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Heiner Goebbels

Stifters Dinge


Fairly allergic to the aesthetic of Heiner Goebbels, I found Stifters Dinge more interesting than several examples of his work we have tackled on Musical Pointers (a recent performance of Surrogate Cities at the Festival Hall I found so ghastly and boring that we did not attempt to review it).

This latest CD compilation from ECM - long loyal to Goebbels - I found the most persuasive; I endorse Andrew Clements in the Guardian, excerpted below:

" - - homage to the 19 C Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter, whose descriptions of the natural world have been admired by generations of writers – from Rainer Maria Rilke and Thomas Mann to WH Auden and Marianne Moore; a "performative installation" - five grand pianos, all played in different mechanical ways, stumble out repeated morse-like signals, Nancarrow-style cascades of notes and the slow movement from Bach's Italian Concerto, while samples of industrial noise, ethnographic recordings, interviews with Claude Lévi-Strauss and Malcolm X, and readings from William S Burroughs and Stifter himself play in the background; all the elements somehow cohere. Even on disc it's mysterious and compelling. - - "

Peter Grahame Woolf (2012)


Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten
- Il Y A Des Jours; Non Sta ; Ove e Dunque ; Les Inachevés; Tanz der Derwische; In The 19th Century; Coriolan - Triumphmarsch; Homme-Bombe; Schlachtenbeschreibung; Well, Anyway; Did It Really Happen?; Kehna Hi Ky; Et C'est Toujours; La Fronde à Hommes (Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten - Part Two) 3. Just Like That; Bild der Städte; Ich leugne nicht die Unterscheidung; Krieg der Städte; On The Road; And We Said Good Bye ; On The Radio ; Different Nations;. Train Travelling; Je Ne Voyage Plus; Principes
Libretto by
Giordano Bruno, Michaux, Fenelon, Da Vinci, Reger, Foucault, T S Eliot and Gertrude Stein

Georg Nigl, David Bennent, 16 singers and 19 instrumentalists (Ensemble Modern/Franck Ollu)

ECM New Series 1811 (476 5838 in UK) [Live recording Oct 2004 at Nanterre, Paris : 80 mins]

This is problematic to review for an elderly monolingual Brit (many of my generation learnt nothing beyond simple school French, which we quickly forgot).

Heiner Goebbels' first opera "in the full sense of the term", its title translated as Landscape with Distant Relatives (2002), awaits a showing in UK. It has no discernible plot, instead "constantly changing tableaux, like a stroll through a museum, a theatrical reduction of the cosmos, a gallery of contradictions".

Besides the singers named above, the members of the Ensemble Modern sing too, and the most prominent soloist (unnamed so far as I have ascertained) is a woman actress who declaims with dead-pan irony extracts from Gertrude Stein's Wars I Have Seen (from the perspective of Paris in 1943).

Disparate items along the way include a beautiful solo by a temple flautist, a Hindi chant, and "an Oklahoma!-style line-up for Out Where the West Begins and Freight Train". There is no logic in the sequence and juxtapositions, nor is one intended, but there are themes implied, including the ambiguous relationship between art and reality, and the nature of political conflict (Rob Cowan, The Independent).

It is all strangely compelling, and I had no difficulty in listening right through, frustrated though by ECM's dubious compliment of not supplying translations; nor are they to be found as yet on the company's website.

Opera in the 21st Century is not to be confined to stereotypes, and Landscape with Distant Relatives deserves to be neither pigeon-holed nor dismissed. Perhaps some of our multilingual readers will supplement this brief welcome with their reactions to the items in French, German and Italian?

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. See our reports in Seen&Heard on Goebbels' Eislermaterial and Surrogate Cities

and below I reproduce just one paragraph from Anne Ozorio's review in Music Web of a related work, Songs of wars I have seen, based upon Gertrude Stein's book, a kind of wartime diary, and given by London Sinfonietta/Sian Edwards at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 12.07.2007:

- - Her stream-of–consciousness writing style, which mixes profound comments with trivia, repetition and convoluted syntax is surprisingly vivid – this is how real people think, without the self-censorship that comes when thoughts are neatly ordered for public consumption. It lends itself to Goebbels’ ideas on the nature of art. The world is full of contradictory images and influences, so it’s ultimately up to the individual to make sense of it. As he says, you can enter Stein’s writing at any point, taking from it what you will. Its meaning sinks in only obliquely. Even her haiku-like aphorisms leave room for interpretation. Thus listening and understanding is part of the creative process, you get what you put in, and each experience will be individual. He makes particularly good use of Stein’s conversational writing style, picking up in his music the natural flow of speech. Moreover, he specifies that Stein’s words are to be spoken by the musicians in the orchestra, not by trained actors. Their very lack of polish adds to the impression of authentic, "lived" experience, for the whole book is about how ordinary people cope in their day to day lives with momentous world events - -