Title: Serenade
Instrumentation: mezzo-soprano and large ensemble
Year: 2012
Duration: approx. 12.5′
Premiere: Levande Musik Festival 2012
Performers: Ensemble Gageego!

Serenade 1

Serenade (Ming Tsao, Edition Peters, mm. 202–210)

Serenade 2b

Serenade (Arnold Schoenberg, 1920–23)

Serenade 3b

Wie Meeresküsten…(Friedrich Hölderlin, 1802–07)

Serenade (excerpt)

Hölderlin – Schönberg

Quotations allow a composition to provide shelter for “sounds in exile,” that is, sounds which have exhausted whatever energy that was once attributed to them and that now only persist as congealed, fossilized clichés. My saturation of a composition with these references, which I call Spätklang – “the ashes of burned out meanings” – a reference to Paul Celan’s Spätwort in order to evoke their toxic currency, brings them back into the space of composition by structurally blending them together with noise and sound into a Strukturklang so that I can build music from this used up and now “toxic stuff” of our inherited (and colonializing) musical culture. The allusion to tonal materials in a composition must offer more than an alternative to materials conditioned by noise, serial and stochastic processes, computer technologies, etc. where the quotations behave primarily as small islands of humanist consolation. Rather than “dodging them into alley-ways while they pass, or lingering in safe places like gardens” these materials should commingle and challenge “the notion that either is the other’s residue, excess or rubbish.” As Reeve and Kerridge write of Prynne’s poetry: “Rubbish is what results from the smash-up, when different discourses do not occupy the cultural places to which they have been directed, but cross the tracks and collide.”

In some instances, the apparent quotation can offer the severest of contrasts with moments of lyricism, such as the impassioned shouts that surface through the lyricism of the late Beethoven works “as if the composer’s hand were intervening with a certain violence.” These “shouts” in late Beethoven are used less as material to be developed and act more as invocations, similar to the way in which the poet Hölderlin calls out historical names as signs in his later poetry to achieve an aura of concentrated significance. Hölderlin allows the objective quality of the language to speak, like late Beethoven where all interstitial (transitional) material is cut away. He creates an intentionless language, “the naked rock of which is everywhere exposed,” as an ideal, a revealed language. The more Hölderlin in his late work came close to the things of the world (and his ability to capture their essence in poetic images), the more he experienced their separateness and their disparateness (and separation from any kind of narrative through paratactic constructions) approaching the danger that they may signify nothing, pointing only to themselves: as walls, weathervanes. Through paratactic constructions of which the two strophes of Hälfte des Lebens is an example, he discovers relations, correspondences, constellations of meaning within the field of history and finally within language itself.

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und Trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Half of Life

With yellow pears hangs down
And full of wild roses
The land into the lake,
You loving swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into water, the holy-and-sober.

But oh, where shall I find
When winter comes, the flowers, and where
The sunshine
And shade of the earth?
The walls loom
Speechless and cold, in the wind
Weathercocks clatter.

Friedrich Hölderlin, Hälfte des Lebens (1804), Michael Hamburger (trans.)

Serenade, for mezzo-soprano and large ensemble, combines this late poem of Hölderlin with elements of Schönberg’s own Serenade where he too uses parataxis to juxtapose a light serenade style (such as the opening Marsch) with the Sonnet Seine Seele besucht sie im Schlaf by Petrarca of Movement 4 as well as with the meditative Lied ohne Worte of Movement 6. Such juxtapositions in Schönberg’s work open up spaces charged with tenderness and violence, revealing repressed and concealed relations between various musical discourses. I pick up the residue that refuses to disappear (fossilized clichés and tonal patterns as well as noise) from Schönberg’s work, the moments that are expelled from such concealed relations, as fragments to frame Hölderlin’s text. Such a framing brings out the materiality of the music which bridges extreme expressionistic abstraction with a “documentary” distanciation of noise and spoken voice. The voice, through its rhythm and intonation, is spoken in such a way that does not psychologize or romanticize Hölderlin’s language, but allows the words of the text to resonate beyond the conventions of syntax and to connect with the music in unpredictable ways.