suggests a time that circles round and threatens to come to a standstill. Mahler’s viola solo, the shattering withdrawal of the music into monody, is embedded in the broad line of a canto which, as the substitute of singing, leads the orchestral piece to its ending. The composer’s own and outside ideas blend together without losing their recognisability.