(World)Theatre for the inner Ear

B.A.Zimmermann: Works for Chamber Orchestra              WERGO6671 2

Text: Peter Hirsch

„The decision as to where the borders of music lie can only be determined by the work of composers, who are always trying to make understanable that whisch is incomprehensible, to turn chaos into order, to encompass that which has no order: an impulse of the human spirit since the beginning.“  (B.A.Zimmermann: Über die Beharrlichkeit der Missverständnisse, 1956)

„We should have the courage to concede that, faced with musical reality, style is an anachronism.“  (B.A.Zimmermann: Vom Handwerk des Komponisten, 1968)

„... Instrumental concerto... ballet music. The combination of these two seemingly disconnected genres wants to produce a third in which both are equally present: the absolute musical form.“ (1966)

The „third“ genre, of which Zimmermanns speaks here in reference to his violoncello concerto en forme de pas de trois, had always been for him something like music for an imaginary theatre, on whose virtual stage reality would be negotiated; where the object would be, to put it in his own terms, to organize chaos, to make the incomprehensible understandable. This is only seemingly a contradiction of his statement regarding an „absolute musical form“: Zimmermann‘s musical ideas had always circled around that „musical reality“ which could not be achieved within stylistic or formal constraints. Like almost no other composer of the post-war preiod he faced up to this heterogeneous, chaotic, even apocalyptic reality, as he understood it, and was able to represent it in all its multiplicity and tame it in his compositions. The slogan „style is an anachronism“ points out the inadequacy of inherited formal structures, seeks to base compositional practice on pluralism, not on stylistic arbitrariness; the „absolute musical form“ postulates itself as a new, all-inclusive „third way“ dissolving previous formal boundaries. This is true not only for Zimmermann‘s works of ‘functional music‘ but for the highly serialized cantata Omnia tempus habent as well. Zimmermann turned the abstract organization of individuel musical parameters, chacteristic of most serial procedures, into a resource capable of giving the resulting musical configurations the dramatic form of a „theatre in the back of the mind“. The apparently hermetic nature of these serial procedures - almost every note, played or sung, has a different dynamic or playing instruction - is broken through as a result of their rigorous application. For example, the indications for vocal coloration range from „spoken“, „secco“, „half-spoken“, „espressivo“, up to the „tonus rectus“ of the Catolic liturgy. But how spoken is „spoken“? How exactly is one to sing the omnous „tonus rectus“? Every instruction, no matter how detailed, is also related to the text in a very traditional manner; only when sound colors, including those of the instruments, are percieved in relation to the language can the expressive quality of a musical gesture begin to be understood and be seen to refer to a form behind form. (Consider the insistent, almost threatening „tonus rectus“ in the text:“ et mundum tradidit disputationi eorum“.) The cantata as imaginary drama, an instrumental piece with voice and a philosophical treatise on the nature of time, all in one.
The conception of an „absolute musical form“ is also present in Zimmermann‘s writings concerning Kontraste, music for an imaginary ballet, and is equally applicable to the music in its original version, Das Gelb und das Grün, music for an actual puppet show: „The piece strives for a unity of absolute music, absolute dance, and absolute color; whereby each artistic medium retains its independence to such a degree that ‚interpretation‘ of one through the other should be impossible: counterpoint! Not illustration or  mere synchronization.“ The counterpoint extends from waltz parody through burlesque to the 12-tone serialism of a highly differentiated sound phantasmagoria. The Dadaism of the (musical) reality striven for here is obviously not only that of an absurd puppet play involving colors and cows.
Still more osmotic is the interweaving of different layers, this time avant-garde music and jazz in Metamorphose. Throughout his life, Zimmermann occupied himself intensively with jazz as an art form embodying, for him, intoxication and the suspension of time. In this „film music“ which is at the same time a marvelous, large-scale ensemble work, jazz occupies a position equivalent to the most advanced serial procedures of the 1950s. Their connection is achieved as seamlessly as that between the requirements of a film and those of an „absolute“ musical art work. Even in passages whose duration was clearly determined by the length of a film sequence, Zimmermann maintained the music‘s own dramatic action, in that he listened deeply into the essence of musical material that, while invented for other goals, nevertheless followed the rules written into it; material which everywhere seeks ecstasy and contemplation, intoxication and insight.
Finally, Un petit rien, a costume ball! Condensed musical scenes seemingly from previous age, but this also a costume, an assertion, an invention. Epochs and styles, his own and others‘, summersault into complete entanglement with each other, and the composer, disguised as his own arranger, sitting in the middle of it all, winking. And yet, in second and penultimate place, two short pieces appear which are absolutely Zimmermann: Métamorphose lunaire I and II. The first: a shining little example of Zimmermann‘s ‚sphercal form‘, here: his own life. As if in superimposed layers, he stacks self-quotations from the 1950s on top of each other, short motivic fragments which are attached to each other in an endless loop. To this are added the blues rhythms of the late works, here however slowed down. Stille und Umkehr in slow motion. Metamorphosis from blues rhythm to march steps, which remain in place. A wonderful, miniature piece of music without beginning or end. Nine bars of trance in which time stands still.   

(English translation: J.P.Thomas and W.R.Rieves)