Grafeneck, for many years the hunting lodge and pleasure palace of Duke Carl-Eugen of Württemberg, was a place of culture in the 18th century where music, opera and ballet were cultivated. In 1928, the Samaritan Foundation took over the palace as a place for disabled people. In 1939, it was confiscated by the National Socialist state for "purposes of the Reich". From January 1940 until December of the same year, 10654 disabled and mentally ill people were murdered.
In the attempt to make the unimaginable number of victims comprehensible, it became clear that it should never just be about numbers, but that it is important to give the individual victims a face again. Under the hands of Jochen Meyder, 10654 terracotta figures were created over the years, individually modelled, with individual faces. Once all the figures, all the victims, have been sculpted and laid out, visitors to the memorial are invited to take a figure home. In this way, they can take on a post hume sponsorship, and give a person a place of remembrance again.
The programme begins with a Renaissance introduction, an "Allemanda con Tripla" by Thomas Fortmann. This is followed by a composition by both authors on themes from the "Württemberg Sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach", which were dedicated to Duke Carl Eugen. Helmut Lipsky's piece "Überm Sternenzelt sicher wohnen" ("Dwelling Safely in a Starry Sky") deals with Schiller's Ode to Joy, and Thomas Fortmann's composition Grafeneck 1940, which deals with the incomprehensible events in Grafeneck, concludes the programme. All four pieces were written especially for this commemoration and require an unusual instrumentation: violin (plus electric Vl), piano and percussion.
Jochen Meyder studied sculpture in Stuttgart and Nuremberg, art history and philosophy in Tübingen. His works are committed to the figure, but are often contrasted in a collage-like manner by found objects, thus obtaining a new statement. The figures of the murders in Grafeneck comprises a separate group of works.
Helmut Lipsky studied violin and was a student of Ithzak Perlman in New York for a time. He is a professor at the Montréal Conservatory and plays as a soloist with leading orchestras and in various chamber music ensembles. He writes music for theatre and film, also using unusual instrumentation.
Harvard lectures (1985)
Musik Thomas Fortmann
Libretto Stefano Adami
The project to create a musical opus inspired by Italo Calvino's Harvard Lectures arose from the meeting between Thomas Fortmann and Professor Stefano Adami, a scholar of the life and work of the great Italian writer. The two collaborators started from the need that it is by now appropriate to celebrate Calvino's near centenary through forms, ways and languages of expression that are not always the traditional ones of conventions, conferences and scholar days, but instead using different languages to remember what was one of the greatest experimenters of the world literary 20th century.
Thus, was born the idea of developing a work that would set to music the various chapters of the so-called "Lezioni americane”.
It is well known, in fact, that Calvino wrote the Lectures at the request of Harvard University in the summer of 1985, as a kind of literary, philosophical and cultural guide that humanity needed to take with it as it entered the Third Millennium. This guide was articulated, according to Calvino, on the six fundamental values that would be needed in the new age. Values that concern not only literature, but in the same way also music. Indeed, the composition is an attempt to trace the corresponding musical parallels of the parameters of each lesson. And the texts of the vocal passages are made up of the significant literary examples that Calvin offers.
So, the idea of a "literary concert" arises from the isolation of key passages from each of the six chapters and from the most significant literary examples that Calvino records. Through the musical correspondences in which the texts are recited or sung, this results in a new reading of the work that Calvino conceived as a kind of inheritance and was unable to complete due to his illness, which led to his untimely death in mid-September 1985.
Content „Lezione americane“ - Harvard Lectures
“Six Memos for the Next Millennium” for the Charles Eliot Norton Lecture Series at Harvard University. The lectures outline six values Calvino wished to recommend to the approaching new millennium. He intended to devote one lecture to each of six qualities: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity, and consistency. Though he completed the first five, he died before finishing the last.
Calvino’s first memo is on the subject of “Lightness”; he opens with this topic because it is the one dearest to his heart. “Lightness” is several things to Calvino. First, it is a working method: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all, I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.” Second, lightness is a worldview, a philosophical position, something like the pagan naturalism of Lucretius and Ovid. Third, it is a quality “arising from the writing itself,” completely independent of the writer’s philosophical position. Lastly—and most relevantly for the coming millennium—lightness is a way of thinking, a way of rising above the noise of life. Calvino considers the history of literature through the prism of “lightness,” arguing that “two opposite tendencies have competed in literature: one tries to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better…. The other tries to give language the weight, density, and concreteness of things.”
The second Memo concerns “Quickness.” Calvino stresses that he is not referring to narrative pace, which can be “delaying, cyclic, or motionless.” Rather, quickness is a species of lightness: “agility, mobility, and ease, all qualities that go with writing where it is natural to digress, to jump from one subject to another, to lose the thread a hundred times and find it again after a hundred more twists and turns.” Although Calvino is writing in the 1980s, prior to the rise of computer-based communications, he presciently argues that in the era of “fantastically speedy, widespread media,” speediness in literature will serve the vital purpose of “communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language.”
The third memo, on Exactitude, begins appropriately with an exact definition: “To my mind, exactitude means three things above all: (1) a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question; (2) an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images; (3) a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.
Calvino celebrates exactness of style, pointing out that even the most apparently ornate writers (such as Joyce and Nabokov) seek exact forms of expression. However, Calvino is more interested in the forms of exactness that characterize his own work: the use of logical, numerical, or geometrical systems to structure a work.
The memo on “Visibility” again discusses the threat of modern media: “If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images.” Calvino worries that the imaginative faculty to create mental pictures is threatened by the growing prevalence of pre-packaged imagery.
In his memo on “Multiplicity,” Calvino argue that in most fields excessive ambition is just that: excessive. In literature, however, excessive ambition is an essential part of the project: “Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement.” For Calvino, this will require “Multiplicity” in the coming era because of science’s tendency to create “sectorial and specialized” knowledge. Multiplicity can represent our experience, but also reconcile its separateness into something whole.
Italo Calvino is widely recognized as one of the most important twentieth-century writers.
video TRAILER, 7 min.
Opera popolare o quasi
Pia de' Tolomei
The popular legends transmitted by Sestini and Moroni in "Ottava Rima", Donizetti's opera and the cinematography of the mid-twentieth century tell us a melodramatic story anchored in a nineteenth century vision.
In dealing with this subject we have adhered to an interpretation faithful to the original, closely linked to the few verses of the divine comedy and based on rigorous and modern historical research, which also reveals a much more dramatic drama than the traditional legends.
music TRAILER, 18 min.
libretto various artists
drama Bruno Gaudieri
director Francesco Tarsi, Caterina Genta
scenery Francesca Bizzarri & Jochen Meyder
Federica Raja (Pia de’ Tolomei)
Simona Bertini(Margherita Aldobrandeschi)
Daniele De Prosperi (Nello Pannocchieschi)
Andrea Rola (Tollo degli Alberti di Prata / Ghino)
Philippe Talec (violin) Matthias Schranz (violoncello)
Ivan Nestic (double bass) Daniel Brylewski (piano)
Christoph Vogt (percussion)
One evening on his way home, Prolitheus Pfenninger finds a book on the seat in the train. It is the worst book he has ever come across. While still on the train, he begins to improve it with a felt-tip pen and Tippex: he crosses out entire blocks of text and leaves only individual words or parts of sentences. Over the next 20 months, he refines his décollage technique. Instead of disgust, he uses poetry as a mental overstructure. Each page individually becomes an object of study in its own right. The original text offers various, yet limited possibilities due to the given choice of words. So he works on a page sometimes for days until it has a completely new face. In the end, the originally told story is stripped away and the pages he treats look like bastards between constructive painting and total arbitrariness. That's how I first saw the book.
The libretto is a collage which I put together from the verbal leftovers that Prolitheus left on the pages of the book. I collected this leftover material in 10 thematic folders and then reassembled everything. The libretto is therefore a collage of a décollage. I limited my own additions to the lyrics. That's how the plot came about, that's how the text was composed.
My musical concept for the piece could be described as "unity in diversity".
In fact, very different currents of contemporary musical styles come together. By trying to give the individual titles the form and style appropriate to their content, I rely on my own and free compositional decision. So the music lies between all the fronts, or rather plays and flirts with them, by mixing compositional techniques of the newer serious music with the rhythmic feeling of jazz and the attitude to life of the rock age. The result is by no means a kind of crossover, but always an original expression of contemporary musical consciousness: a "Sturm und Drang" piece, with the corresponding intention of transcending an enlightened period of musical creation.
As a preliminary study, I wrote a 6-movement suite for piano trio „Prolitheus Suite“ which was premiered at the University of Texas, with repeat performances at Moores Opera, Houston, as well as at two Italian festivals and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Furthermore: despite my tendency towards "twelve-tone", and although my musical expression is different nowadays, I feel connected to the specifically German music theatre, which, through Eisler and Weill, among others, has understood that art and „Gassenhauer“ need not be mutually exclusive. And so I would like to see my Vaudeville for Leontine as a modern continuation of this tradition.
Götterspiele deals with today's topical questions of what truth and reality are in their basic features, what part we take in these constructs, and how they can be manipulated. People trust appearances, but appearances are pretended and can be changed, and this principle is used in the play to gradually drive the victim to despair.
Dramaturgically, two motifs are linked, the Job motif of the wager with that of the deception of Amphytrion: the two gods transform themselves into figures that the girl believes to be her parents, her friend, her acquaintances. In these roles they try to destroy the life of the girl through suffering. It is the gods who, by means of the amphytrion effect, erect a reality of which the girl becomes the victim," I noted at the beginning of the transcript. (Christian Haller)
The text and music are accompanied by circus element acrobatics, aerial artistry, juggling and mime which are not meant to illustrate the plot, but to create an additional visual element to touch the audience on another level.
Soloists / Voices
Maximilian von Lütgendorff (tenor): LOH, BENNIE
Wolf Latzel (Baritone): LEE, FATHER
Marylaure Pugin (vocals/ acrobatics, accordion): YOUNG WOMAN
Joseph Gremaud (acrobatics / mime): BENNIE
Ensemble Tacchi Alti
Barbara-Gabriella Bossert (flute), Dimitri Ashkenazy (clarinet), Kathrin Bertschi (harp), Luca Borioli (perc. & Schlagz), Yvonne Lang (piano), Inès Morin (violin), Hannes Bärtschi (viola), Sebastian Braun (cello), Thierry Roggen (double bass)
1st March 2024 Theater Alte Reithalle Aarau (CH)
In collaboration with Ensemble Tacchi Alti and Ensemble Kunos Circus Theater.
Fee Pepper (production management), Daniel Tschanz (technique).