Friedrich Cerha: Nacht, Drei Orchesterstücke

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Photo: Friedrich Cerha: Nacht, Drei Orchesterstücke

«Friedrich Cerha: Nacht, Drei Orchesterstücke»

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Friedrich Cerha Drei Orchesterstucke,


SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg – Emilio Pomarico,

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln – Jukka-Pekka Saraste.


I like to work at night – sometimes until dawn. At night I imagine that time belongs to me – by day, I belong to time. And at night, time sometimes passes more slowly – on occasion I can even make it stand still. And while the sounds of the world often pass by unnoticed during the day, our attention in the silence of night is heightened and focused on a few sounds, sometimes far apart, and we wait with keen ears for the next one: the wind in the trees, the rustling of the leaves, the cracking of a branch, a tired birdcall or a car somewhere in the distance. And there is also the expanse of the night sky. I love watching shooting stars in August: brief illuminated points of enormous speed in the immobile darkness. In my imagination, these events are magnified: myriads of shooting stars falling from the sky in dense trails. They form rapidly-moving curtains. And these “curtains” provide the form for my piece. They keep appearing, and in the course of the piece become ever slower and weightier, coming less from “above” and shining ever more weakly. Between them lies what became sound for me in the night-time hours.

by Friedrich Cerha, translated from German by Wieland Hoban.

Drei Orchesterstücke

I turned 80 in 2006 – an age at which one feels compelled to reflect upon how the world has changed during a long life, how one has also changed, and how one sees the world differently in the course of one’s life. I had the idea of three orchestra pieces in mind which would be connected with those thoughts.

Only the first one, Berceuse céleste, was realised in 2006. It is a simple piece, free from oppressive earthiness; it has something of a childlike naiveté, of an existence in which all experience is just beginning, which does not yet judge or separate into categories of values. It is mainly poised on a bright string sound, while the darker sides of this world are temporarily manifested in constructing and deconstructing figures in the brass.

Musically, this piece is diametrically opposed to No. III, Tombeau, which first began to take shape in 2010/2011. It is borne by the gradual, relentless events leading toward death, in which alteration, change wanes, leaving emptiness behind, and in which time ultimately ceases to be. Notwithstanding personal connotations, Tombeau is in fact a stringently structured piece. As with other works (e.g. the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra), the organising principle I selected was a magic square ascribed to Mars in Arabic mysticism. (It consists of 25 fields numbered 1 through 25. The sequence of five fields always results in the sum of 65 in the most various of arrangements – horizontal, vertical, diagonal, etc. – and that determines almost consistently the pitches’ duration. The basis of the pitches themselves is the chromatic twelve-tone progression upwards, the octave pitches above and again the twelve-tone progression, this time downwards. That makes 25 pitches, corresponding to the 25 numbers of the magic square, which is therefore also the basis of the pitch organisation).

Notwithstanding its duration, I have given the name Intermezzo to the second piece, i.e. that which lies between the cradle and the grave; the title is meant somewhat satirically. It is a piece full of upswings, climaxes, agitations, fears, tensions, surprises and fractures – and among all these events ticks Time, unswerving in its forward stride, marked by short utterances of two coupled pitches which are often repeated in widely varied tone-colours and degrees of loudness.

Despite their differences, the other sections of the piece are based on a related, fundamental element and they occasionally share gestural similarity – one could think of “free variation” – yet they all refer to the same type of individual experience.

by Friedrich Cerha, translated from German by Grant Chorley.

Two recent orchestral pieces by one of the key figures of the european avantgarde. Alongsinde Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen Friedrich Cerha created his rich and colorful orchestral style. From large scale microtonal movements to delicate, gloomy melodies. 2016 is his 90th birthday and his music has never been more fascinating.