During a recent trip to Madrid, I attended a private concert for the recipients of the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (My brother received one the awards.). One of the pieces presented by the Madrid City Orchestra was a composition by Helmut Lachenmann, a 2010 recipient of the BBVA Award for Contemporary Music. (Since Lachenmann was physcically present at the perfomance, the orchestra seemed a little on edge prior to the concert.) The other two pieces performed that night were by Toru Takemistu (1930-1996) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918).
The Lachenmann composition–Schreiben–was very different from any other music that I have encountered, and took me by complete surprise. It seemed like random sounds, white noise, generated in very creative ways. I can’t say I disliked the relatively short piece, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it either. But I was glad that I had experienced it.
By brother’s mother-in-law was sitting next to me. She is quite outspoken, and indicated that she had not enjoyed the Lachenmann’s work. At a small private diner party after the concert, the general concensus seemed to be negative (They didn’t get it).
Lachenmann has referred to his compositions as musique concrete instrumentale, implying a musical language that encompasses the entire world of sound. To accomplish this, he uses unconventional performance techniques (www.slought.org/content/11401/retrieved 30 March 2009):
. . . in which the sound events are chosen and organized so that the manner in which they are generated is at least as important as the resultant acoustic qualities themselves. Consequently those qualities, such as timbre, volume, etc., do not produce sounds for their own sake, but describe or denote the concrete situation: listening, you hear the conditions under which a sound- or noise-action is carried out, you hear what materials and energies are involved and what resistance is encountered.
His scores place strong demands on performers because of the many techniques that he has invented for wind, brass and string instruments. For example, at one time during the BBVA concert, the pianist crawled up inside his instrument and was plucking the wires (much as a harpist would do). According to the Madrid concert program:
. . . Lachenmann manipulates the sound sources directly, forcing traditional instruments to the limit of their possibilities. . . (he) organizes, composes and constructs them into a sonic discourse.
Schreiben was composed in 2002 and premiered in Tokyo in 2003. Subsequently, the composer has made a number of changes to the work. The title has multiple meanings, one of which is to rewrite, as if the work itself is a palimpsest.
The concert program had the following kudos for Helmut Lachenmann:
Helmut Lachenmann (Germany, 1935) is a composer who has enlarged the world of sounds in the last fifty years, creating new forms of musical expression which have profoundly influenced our understanding of and way of listening to music.