About „Beethoven offset“ for orchestra and ensemble
"I have found," he said, "that it shall not be." "What, Adrian, shall not be?" "The good and the noble," he answered me, "what we call human, although it is good and noble. What men have fought for, what they have stormed strongholds for, and what the fulfilled have rejoiced and proclaimed, that shall not be. It shall be taken back, I will take it back." I understand not understand you entirely, dear. What do you want to take back?" "The Ninth Symphony" he replied. And then nothing came, as I waited. (Thomas Mann, Dr. Faustus)
These sentences, which Thomas Mann has the protagonist Adrian Leverkühn speak towards the end of the novel, were written immediately after the latter had seen pictures of the liberated concentration camps from Nazi Germany. This excerpt from Dr. Faustus made a lasting impression on me and inspired me to write this composition.
I started the first sketches for an orchestral piece were in spring 2015.
In "Beethoven_off_set" the orchestra of the "Ninth" is put into contrast with a contemporary ensemble of orchestral musicians.
The orchestra plays fragments from all movements of the ninth symphony. The musicians play throughout with mutes, the Beethovenian sforzatos sounding as if from far away. The ensemble plays composed sounds from the “offstage” (for example sounds from a cafeteria and car horns from the street). In the course of the performance, the musicians react systematically to the sounds from the orchestra. The two groups of instruments are timed so that the score can be conducted by one conductor. Old and new playing techniques are juxtaposed here, comparable to an exhibition of black and white and digital photos.
The modern ensemble takes sounds such as tremolos from the first movement or repetitions from the second movement and continues them with the possibilities of a contemporary ensemble. The audience has the illusion of attending a concert from afar, and yet they find themselves in the middle of the performance – or in the eye of the hurricane.
The Adagio of the third movement is contrasted with a succession of alienated Jewish songs, allowing the humanistic intimacy of Beethoven's music to meet the tragedy of German history.
The beginning of the fourth movement is played by both instrumental groups at the extreme fortissimo, only to suddenly freeze in ghostly pianissimo. It is "as if a door was ripped open and immediately closed again".
The final chorus sings with its mouth closed, symbolizing the speechlessness of all the disenfranchised and incapacitated. We hear tape recordings of the G20 summit 2017 from Hamburg. Vociferous demonstrators gather in the streets, while inside the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall the international heads of state listen to the ninth symphony. There are also fragments from the legendary Furtwängler Concert of 1942, which took place in the presence of the most prominent Nazi figures. The fragments of the jubilant final chorus fade into the distance.
Over the course of "Beethoven_off_set" we experience an increasing de-theorization of the Ninth Symphony and at the same time a warning against the abuse of this deeply human music by inhuman regimes and dictators.
Berlin, June 2019
Andreas F. Staffel