Two ensemble works by Reinhard Febel received their world premieres in Salzburg in January. In his cycle Bright Star
, Febel sets poems by John Keats, whose work has deeply moved the composer for decades. The ensemble mosaik presented Bright Star
jointly with three soloists from the PHØNIX16
, Febel adapts a milestone in the history of comic strips, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland
. The world premiere in the Solitär of the Mozarteum, directed by Marino Formenti, featured six pianists on two pianos along with members of the Ensemble für Neue Musik.
Bright Star (2018)
after texts by John Keats
S, T, B, ob, sax, vl, vc, pf
World Premiere: 15.01.2019, Salzburg
WP of Bright Star, Salzburg 2019
About the work
My preoccupation with Keats’s work goes back four decades. My first flat in London was only a couple of stone’s throws from Keats’s house, both near Hampstead Heath where the poet loved to walk, then a rural woodland, now a park in the midst of the metropolis. I encountered Keats – or, more precisely, his tombstone – again in Rome. On it, as he requested, are inscribed the words: “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.” That’s also the title of one of the poems in the cycle Bright Star. In London and Rome, Keats (1795-1821) created breathtaking poetry, in which form and expression merge inseparably and, for me, irresistibly.
Score of Bright Star
2pf (6players), fl(picc), cl(bcl), vc, perc
World Premiere: 25.01.2019, Salzburg
WP of Slumberland, Salzburg 2019
About the work
Some background to this idea: With six pianists, who are just able to fit at two pianos, I have 60 (6 times 10) fingers, which can cover a considerable portion of the keyboards. I call my treatment of them digital: in the piece it’s not so much about traditional piano technique, but rather that each finger more or less operates only one key – only in on-off mode, so to speak. That allows for the production of a complex cloud of sound points.
Out of this cloud arise six “pieces” or “dreams”, each one a duet for a pianist and a solo instrument: piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, cello, percussion plus one pianist while the other players move aside or even sink to the bottom or something along those lines. Thus the whole thing would possibly take on a scenic component.
I’ve been obsessed with Slumberland for decades. For one thing, it’s a milestone in the history of comic strips, created by Winsor McCay and running in the New York Herald from 1905 to 1911. Each of the hundreds of pages follows the same pattern: a boy, little Nemo, lies in bed, falls asleep and travels to Slumberland where, each time, he experiences a different adventure that usually ends with a fall, whereupon he wakes up in his bed. I’ve attached a photo of one of the pages.
Slumberland is also one of the oldest discotheques in Berlin and is located downstairs in the house where we live, an amusing coincidence. And Nemo – Nobody – also alludes to the odyssey of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, about which I already wrote a solo percussion piece: Capitaine Nemo.
And then I’m naturally also interested in the two perspectives: are Nemo’s journeys (the solos with piano accompaniment in the piece) the dreams while the sound continuum of the six pianists is the reality? Or is life itself the dream while reality is somewhere else, as, for example, the American Indians say – but also look at Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s drama The Tower, which is in turn based on the 17th-century play Life Is a Dream by Calderón. And so on. A broad field...
Not to mention the notion that sometimes occurs to me: that we are basically living through a collective nightmare. Nature is being poisoned; living creatures are dying out one after another; poverty, hunger and war are everywhere; the population is increasing by the billion as though there were ten earths. Awakening seems impossible; reason dead – has it always been so? And, by the same token, the feeling that art that could still make a difference would still only be an art of desperation, which is not what I want.
These thoughts can and should not be expressed concretely in the composition, of course, or even illustrated. They are impulses for composition but also for possible representation on a stage.
Score of Slumberland
Photos: Jelisveta Pesic (Bright Star), Temirlan Beisenbay (Slumberland)