Ernst Helmuth Flammer: String Quartets Nos. 4 & 5

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«Ernst Helmuth Flammer: String Quartets Nos. 4 & 5»


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Ernst Helmuth Flammer String Quartet No. 5 'Abschiede',
String Quartet No. 4 'Voyage éternel de l’oiseau de feu – Des Feuervogels Zeitreise'.


Jade Quartett.

As an artistic genre, film follows a dramaturgy based on the simultaneity of different plot levels and reflections. In the same way, this composition lives off the rapid paradigm shifts of different levels of musical time, and thus consciousness. Through these rapid shifts, all levels – I shall call them layers – always remain latently existent or even present, albeit sometimes in the background, barely perceptible or even completely remote. This results in a simultaneity of different temporal levels, temporal locations and temporal velocities extending to the ‘flow of time’, as well as the simultaneity of different states of being in keeping with B. A. Zimmermann’s ‘spherical time’.

Phases of silence, temporal sections without borders, temporal sections of the ‘othertimely’, of sounds flowing out of time, appear broken; static textures, on the other hand, occasionally have an order re-imposed on them by the ‘troublemaker’ structure, coming out of the background, a numerical order of structured temporal divisions, and are thus given a boundary. Composing the acceleration of perceptible time unsettles the temporal perception. This opens up many levels of meaning, for example that of acceleration as a socially-reified end in itself: ‘more and more… faster and faster…’; or the subjectively-perceived acceleration of our sense of time as we grow older.

The role of the ‘troublemaker’ (Kurt Schwitters’s ‘error in the system’) is always played by one of the musicians involved; they alternate amongst themselves, and sometimes several musicians disrupt events at once. Today we are ‘chased through time’ by the mass of stimuli bombarding us, in fear of quiet uneventfulness, of flowing along in the eternal stream. Accordingly, apart from small ellipses, this music mostly lacks the dynamic, continuous processes of development that correspond to the traditional European understanding of music. Calm passages and soundscapes in the background at once stand for the detached observer of times, or sometimes for the vision of the absence of time.

The wealth of simultaneous layers occasionally conceals the clear form of the piece, whose symmetrically-arranged form resembles the arc of our being, and its strict structure, which seems to dissolve in the composed silence, departing for the infinite.

The journey through time of the firebird, that ever-inquisitive creature, always on the way to new shores, pouncing with verve and carefreeness on the new, never shying away from risks but rather seeking them as a challenge, stands for the obsession with a journey into the infinite, harshly interrupted time and again by the ‘troublemaker’, yet finally departing forever into the virtual, into the open.

Abschiede (Farewells)
String Quartet No. 5 (2002)

Farewells for Anton Webern
Impressions of farewell
Farewells in Mittersill
Farewells for Jutta Philippi-Eigen
A tribute to this wonderful woman
Farewells from Gutenzell
One of the many deaths our soul dies
Farewells for Franz Schregle
A tribute to Anton Webern
Farewell to Jutta Philipp-Eigen
Farewell in life not only through death
Yet something has been severed
Farewells for the Anton Webern Quartet
Cut off from the body
Blown apart, irretrievable
Farewell to Asteria Fiore
Death comes furioso
Or at times also quietly
At any rate unforeseen as here
A surprise
Farewell to Gérard Grisey
A shift, away from the usual
Farewells into the light
In memory of Jutta Philippi-Eigen
For Franz Schregle

The piece consists seven independent sections; very sparse ones alternate with lively ones, each painful in its own way, each section an act of mourning, different in its manner of bidding farewell. All sections are based on shared melodic and harmonic material whose structure is arranged symmetrically – like the arc of being as becoming and expiring, one could say. Mourning evokes strict detachment, as at the start, but also emotion and lively struggle, lively wrestling – not in the sense of railing, but rather as acquiescence. Death sometimes comes in very different ways. Once the structure is de-composed, its density implodes into the interior as a retreat inwards.

Jutta Philippi-Eigen was a German Mother Theresa, a doctor who devoted her life to caring for suffering people in India (Calcutta) and Africa, sometimes in dangerous circumstances; she was also a no less wonderful musical exegete, primarily of John Cage.

The other dedicatee, Franz Schregle, means a great deal to me in his monkish life – a man of sharp intellect and infinite kindness, a bastion of calm floating above ordinary matters.

On the Allegory of Being

The fact that ‘polyphony’ and ‘polymorphy’ are almost ubiquitous in my compositional work comes fundamentally, as I see it, from two aggregates of our being: its processuality, i.e. its constant change and transformation, and its complex (polymorphous) multiplicity of forms. In its multiplicity, ‘polyphonic’ composition is ‘critical’ composition in the diversity of semantics derived from the musically autonomous principle. My content-aesthetic approaches are always developed from the musical morphology, and conversely congruent with it. The substance, even with music using text, is essentially derived from that morphology, which arises from the compositional treatment of the text in a music-immanent fashion, not from the text itself. This is the most radical possible desideratum of a musically autonomous principle in its most consistent and at once most fruitful form. The polyphonic employment of all musical parameters, as well as the directly polyphonic-contrapuntal relationship between two different parameters, gives rise to polymorphy.

This principle is applied in both quartets, more in the Fourth String Quartet than in Abschiede. Broken up by dense, stretto-like refrains and a polymorphous polyphony of compaction, with a strong forward drive, the quieter parts of the formal layer ‘open rondo’ (the other is a developmental layer!) are defined by different speeds of temporal progression that also result from the degree of temporal materialization and shape time polymorphously as a texture. The static textures, often consisting of sustained notes, stay in the background, at once allegorically outlining the depth of space and the end of time in the infinite space of ‘eternità’ and the universe, sometimes stronger and sometimes less present, i.e. varyingly real or virtual in its fundamentally amorphous state of materialization. Their presence, which becomes increasingly spatially dominant towards the end, polymorphous in the seemingly infinite breadth of variation in its internal structure, allegorically heralds not only the end of space and time, but also the descending arc of life. On the other hand, all this contrasts with a multiplicity of very tangibly present, polyphonically-arranged rhythmic microstructures – derived from a musical nucleus shared by all of them. Their relationship with the other musical parameters is polymorphous throughout. Similar structures of polyphonic compaction can be found in the refrains, which are sometimes pushed together processually and collectivistically to create homorhythmic, almost hermetic passages, thus questioning individuality as an emancipatory principle.

The Fifth String Quartet is likewise based on the principle of polyphony and polymorphy, in the sense of the multiplicity of types among the individuals mourned here. This becomes most visible in the forced forward drive of section IV, where structures from the fugato are pushed together almost into unison via the stretto before moving apart once more. This principle becomes even clearer in section VI, ‘Furioso’, where sorrow escalates into a furious struggle against the inescapable. It is initially in widely-spaced, strict polyphony, fugato-like also in the disposition of the dynamics and articulation, one voice emerging from the collective before being deconstructed by another, the individuals unite processually to form a collective, both morphologically and texturally, i.e. in polymorphous fashion, and subsequently move apart again. Then, in section VII, being departs from time via a gradually slowing, strictly polyphonic pizzicato structure, superbly interpreted by the Jade Quartet.

Ernst Helmuth Flammer
Translation from German: Wieland Hoban

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