(streaming link below)


This work is a setting of Da ich ein Knabe War (When I was a Youth) by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), a poem which addresses the relationship of the individual to – and the tension between – the natural and human worlds. For Hölderlin the classical divinities, so well represented in the European poetry of his time and earlier, were manifestations of the world, crystallisations of its unknowability, and the source of all life. The poem is addressed to them as the representatives of the sublime: incomprehensible yet paradoxically more relatable than the world of men. In Hölderlin’s poem there is a sharp contrast between human and non-human. However, as the protagonist is unquestionably human, I feel the relationship is more complicated than it first appears. My own reading of the poem carries an undertone of alienation and isolation: the protagonist disavows the human world, but cannot truly escape it.

The musical identity of the work stems from the use of two opposed sources of material, corresponding to the polarised human and natural worlds of the poem. The ‘human’ material includes regular rhythms – for example canons and cadences – and nods to common practice harmony. The contrasting material representing the non-human world derives from continuous rather than quantised sound – for example glissandi – and the harmonic series. The relationship between these is explored in various ways throughout the work. In the final parts of the work they reach a sort of unity, a quasi-stable duality.

Performance History:

The Pale Flame Consort cond. Angelika Stangl - December 2016, York UK