Markus Schimpp: Yearning For Silence

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«Markus Schimpp: Yearning For Silence»

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Markus Schimpp Yearning for Silence, 33 Piano Pieces (2018).


Markus Schimpp (Piano).

33 Approximations of Silence

The idea for these 33 piano pieces resulted from a commission for the international composition project “250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven”, initiated by Bonn-based pianist Susanne Kessel on the occasion of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020. 250 composers were each asked to compose a short piano piece inspired by Beethoven’s life and work.

When revisiting the work of this great composer, I was struck by how much my interest in his music has changed since my student days. Earlier it was the fast-virtuosic movements and large symphonies; now, it’s the primarily the quiet simple passages, especially in the late works, that fascinate and touch me. For instance, after the last movement of the Piano Sonata op. 111, I always listen at length to the silence that results from Beethoven’s rapturous music, from its pulsing thirds and seemingly never-ending trills. I listened to or played these passages in moments in which I yearned for a healing counterbalance to the often-hectic pace and overwhelming media saturation of daily life.

It was out of this inner necessity that I began to write short piano pieces, using as little musical material as possible. Simple thoughts that end before they fully manifest, in order to send the listener into another mental direction with the next piece. I consciously avoided fast virtuosic passages to create a contemplative atmosphere – sort of my idea of a changing musical mantra, which ideally results in being “lost in thought” in a positive sense.

“33 approximations of silence”, arranged in what I felt was a sensible sequence, arose during two phases of work. Some develop from a single chord, repeated at the beginning as an arpeggio, until a gentle bass note imbues it with new harmonic possibilities. Others balance conventional harmonies and pp dissonances, which blend ever so softly to create a sensuous, almost harmonic colouration. It was exciting to feel my way through and respond to the sound: after how many repetitions does a sense of uniformity or boredom set in? How far can I push this risk, without losing the desire to keep listening? When will the listener be surprised by a small deviation and how does that affect the intensity and speed of the interpretation?

This cycle is based on omission and abstention, but also on granting permission. An example of this is the final D-flat major chord in No. XXIII – perhaps too harmonious for some specialists, but for me an inner necessity.

While composing I happened to read a report about Korea’s capital city of Seoul and its local tradition of ringing an enormous bell 33 times – a lucky number in Korea – every New Year. So I decided on the spur of the moment to limit these pieces to the same number. For me it’s comforting to know that “Yearning for Silence” has such fortuitous beginnings.

Markus Schimpp
Translation: Mark Barden

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