There is a connection, albeit a hidden one, between 'Funeral music for the victims of the Vietnam war' ('Esta Noche', 1967), written when Ruzicka was nineteen, and 'Stele for Paul Celan' (1985). It is the expansive character of the voice part in the earlier work, which resurfaces seemingly for no good reason in the last movement of the Celan cantata in the shape of a lengthy vocalise. However, the 'canto' is in fact justified by its disintegration, which occurs in the subtly scored fifth movement. This touches on a central aspect of Ruzicka's compositional aesthetics, in which communication and its denial, creation and destruction, and becoming and decay interlock in a dialectical manner. The connection may also be termed 'hidden' in a view of a large number of works in which the music calls itself into question: '... fragment ...' (1970), 'Stille' (1976), 'Torso' (1973), 'Introspezione' (1969/70) and 'Gestalt und Abbruch' (1979). Yet in the final movement of the Celan cantata we are moved by the beauty of music that no longer reflects about music. Rather, and this is painful enough, it is music that has come to terms with itself, music that is able to say 'I AM' as in the 'canto' of 'Satyagraha' a year earlier:" 'Satyagraha' signifies adherence to a total or incontrovertible conviction, truth without relativism. In my orchestral composition a kind of unending and insistent 'canto' gradually enters the gravitational field of an orchestral eruption, seems temporarily to be overwhelmed by it, annulled and called into question. However, the 'canto' asserts itself as the 'true', as the authentic form, as the basic experience of musical consciousness to which it clings" (Peter Ruzicka). Here Ruzicka's preoccupation with the symphonic works of Allan Pettersson has left its mark, especially the 'canto' of the latter's Seventh Symphony (Music as 'a long views' P.R.).
At the end of the sixties Ruzicka's work was still very much influenced by the 'paternal generation' - Henze, Ligeti and Stockhausen. However, from '... fragment ...' (1970) onwards it began to take its bearings from Mahler, Webern and Celan, who determined an aesthetic stance that informs works of such differing intent as 'Befragung' (1974), '... den Impuls zum Weitersprechen erst empfinge' (1981) and 'Annäherung und Stille' (1981). Thus it may be said that Ruzicka has remained true to himself in a continually changing variety of ways. The concept of 'work in progress' in particular characterizes the inner relationship of those of his works that mirror his preoccupation with the poetry of Paul Celan: 'Todesfuge' (1968/69), '...fragment...' (1970), 'Gestalt und Abbruch' (1979) and '... der die Gesänge zerschlug' (1985). - Ruzicka's affinity to Gustav Mahler is partly the result of the exegesis provided by Theodor W. Adorno, who characterized the discontinuities [Brüche] in Mahler's music as 'antithesis of everyday existence [Weltlauf] and breakthrough [Durchbruch]', and identified the trivial factor in Mahler as 'dialectical refraction [Brechung]'.
The break with the available material that became a formal law in Mahler acquires a model character in a historical situation in which Ruzicka sees the evolution of material in the fifties and sixties coming to an end. Without being spurred on by something that is new, without some palpable portion of Utopia, contemporary composers would be forced to make do with the material at their disposal, eventually attaining to a state of self-negation. However, in terms of aesthetic progress nothing capable of spurring us on is currently in sight. Material should not be used directly. Rather, it should be reified and made to seem inauthentic in 'music about music'. Works such as 'In processo di tempo...' (1971) or 'Befragung' (1974) resemble catalogues of objets trouvés that are polemically illuminated by means of allusions and as if they were actually present. The assimilation of Webern marks the other pole in the field of tension between objet trouvé and invention that is so characteristic of Ruzicka's work. In Ruzicka a mark of invention is above all the power to concentrate, the courage to be fragmentary, the resolve to engage in reduction that goes so far as absolute silence; and the responsibility for compositional detail that is also characteristic for Webern, even the meaningful differentiation of individual notes.
The early works were influenced by Henze, Ligeti and Stockhausen, and those composed after 1970 by Mahler, Webern and Celan - the impact of Pettersson dates from the early eighties. Against this background Ruzicka has written a body of works whose significance is due in equal measure to the multiplicity of genres to which he has addressed himself, to the strength of his inspiration, and to his sovereign command of compositional technique.
The names of Nelly Sachs ('Ausgeweidet die Zeit', 1969), Georg Trakl ('Elis', 1969) and Paul Celan (see above) indicate the high poetic standards that the choice of subject matter imparts to his music. Ruzicka does not reveal the meaning of the words. Rather, he illuminates them, or at most gives the listener access to them. Sometimes his music envelops the text in silence, for it is the secret centre of the piece.
In the flute concerto 'Emanazione' (1975) and in the chamber music textures of the second of 'Fünf Bruchstücke für großes Orchester' (1984-87) the music is charged with virtuosity, continually alternating between the two states of authenticity and inauthenticity. 'Virtuosity is employed on the one hand as the embodiment of emotional expression. On the other it is simply 'presented', one might say, as a pose, as something insubstantial (...), an attempt to bring out the dialectics of virtuosity' (P. R.). The negative cello concerto 'In processo di tempo...' (1971) articulates three more aspects of Ruzicka's compositional aesthetics. The term 'negative cello concerto' implies that the role of the soloist has been turned on its head or taken to an absurd extreme. Progressive breaks in communication with the 26 instrumentalists; taking the instrument to pieces by tuning down the lowest string, which at the end hangs slackly on the fingerboard; silence at the cadenza, the point where, in the usual understanding of the word 'concerto', there is the greatest eloquence and virtuoso display - these features are the audible expression of a carefully registerd decay of the soloist's aesthetic and personal identity that is enhanced further by its theatricality in the concert hall. A tape with quotations from Mahler and watery noises makes palpable the annihilation of the subject, which happens as time proceeds, 'in processo di tempo'. Ruzicka presents these breaks in communication between the soloist and the other instrumentalists using post-serial clichés. Whoever or whatever may be meant or implied by this concept (aleatoric procedures, music theatre, musique concrète, percussion; Cage, Pousseur, Berio, Penderecki, Serocki, Kagel, Brown, Schaeffer), it is clear that everything seems to have become available in the lost property office of the avant-garde. The influence of Mahler and the critical attitude to material are overlapped by a third layer that might be termed 'manipulation of the listener'. The metamorphosis that the musical material undergoes from its impatient entry to 'fade out' evokes, by means of differing aggregations and incident densities, a feeling of time that makes certain demands upon the listener. The listener's temporal awareness is much more intense in the second section (in which time is experienced as an interval) than in the first section (in which its content is experienced). However, in formal terms the work should not only be decoded with reference to the time concept. The material, its content, is also of importance. Furthermore, the quality of the musical material changes as time goes on. What is heard at the beginning could not, going by the formal plan of 'In processo di tempo...', occur at the end. Nothing is repeated, nothing is interchangeable. The titles of other works such as 'Metastrofe' [Temporal inversion] (1971), 'Ausgeweidet die Zeit' (1969), 'Zeit' and 'Z-Zeit' for organ (1975) demonstrate the importance of this compositional aspect in Ruzicka's work.
Time and quotation, aesthetic play (in terms of and with exuberant virtuosity) and allusion, authenticity and inauthenticity, break and bridge (to the listener), interrogating (the material) and impelling (the historical process), reflection and emotion, form and content - such categories point to the centre of an aesthetic position that lays stress on the connection between art and thinking - thinking as the basis for 'critical composition', thinking as the moving force at the root of aesthetic perception, thinking in collateral and developmental terms. From 'Satyagraha' onwards, Ruzicka's music has attained to its singing core, indeed, one might even say that lyricism has long lain dormant in his work as a whole. We ought to ponder this fact and the four notes, d' g' a' c", from which the 'canto' of the Celan cantata derives its melodic strength: they point to the 'manifesto of the New Music' (Adorno), that is, to the entry of the voice in the last movement of Arnold Schoenberg's Second String Quartet Op. 10 (1907): 'Ich fühle luft von anderem planeten.' And so is Ruzicka's 'canto' at one and the same time an echo and a pre-echo.
Alongside such 'music made from music' which owes something to a more or less unconscious reaction to Schönberg's Op. 10, a strain of music about music, observable in Ruzicka's oeuvre since the early 1970s, continues in the form of two one-movement works for orchestra. 'Metamorphosen über ein Klangfeld von Joseph Haydn' [Metamorphoses on a Sound Area by Joseph Haydn] (1990) was stimulated by an obsessive, statically circling movement for winds that Haydn inserted between the words "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and "I thirst" in the oratorio version of his 'Seven Last Words of Our Redeemer on the Cross' - a piece of music "that one could just as well have expected from Schubert or Mahler". (P.R.)
'Tallis. Einsstrahlungen für großes Orchester' [Radiations for large Orchestra] of 1993 is based on the motet 'Spem in alium' by the English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, which, in a polyphonic texture of up to forty parts, conjures up the psalmist's image of a stormy yet merciful God.
'...das Gesegnete, das Verfluchte'. Vier Orchesterskizzen [...the Blessed One, the Cursed One. Four Orchestral Sketches] was written in 1991. The words of the title are taken from a letter of the Swedish un-modern composer par excellence Allan Petterson (1911-1980) and "touch upon a central point: the relationship between musical expression and human existence." (P.R.) Ruzicka's work does not take its point of departure from any particular Pettersson work, but rather arises in Pettersson's workshop, as it were, working with individual compositional cells. This model then gradually assimilates Ruzicka's own musical language, until, in the fourth orchestral sketch, composing about Pettersson has become a kind of composing inside Pettersson.
Alongside Ruzicka's works for large ensembles runs a steady production of string quartets - but this is in no way a "sideline". These works have been closely connected to the poetic work of Paul Celan and to Webern's axiom of a maximally dense musico-linguistic statement since '...fragment...' Five Epigrams for String Quartet (1970). The Second String Quartet arose as a requiem for Paul Celan and is concerned with thoughts about death. These thoughts can be considered to be the scope of the following compositions for or with string quartet, as in the eschatological standpoint of the Third String Quartet '...über ein Verschwinden' [about a Disappearance], the title of which quotes Boulez's obituary for Adorno and whose telos is found in the final movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony as an allegory of death itself; 'Tombeau' for flute, (doubling alto and bass flutes) and string quartet of 2000, "a late echo of the Flute Concerto" (P.R.), reveals itself as a stele for Karl-Bernhard Sebon (1935-1994), the soloist who played the world premiere of 'Emanazione. Variationen für Flöte und vier Orchestergruppen' (1976). Paul Celan's 'Force of Light' is one of nine text sources in '...sich verlierend' [Losing Oneself] for string quartet and speaker (1996), a work which, in regard to structure, is just as important a connecting link to the musical theatrical work 'Celan' as is '...Inseln, randlos...' [Islands, edgeless] of 1994/95. Here, as in nearly all of his works since the middle of the 1990s, one clearly perceives the tendency to abandon the fragmentary aesthetic of his previous works in favour of an arch-like grandeur, thus fulfilling the requirements of a full-length stage work as well.
The compositional idea includes - as the image of edgeless islands suggests - compression and unfolding, the material core and the breadth of musical space, which the solo violin, large orchestra and a chamber choir fulfil. Paul Celan is also present in this work with a poem from the cycle 'Eingedunkelt' [Darkened]: "After the renunciation of light: / the messenger's walk, / brightening day, // the blissfully blossoming message, / shriller and shriller, / finds its way to a bleeding ear."
'Nachtstück (-aufgegebenes Werk)' [Nocturne (-abandoned Work)] for orchestra (1997) is based, once again, on fragmentary thought in the form of an adieu, before 'Celan. Musiktheater in 7 Entwürfen' [Celan: Music Theatre in Seven Sketches] (Text: Peter Mussbach) determined the course of the composer's production until the end of the 1990s.
'Vorgefühle' [Premonitions] for orchestra (1998) and 'Nachklang. Spiegel für Orchester' [Echo. Mirror for Orchestra] (1999) flank the composition of the opera. The first serves as a reservoir of material, a model for the seven-part form of the stage work; the second as a medium of retrospection, both visually and aurally, during the composition of which Peter Ruzicka "experienced an echo that excluded itself like a constant shadow."
'Recherche (- im Innersten)' [Investigation (- in the Innermost Region)] for choir and orchestra (1998) not only points ahead to the opera but is in fact identical with the fourth sketch, which leads 'into the innermost region' of the opera. The one and only text word of 'Recherche' points the way towards this region, a word on which the visionary power of the Jewish people is based: "Jerusalem". By means of this word, the music allows us a glance into the innermost region, where the crevices of the deepest wounds and hurts are found. As does Celan in his poetry, the music of 'Recherche' centres on traumatic spiritual abysses, investigates and explores them, illuminates them glaringly with the final invocation of the spiritual place as in a great outcry - only to darken them again before the inner eye of the listener as before the eyes of a person dazzled by glaring brightness to the point of blindness.
'Celan' (1998/99) is "not a scenic biography" (P.R.) with a protagonist at the centre, but rather a virtual story in seven sketches the subject of which is either approached or regarded from a distance in a constantly fluctuating perspective. The actual watermark of this score is the hope that this kind of (planned) movement can become (unplanned) movement for the listener and observer, without any one particular direction being asserted. The path from '...fragment...' to 'Celan' is the path from a requiem to a decisive "Non requiescat!"
Each of Ruzicka's compositions for solo instrument and orchestra says "I" in its own particular way. The newest of these, 'Erinnerung. Spuren für Klarinette und Orchester' [Memories. Traces for Clarinet and Orchestra] (2000) thus continues a series of works without directly linking onto its predecessors. Ruzicka's stage work is of a prismatic power that allows the earlier compositions to appear in a new light and 'Celan' itself to be recognizable as background and enzyme for the later ones. Traces, one can safely assert today, lead from the clarinet concerto to the opera as well. The view into the innermost region corresponds here to the following ideas, elevated to a programme: "It is the play with memory on different levels: what I see, what I think, how I used to be, how it is now, what I believe, what I have done. I try to articulate the 'memory of memory.' More and more traces can be experienced." (P.R.) The vertical impact of 'Recherche (- im Innersten)' seems to find a complement here that opens up a new horizon in playful dealings with the imagination, which includes an imprévu as well, an "unimagined surprise" (P.R.). Ruzicka's note concerning "the tendency towards the painting over of basic form-building material" that he attempted to "drive to extremes" in the clarinet concerto communicates how such an expanded horizon can be "grounded". "There are in fact only four sound areas around which everything circles. Then there is memory, and also memory of memory of memory." (P.R.) Thus the traces of this music lead into the most intimate region, whilst at the same time showing the listener - as in all of Ruzicka's scores - the way towards openness..
The word, so insistently conjured up here, from now on assumes central significance in the oeuvre of Peter Ruzicka. It provides a profound meaning as the topos, so to speak, of Memorial for orchestra (2001) – an obituary in sound for the conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli. Symbols of expiring and becoming extinguished allow this farewell to be recognised as a music of final gestures; meanwhile, with the note-names G, E-flat, E, E, and E-flat, the memory of the composer’s friend remains eternally inscribed in the work.
Seven years later, memory as the title word of the Sixth String Quartet (Remembering and Forgetting, 2008) refers to the imaginary middle of Hölderlin’s poetry that found its focus in the late hymn fragments called “Mnemosyne.” Since the Celan Symphony for baritone, mezzo soprano and large orchestra (2002) visualised the opera once again in ten stations, it already stood under the sign of Mnemosyne, and thus memory also became an actual copula when Peter Ruzicka freed himself from Celan with this symphonic reminiscence, simultaneously orientating his oeuvre towards Hölderlin as another pole. The determination with which this new adjustment was put into practice, however, allows it to appear legitimate to understand the group of works following the Celan Symphony as being under the motto of “the birth of music out of the spirit of Hölderlin.”
As if Affluence for large orchestra (2003) were intended to survey this new compositional territory, Ruzicka allowed himself to be inspired by the idea that “one enters a musical space which, through a gate, opens up a new area, from which one opens up further spaces. The individual spaces differ greatly in their inner lives. Ever new languages are spoken within them, like a stroll through different layers of musical consciousness and memory. Thus progress into new spaces results in boundary moments of compression, of overflow (affluence).” (P.R.) As a stroll into openness (different linguistic and temporal levels), Affluence finds its late counterpart in Maelstrom for large orchestra (2007), which - like a “whirlpool of event conditions” (P.R.) – more or less draw the listener into the depths. The piece is inscribed like a metaphor of the 2nd act of the opera Hölderlin, where it clearly underlines the image of the “time trap” and the idea of a wheel turning backwards.
Flanked by Vorecho (Pre-Echo): Eight Approaches for Large Orchestra (2005) and Nachschrift (Postscript): Three Pieces for Violoncello and Piano (2008), five further compositions are formed with explicit reference to the poet and/or the second music-theatre work Hölderlin. They are all orientated towards the “Expedition” – as the work is named in its subtitle - as a direct reflex to the poetic oeuvre, but also as pre-studies or sketches, as first drafts of central stations of the opera or as a storehouse for building blocks of material. The fact that traces, and at times also large segments of these works have gone into the Hölderlin score, allows the opera, composed over the course of about five years, to be understood as a work in progress with its very own style, no less so than the compositions designed in the environment of Celan, the first stage work.
Thus the orchestral work Vorecho, consisting of eight fragments of various lengths, tests “fundamental musical sounds and gestures which will carry later scenes and developments.” (P.R.) Beginning in “absolute silence,” gestures of ever greater significance emerge from this music, out of which a virtual song, pulsing tympani ostinati, whirring harmonics and brusque attacks in the brass make an immediately strong impression. The idea of a sound language observing itself, realised by Ruzicka in many works, “a music which, during the moment of sounding, also maintains the view towards the outside,” communicates especially audibly in the first and most extensive approach. With the manifold echo of “musical shapes which return in ‘over-painted’ form and yet maintain their identity” (P.R.), Vorecho is a paradigm of the “composition of remembering” that has assured a special coherence in Ruzicka’s oeuvre for a long time. Long before the creative proximity to Hölderlin, the echo of such fields of memory, with their retrospective, reflective, questioning moments, were already essential components of many of his scores.
In Nachschrift: Three Pieces for Violoncello and Piano (2008), such memory – including traces leading into other compositions – has itself become thematic. “Like a type of satellite to my opera” (P.R.), the pieces revolve around the cycle “…und möchtet ihr an mich die Hände legen…” (and would you like to lay your hands on me): Five Fragments of Hölderlin for Baritone and Piano (2006/2007), the characteristic style of which they transform, seizing upon the sixth sketch from Parergon as a piano part (of the second piece), whilst adapting the first of the Hölderlin fragments (The Appearance of the Madonna) as a purely instrumental piece. The fact that this fragment in its orchestral version also appears in the opera makes it an exemplary case of networking, a true guilloche of relationships between the individual compositions round about Hölderlin.
The aforementioned seven-part, highly virtuoso cycle Parergon was composed parallel to the work on the opera. This work consists of seven sketches to Hölderlin for piano (2007), musical developments deriving from the sketch material as well as from already formulated orchestral sections of the opera. Ruzicka’s intention was to “restrict very complex shapes to the shortest possible form of expression.” This resulted in “pieces which may have the effect of ‘impromptus’ in the succession of virtuoso scenes and contemplative ‘states of being.’ They go their own way next to the opera as a composed ‘parergon.’” (P.R.)
Composed to a commission from the Lucerne Festival Strings, …Ins Offene… (Into the Open): Music for 22 Strings (2005/2006) is that rare case of an utterly gripping combination of the greatest virtuosity and incredible expressive power. This mixture is established right at the beginning, when, following an introductory tympani bar, an imaginary space full of echoes and silence is suddenly and abruptly torn open. Performance instructions such as “eccitato” and “bow tonelessly over the sound-body” open up this space inwardly, lending it a feverishly nervous, physical quality. Each of the 22 strings acts as a soloist with its own voice. The inner unrest communicated to the listener is especially evident in this and in the many canonic movements running like a thread through the composition, no longer audibly perceptible in their “polyphonic” temporal development. They find their sounding counterpart when the piece becomes very calm towards the end (“Lontano”) with “the musical forms casting shadows, so to speak” (P.R.) and when it ends in a soft Canto. The title of the work – borrowed from Hölderlin’s Der Gang aufs Land (The Stroll in the Country) – becomes especially plausibility through such an ending. Portions of this string piece are found again in the opera in transformed, over-painted form, in which the palette is expanded by the large orchestral apparatus. Its autonomous sound landscape enables the work, composed for the concert hall, to be comprehensible without any more detailed knowledge of the opera.
The String Quartet No. 5: Sturz (Plunge) (2004) is based upon a formal plan similar to that of the music for 22 strings and, like …Ins Offene…, this work also reflects a certain state experienced by the composer in real life. It is the gradual alteration of time-consciousness during a long-distance flight from America to Germany. Unlike its sister work with its large ensemble, however, the String Quartet takes off with extreme dynamic restraint (pppp con sordino / sul ponticello) and carefully develops a perforated time-veil made up of “modules which repeat themselves, providing energy.” This time-veil first colours an A-sharp pizzicato in the violoncello at irregular intervals, later temporally structuring it in alternation with the notes G-sharp and A. The rapid alternation of playing techniques within the closest possible space (pizz., arco, sul pont., legno battuto) is followed by a dismaying downward drift of iridescent harmonics in all the instruments, a pedal-point D in the violoncello and a final section emerging from this sustained note with the performance instruction “bowed on the sound-body, as if breathing.” With a final ghostly plummeting gesture and a concluding bar of silence lasting 13 seconds (!), the work releases the listener into a music by day, so to speak.
In the five fragments of Hölderlin for baritone and piano “…und möchtet ihr die Hände an mich legen…” (2006/2007), Peter Ruzicka has sensitively listened into and sonically coloured the existential double meaning of the texts (from Hyperion, Empedocles and one of the folio notebooks) with which Hölderlin feels around in the rifts and ruins of a disembowelled world. Die Erscheinung der Madonna, the first and longest of the Hölderlin fragments, gains its gestural vocabulary from a long piano introduction, into which the singing voice fades in espressivo after 13 bars. Permanent metre-changes and many triplets, quintuplets and sextuplets evoke – as so often with Ruzicka – a more or less floating perception of the rhythmic metrical disposition. The longest postlude of the cycle is found in Empodokles, the second fragment. It first continues the barcarolle style forming the foundation for the singing voice, in order to then ultimately attack it in its unreality in a brusque fortissimo in the last five bars. The singer is to recite the text fragment Was ist Gott? (What is God?) “in slow expressive diction, without false pathos.” The spoken word is effective here! Corresponding to this, the piano part is written with great dynamic restraint, remaining pianissimo even where the singer speaks of “thunder.” One cannot aesthetically encounter the ultimate question, posed in this fragment, in a more questioning way. The fourth and shortest fragment, Mein Bild (My Picture) is notated without bar lines and owes its effect to an ultimate restraint: the chromatic cluster E-flat to A-flat is merely struck once and then, echoing, it becomes a sound area in which the voice and instrument melt together. The title words of the cycle “…und möchtet ihr an mich die Hände liegen?” are taken from the fifth fragment, Das Gefühl der Einsamkeit (The Feeling of Loneliness). Grace-note figures and tremolo characterise the piano part, to which the singer puts up resistance rather than indulging in cosiness. Only in the third to the last bar, dominated by the major seventh (“O Sieh!” – Oh, See) is there a short-term agreement. Thus the feeling of loneliness seems to be inscribed in the music itself.
The Eight Songs to Fragments of Nietsche (1992/2007) simultaneously form a counterpoint and a complement to the Hölderlin cycle in the associative richness and lyrical fascination of their texts on the one hand, and in the so sensitively questioned compositional transformation of the fragment on the other hand. The characteristic piano figure of the first song, which interweaves through the texture “like wind on tiredly taut threads;” the developed desperate vehemence of the Selbsthenker (self-executioner); the arpeggio figurations in the last bars of the cycle, striving upwards ungrounded, like air roots; finally and not least the so impressive illumination of the tender as well as the sublime poetic images, the comforting as well as the disturbing poetic images so impressive in both cycles, through the power of a melodic invention of unheard-of depth of focus and terseness – all this establishes these songs as vocal compositions of very high ranking. Both cycles impressively verify that it is precisely that which is not executed - the fragment, the sketch - that can stimulate the creative imagination in the openness of its many perspectives. Not “set” in the customary sense, but surely sounded, enveloped in sound, the concealed, silent word is spoken out.
Hölderlin: An Expedition (2007, text: Peter Mussbach, world premiere on 16 November 2008, State Opera Unter den Linden Berlin, under the direction of the composer) is Ruzicka’s second work for music theatre. As in Celan, the point in Hölderlin is not to develop a life story of the poet on stage. What is far more central is the question as to what Hölderlin means to us today, “to show the ‘compass’ of the Hölderlin philosophy before the background of a story of 13 individuals also taking place in the present.” (P.R.) Under such demands, composing cannot be very keen on giving pat answers. More than anywhere else, it must prepare for questions, must lend an ear as an ars quaerendi. Peter Ruzicka has attempted to take up impulses for the composition from early Hölderlin texts (Empedocles fragments, Hyperion) and, together with Peter Mussbach, he has unmistakeably formulated the focus of the work as follows: “The eternal longing of mankind for unity with himself and nature, meaning with himself and the world, this feeling known to everyone and the fact that one is lonely in the world, but only becoming capable of living in the face of death, in order to be ready in the next moment to pass away into eternity, without loss – this and nothing else is what HÖLDERLIN is about.” With this, a “tua res agitur!” is proclaimed, which the spectator can accept as an invitation, a challenge or as an open question. Novalis had a name for the imaginary space into which the four acts of Hölderlin invite us: “the wonderful mine of the soul…”
Erinnerung und Vergessen (Remembering and Forgetting): String Quartet No. 6 with Soprano Solo (2008) was given its world premiere on 3 July 2008 by the Minguet Quartet /the dedicatees) in Bad Kissingen. The mother of the nine muses and goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, is conjured up in one of Hölderlin’s last great lyrics. She occupies a central place in Hölderlin’s poetical reflection. For the soprano part of his Sixth String Quartet, Peter Ruzicka has selected text fragments from the third version of Mnemosyne, thus placing the work explicitly in the environment of the opera. Erinnerung und Vergessen shows, however, that far back in Ruzicka’s musical thinking the zone between remembering and forgetting is repeatedly surveyed anew, circling round past events or visualising through transformation. Thus the title of the Quartet can also stand for both a central aspect of Ruzicka’s musical poetics and for his reception of Hölderlin. The fact that there are also traces of a string quartet begun over forty years ago in Erinnerung und Vergessen certifies the title just as much as the preface to the composition: “In three of the seven parts, a vocal part circles round text fragments from Hölderlin’s last ode Mnemosyne, that dark conjuring up of transience and eternity: ‘remembering’ is not overcoming, but ‘consciousness of finiteness.’” Such consciousness is articulated in a score that begins “like an outburst” and is extinguished with a vocalise (notated in phonetic transcription, to be sung “as if remembering, floating”) – without ending. That is reserved for silence, as so often with Ruzicka: a bar of rest, fermata, performance directions such as “misterioso,” “as if paralysed,” “forgetting,” “remembering” are more or less the gates through which the strings the get on to the mystery of the text, a text that is then exposed by the soprano in the fifth, sixth and seventh sections in varying aggregate conditions. Hölderlin’s language appears hidden and open at the same time, redeeming Boulez’s postulate “centre et absence” in an original way. For all that, Ruzicka is not concerned with a musical reproduction of the text, but with the development of an audible form standing like a process between the text (comprehension) and the musical context. Wherever a latent resonating melos can be heard, it communicates the impression of tactile searching with its exultant leaps, but also the impression of being driven without goal or path, “like being in a swaying boat on the lake” (Hölderlin, Mnemosyne). The third part of the fragment is recited, “slowly and hesitatingly spoken,” before the soprano once again allows an elegiac-cantabile arch to blossom, “as if remembering,” without text and yet sounding as if it came from the heart of the language. Theodor W. Adorno dedicated a thought to the gentle force of such passages in his “Fragment on Music and Language:” “Like language, music ultimately shows that it is sent on the odyssey of infinite mediation, failing like the intended language, in order to bring home the impossible.” Art cannot achieve more than that.
The title of the 2009 work … Zurücknehmen … [Withdrawal]. Erinnerung [Memory] for Large Orchestra refers to the scandal in Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus: Adrian Leverkühn, the fictitious composer who has purchased his creative power in a pact with the devil with the ban on love and its time limit of death, suffers with the death of his nephew Nepomuk all the coldness of this world, which he retaliates with an anathema. “I have found,” he said, “that this is not to be.” “What, Adrian, is not to be?” “The good and the noble”, he answered me, “what is called human, although it is good and noble. What people have fought for, for which they have stormed fortresses, and what those who are fulfilled have jubilantly proclaimed – that is not to be. It is being withdrawn. I want to withdraw it.“ “I do not understand you, my dear fellow, not entirely. What do you wish to withdraw?” “The Ninth Symphony”, he replied. And then nothing more came, as I also waited. This anathema is not meanwhile directed against Beethoven‘s music. Far more, it is to be understood as a response to the desecration perpetrated against the humanistic ideal invoked by Schiller and Beethoven during the middle of the twentieth century. Thomas Mann’s own doubt may resonate in the word ‘withdrawal’, whether the ‘dear Father’ proclaimed in the Ninth also lives above Stars of David. It is under such portents that Leverkühn plans his opus ultimum, the lamentation of Doktor Faustus. In this work, the expression of the subject, ‘the expressive sound of the soul’ frequently repressed through rational procedures, reduced with compositional calculation, is to be regained for music. The fact that the ostensible ‘counterpart’ to the Ninth Symphony would in fact mean its ennoblement, and its withdrawal at the same time a regaining of its message, that objection would signify consolation, keeps the sketch of the lamentation – referring in equal measure to Monteverdi, Beethoven and Mahler – in a fascinating state of abeyance. It is, not least, such openness of the subject that must have challenged Peter Ruzicka and inspired him to compose his new orchestral work. Triggered off by the ‘chord of terror’ at the beginning of the 4th movement of the Ninth Symphony, the large orchestra more or less ‘rubs’ a triply described palimpsest of almost 400 bars. The musical material initially feeds from earlier compositions of Ruzicka which are written into the new score like memories of ideas previously envisioned and/or discarded. As if born out of tectonic shifts and cosmic plunges, the high-tension opening chord penetrates into this sound landscape time and again, conjuring up the presence of B eethoven, as do the signals of the snare drum („Alla Marcia“!) and the areas of repetition in the strings and winds focussed on the note D (the key of the Ninth). The lamentation of Doktor Faustus is finally present in the thoroughly perceptible mixture of ‘the expressive sound of the soul’ and the most subtle formation of the compositional details, in the gauze of winds reminiscent of Dürer’s ‘Melencolia’ above Leverkühn’s desk. A calm epilogue is then imposed on this view of Beethoven’s Ninth, thrice refracted, of Doktor Faustus and of the composer’s own production following repeated condensations in the orchestral writing: a deafening silence, a place for collecting oneself, listening in retrospect and of premonition, but especially reversal. The aggressive intonation in the middle section is increasingly replaced by milder sonorities in which a flute solo is perceptible as a subject. It refers to a memory of that incomparably modulating chordal sequence from the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony. “From a certain point there is no more return. This point must be reached.” This Talmudic sentence of Kafka cannot be more impressively refuted than through such a withdrawal of the withdrawal. In the final bar of …Zurücknehmen…, one perceives the fifth sonority d’’– a’’ in the celesta. Adrian L everkühn had intended this instrument as a particularly exposed one for the lamentation of Doktor Faustus, and for Beethoven the open fifth d-a was the portal of entry to the Ninth Symphony. Its withdrawal is abrogated through precisely this fifth-essence, through the merest trace of a déjà-vu played on the celesta.
In the orchestral work Trans (2009), scored in the manner of chamber music, the celesta – since Mahler the sonic symbol of the beyond – is left out, but the crotales played with the double-bass bow together with high bowed harmonics on the violins are effectively replaced as the sonic topos for the mysterious, unreal and enigmatic. Thus a sonic code of transcendence is written into the score, to which the title of the approximately 25-minute work refers. With it, R uzicka alludes to the absolute borderline situation of which people report after the near-death experience. Trans is a preliminary study for a planned musictheatre project, „that will be about this existential interface, this crossing of the border.“ (P.R.) As if growing out of oblivion, the music gradually finds itself via sparse, lonely single tones, in order to point beyond itself in seven sections of varying density and intensity, bound together by fragile sound bridges. In so doing, it follows an internal dramaturgy that already becomes recognisable in the superscriptions of the seven sonic reliefs: dal niente – Surrender – Struggle – Torpor – In the Innermost Part – Shadowy, Flight – Memory. Upon the first hearing, particular impressions are made by the glittering heights of the bowed crotales, the knocking signals of the strings and piano (with muted strings), the imprévus of the unleashed tutti (“Like an outburst!”, “Scream”) and the shadowy figurations of the harp, (“remembering”) as well as the cantando lineaments of the piano and the glissandi in the strings moving in opposing directions. The outermost edges (beginning: dal niente and end: perdendosi) of this sound landscape, marked by such a high density of events, are marked O by the high cymbal. The playing instruction “with a speech-like expression” (piano) in the seventh section (‘Memory’) refers to the last of the Six Piano Pieces, Op. 19 written by Arnold Schönberg under the impression of the death of Gustav Mahler. Peter Ruzicka incorporated this brief, aphoristic image, the earliest indication of an dematerialisation of musical language, into his score in the most subtle way. With it, T r a n s (one of the many works in which Ruzicka concerns himself with death) becomes an objection against the transience of art and of the beautiful, a dirge conjuring up all the preserving force of memory.
The composer also considers the Concerto for Violoncello and Chamber Orchestra ... Über die Grenze [Over the Border], 2009 as “a kind of pre-echo of a third opera that will concern itself with the hereafter.” (P.R.) As in its sister-work T r a n s , this work is also about near-death experiences and the play-back of a life film, about the borderland between life and death, an aesthetic of the ultimate matters. Ruzicka imagines such borderline investigations “through a musical bilingualism, an unreal one and a present one.” This amounts to a breaking-out from his musical grammar, leading the composer into an area that is for him “new and perhaps not always assured”. It is immediately apparent to the listener that these two languages do not merely represent two different spheres, but rather enter into dialogues with each other. The border between them is – based loosely on Immanuel Kant – not a barrier, but a place of encounter enabling us to experience transformation and adaptation. I n addition, it touches the actual scope of the composition: “Life is death, and death is also a life.” (Hölderlin) I f the high harmonics of the strings are associated with the beginning of Mahler’s First Symphony, then the overlay of the last of the Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19 of Arnold Schönberg towards the end of the work is associated with Mahler’s death, as already in Trans , before the music finally crosses the border’ with soft breaths after a final rearing-up in extreme dynamics. The music is not really concluded, but stops indecisively; it disappears and opens up one’s view onto the completely different thing. From the opening Sf-entrance of the solo instrument (e’), grounded by a gauze of strings, to this deafening silence, the listener experiences a highly emotional concerto marked by strong contrasts, in which the soloist must hold his/her ground against the rampant sound world of the orchestra. T here are sound blocks of archaic unpleasantness, but also peaceful islands of cantando and espressivo dolcissimo, a sound event in the harp and tympani thinned out in pale light to the point of an oppressive emptiness, but also abundant virtuoso activity in the entire orchestra. For all that, the meticulous and careful dealing with the compositional details prevents the score from ever ending up in the vicinity of a sonic al fresco: Ruzicka composes with a fine brush, and thus the listener can perceive, it all the aggregate states of this music, a subtly formed oscillation between life and death. ... Über die Grenze was given its world premiere by Daniel Müller-Schott and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie under the direction of Peter Ruzicka at the Bonn Beethovenfest in 2012.
Einschreibung [Inscription]: Six Pieces for Large Orchestra was composed during the summer of 2010 in response to a commission from the NDR for the Mahler Year. For Ruzicka, this was an occasion to articulate his view of Mahler’s production, as he had already done in many earlier works. “It is a ‘second view’ of musical shapes that have influenced me in the experience of Mahler’s music. Momentary approaches that ‘inscribed’ themselves in my own music.” The work, scored for large orchestra, consists of six pieces which are more connected – by composed silence at their ends – than separated. Whoever accepts the composer’s invitation to listen retrospectively and, at the same time, in an anticipatory manner at each caesura, will perceive the work as a single sound form. From the carefully painted beginning of the first piece (crotales, tympani, celesta, harp), which will also introduce the seven scenes of Aulodie , to the fanfare of the offstage trumpets in the mood of a farewell at the end, the listener is led through a variegated sonic landscape which owes its existence to an inner dramaturgy inspired by the title of the work. Thus a séance of Mahler with nature appears to be inscribed in the first piece (3’02’’) when three crotales are played with the double-bass bow or when the Mahlerian fourth F to B-flat becomes recognisable as the actual quintessence of the movement. Thereupon woodwinds, glittering brightness in the high strings, a memorable unison of clarinets and vibraphone absorbed by a catastrophic Sff of the full orchestra. “Mahler’s music is irradiated suddenly and abruptly into the musical language of the pieces. Throughout, it is those incomparable moments of breakthrough in Mahler that have deeply imprinted themselves in my musical consciousness. They can be located as second-long traces from the Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Symphonies. These shapes disintegrate at once, but they continue to have an effect on my music beneath the surface.” (P.R.) I n the second piece (2’25’’) this especially applies in the case of the hymn-like inserts in the strings and a wind conductus taking shape as something like ‘music during the daytime’; it also applies to the proximity to Mahler’s Revelge in the aggressive intensification in the snare drum. The third and shortest piece (1’16’’) gains its special profile through the interaction of a sonic foil more or less split into nanoparticles (glockenspiel, marimba, xylophone, vibraphone), under which the ‘Allegro energico, ma non troppo’ of Mahler’s Sixth, frightened by tympani and snare drum, threatens to be nipped in the bud. The tam-tam – with Mahler a symbol of death – opens the fourth piece (5’03’’), in which the symphonic world of Mahler – present here in manifold allusions like in a great ‘as if’ – is confronted with a world that can virtually be called extraterrestrial in the context of Einschreibung. A noise generator (on tape, pre-produced as spatial sound) has the effect of an intensively colourful whirring, competing with the rubbing noises of a brush on the drumheads and tam-tam (“like a breath of wind!”). One can especially gather from the playing instructions for the strings that R uzicka has the concept of a virtual (sound) world in mind: Pastoso, ma indistinto; Con morbidezza; Virtuale; Suono irreale. T he conductor does not beat the last six bars, whilst the instrumentalists (except for the strings) remain motionless. With the greatest sensitivity, the bass drum and tam-tam affix their seal to the process of the disembodiment of sound, which is released from its morbidezza and grounded again with the shocking Sf upbeat of the fifth piece (1’27’’). Amongst vehement turbulences, the densest Mahlerian field in this work becomes apparent out of this strong contrast. Symphonies VI , VII , I X and X play a role in it. There was never so much Mahler – dreamy, timid, but also tortured, as if born in pain and burned, more than inscribed, into Ruzicka’s music. It is precisely this piece that reminds us that ‘writing’ and ‘crying’ [schreiben / schreien] are etymologically related, that the sign scratched in the forehead of Abel’s brother Cain was the very first inscription, and that Mahler wrote cries of desperation that Mahler inscribed in the score of his Tenth Symphony: “The devil is dancing it with me. Madness, take hold of me, accursed one!” The instruction ‘Distant trumpets – backstage’ signalises that the dialectic of approach and removal in the sixth piece (7’04’’), always thought about by Ruzicka in accordance with the Mahlerian model, makes the space itself into a parameter. A forced entrance of the tympani (rapidamente), grounded on the note D of the low strings, appears to initiate the gradually buildup of increasingly differentiated sound areas as well as of static sound areas, into which the ‘fanfares’ of the distant trumpets are inscribed six times. With the playing instruction ‘still more remote’, they allow the work to die away above the note D of the low strings. It is up to the listener to more closely define the perspective opened up by this signal.
Mahler I Bild [Mahler I Image]. Erinnerung für Orchester [Memory for Orchestra], 2010 is a work commissioned for the Stuttgart State Orchestra. Peter Ruzicka dedicated it to Manfred Honek, the conductor of the world premiere. Remembering and internalising at the same time, the 18-minute work refers back to Gustav Mahler’s fragmentary Tenth Symphony, “especially to its ‘Adagio’ which broke through boundaries of musical expression one hundred years ago. I t refers to the outcry of the nine-tone chord, that exclamation of loss and desperation. It also refers to the viola line pointing towards infinity, evidence of loss and farewell and ultimately leading to a dissolution area of transcendental contact.” (P.R.) Like a code of the timeless-beyond that very gradually releases the music into terrestrial time, there is a tutti rest right at the beginning (‘absolute silence’) that finds its counterpart at the end of the composition in the lunga fermata above the held C of the violas in O (25’’ in duration!). T he framework of the image, apparently, is timelessness itself. Scored for a large body of strings (26 violins, 10 violas, 8 violoncelli, 6 double basses) a sound area builds up infinitely slowly, around the note E beginning in the first violins, contoured and tinted by chorale-like interjections of the winds and outbursts in the percussion. Just as Ruzicka’s texts have repeatedly circled round Mahler’s sound world over the past four decades, the music also circles round central compositional elements of the model, “more or less encircling Mahler concentrically” (P.R.), taking up the tone of what has been found and amalgamating it with what has been invented, with Ruzicka’s own idiom. A tape produced beforehand as spatial sound (“‘colourful whirring’, circling in space”) enshrouds Mahler I Bild, which is simultaneously shadowed by the slow circling on the drumheads with pieces of styrofoam, a high three-tone cluster played by the electronic organ and timid interjections of the tympani. In the repeated outcry of the nine-tone culminating sound, the unaccompanied viola cantilene (‘espressivo, as if spoken’) and the allusion to Revelge of a field drum positioned backstage – all watermarks of Mahler’s sound world – one may see something like a proof of genuineness of the ‘image’, approaching the music in subtly articulated sounds, as it is repelled from it, on the other hand, in a permanent interaction of proximity and distance arching over it like a hymn and at the same concealing it under noisy shadings. I t is in these, especially, that the iconic image of the Mahlerian tone communicates: a beauty that only appears broken.
Zwei Übermalungen für großes Orchester [Two Overpaintings for Large Orchestra] (2011/2012) were commissioned for the Hamburg Philharmonic. The work is based on two solitary piano meditations from the late works of Franz Liszt, the non-dogmatic rhetoric of which seems to have stepped out of its time and simultaneously gone far beyond it, in anticipation of future developments. These are ‘Unstern! – Sinistre, disastro’ (1885) and ‘At the Grave of Richard Wagner’ (1883). In addition, Liszt’s ‘Unstern!’ inspired Ruzicka to compose music about music for piano: Über Unstern . Späte Gedanken für Klavier [On Unstern: Late Thoughts for Piano], 2012. There are good reasons why both orchestral compositions should always be performed together. A s late works, they have the boundary in view, and in Liszt’s late production it is there in order to be crossed over: forward, far into new musical territory, and inwards, illuminating an inner, spiritual landscape. ‘Unstern! – S inistre, disastro’, this late music of the future, is a unique, forced march into the unspeakable, and ‘At Grave of Richard Wagner’, already in its first bar, has left the borderline of the nameable behind it. What is conjured up in these pieces of mourning and lamentation is the truth of the expression of loss, loneliness, old age and melancholy, which have found their sonic counterpart here in the heterogeneity and discontinuity, in the incompleteness as in the apparently arbitrary assembly, intentionally unstable quality of the design. Such elegiac formlessness corresponds to an instability of tonal thinking that appears already codified in the initial motif of the tritone in ‘Unstern!’: the music sets out on the vain search for the lost tonic. The harmonic language of the late works, atypical of Liszt, no longer aims towards the creation of timbres, but towards the dissonant reflection of the sinister and the uncanny. It was not for nothing that Liszt placed an exclamation point after ‘Unstern!’ With him, Eichendorff’s neologism no longer stands for a temporary, short-term misfortune; far more, it signalises an unavoidable catastrophe, a visitation under a dusk sky. Liszt’s music reacts to such experience of ‘thrownness’ with an ascetic musical language, freed from overgrowing ornamental elements, finding novel pedal-point and mixture techniques with a treatment of the piano that is at times percussive. The musica paupera of the 20th century has opened our ears to this: that the bleakness of the reduced material perhaps might not lead our view to the starry firmament above us, but might well lead us into openness. In this respect, too, Liszt’s late piano music is far ahead of its time.
This interpretation owes its existence to the compositional idea of the two works of Peter Ruzicka, which are by no means a mere instrumentation of their models. Rather, the modes of accentuation, adaptation and overpainting release the subcutaneous structures that establish the contemporaneity of this extraterritorial music for us today. Such attempted proximity can be based on original musical poetics, articulated between fragmentary gestures and sweeping movement, the outlines of which are indicated in Ruzicka’s work commentaries, e.g. on the 11-minute Über Unstern: “With my musical material today, I have followed that non-dogmatic rhetoric: certain shapes are taken up, ‘held’, enlarged and then overwritten. It is thinking ahead in a counter-subjective language. This attempts, more or less, to formulate identification and distance, approach and contradiction.” Having recourse to the motifs and manic repetitions in Liszt, Ruzicka sketches a sound landscape of a threatening atmosphere that seems to deny consolation, even where a melancholy, cold light in the high strings shines in or chirping violin tones conjure up associations with nature. But between what happens within just 11 minutes between the O-beginning of the bass drum and the unison dying away of the celli and double basses on E , one can also perceive moments of a warm light related to the Liszt’s labile signpost pointing towards openness. The fact that they can be found where the harp, celli and double basses circle round an imaginary centre, almost manically, over the course of 50 bars in unison within the narrowest space (E, E -sharp, F-sharp, G ) – like a code representing a desperate situation – is just one of many enigmas with which Über Unstern leaves the listener.
‘At the Grave of Richard Wagner’ is also a composition of strict sparseness which, at the same time, reveals the release of tension like an instrument tuned down lower: a crippled music, born out of the spirit of mourning. Wagner’s death in Venice on 13 February 1883 was announced by the campana a morto, the death knell of the Campanile. The fact that Peter Ruzicka begins his composition R .W. Übermalung für großes Orchester with the chimes (tubular bells) and ends with three notes on the chimes (C-sharp, G -sharp, A -sharp), can be seen as a reflex to that handed-down proclamation. The bells are the be-all and end-all of the piece, in which the hour of Wagner’s death (3:00 P M) is also inscribed with the last three notes. After the chimes’ initials, the muted strings spread out a foil of sound – overpainted by woodwinds and horns – above which tuba and double basses intone the upward-directed melos (= left hand) of the Lisztian model. Out of a gradually built-up sound texture, the downward-directed melos (= right hand) of the model’s final bars then resounds in the flutes, clarinets, percussion and celesta. Frictions formed by seconds (C-sharp/C, G -sharp/A) in the gauze of strings and the slow circling ‘with a soft brush’ on the bass drumhead (“like a breath of wind”) prepare the epiphany of the C -sharps two and three octaves above middle C (also the final note of Liszt’s piano piece). Ruzicka’s overpainting has consigned the melancholy traits to its model and left out any appearance of additional transfiguration. Perhaps the composition is a moving one precisely because it has not ‘overpainted’ the conditio humana, the condition that will experience death. It thus stands in close proximity to Verdi’s first words after he was informed of his colleague’s death: “Triste, Triste, Triste. Wagner è morto.”
Composed to a commission from the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in 2011, the oboe concerto Aulodie represents a rare stroke of luck: it is not only a very directly gripping symbiosis of great virtuosity, but the score contains considerable depth and great expressive power. Cast in seven uninterrupted movements of varying degrees of density, duration and instrumental balance, the solo instrument with its accompanying ensemble – consisting of 20 strings, three percussionists, harp, piano and celesta – explores emotional borderline situations that are connected, according to tradition, to the ancient Greek wind instrument aulos. This instrument was reserved for special occasions, being heard at wedding chants, weapon dances, sacrificial celebrations and wild satyr plays, at grape harvestings and as mourning for the dead. Trusting in the healing effect of its sharp sound, people also used the aulos for therapeutic purposes. The title of the work alone, then, already opens up a richly facetted area of allusions. And indeed, the listener discovers elements of fauns and elegies, of panic and bucolic, cheerful and dreamlike music, and he/she will sense something of the lightness of being – lying above all the ‘scenes’ – throughout this alternation of emotional states. Peter Ruzicka has said that Aulodie is “perhaps the work of mine that is most like a novel”. If this music has something in common with a novel, in the figurative sense, then it has a subject round which it constantly circles, conjuring it up and ‘celebrating’ it in the most subtle way. I ts name is noted in miniscule writing in the score when thesoloist exchanges the oboe d’amore used in the last scene for the oboe. I t reads: ‘canto’. What is conceived here as the express indication of the song-like performance of the solo part could appear, as a programme, above the entire work. Aulodie marks the rebirth of music arising out of the spirit of song that had been hibernating in Ruzicka’s production. As if liberated, it begins as a vocalise in the solo part, streaming forth as if unbound, following the striking introductory signal of crotales and tympani at the beginning of each scene, identical each time, and dying away above a O gauze of strings with the highest E-flat in the oboe. The echo of the tam-tam blow makes it possible to sensually experience the height to which the ‘long view’ has risen. Within this large space, there is a plethora of oddities that make a strong impression upon first hearing. These include the brusque ending of the oboe with a < Sf certified by the unison of the strings. The second scene with the oboe’s downward-directed lineament conjures up associations with the image of Narcissus reflected in the fountain, whilst the reserved volts of the snare drum and the dense statements of the strings allow one to sense the beginning of a funeral march. The third and fourth scenes form one single great aviary with twittering inner life, timid like satyrs and displaced with a tutti rest of 7’’. The interjections of the harp in the fifth scene are most striking, allowing the oboe to embark upon a liberamente digression and unsettling the listener with a seventh chord in the second inversion in the celesta. After the sixth scene, the soloist turns to the oboe d’amore, the sound of which gains more warmth and softness through the reserved gestures in the percussion. With the performance indication ‘canto’ when the performer switches back to the oboe, that which the listener has long since experienced and felt becomes confirmed: the return of the canto, of the long breath, of music with a long view.
The work title Clouds for Large Orchestra with String Quartet (2012) arouses expectations of sounds resembling clouds. And indeed, when listening to the work, something of their unsettled and transient quality, edgeless and ungraspable, is communicated – the phantom writing of the clouds that became a favourite subject in painting even before the long line of masters extending from William Turner to Gerhard Richter. In Clouds , they are aurally perceived in all their beauty and wondrous fleetingness, but also as images and archetypes of fear and “transcendental homelessness” (Georg Lukács). In this mixture of the fascinating and the threatening, several passages of the composition convey the feeling of islands of tranquillity and security – of the permanent as the opponent of the transitory and constant change. The ‘sound’ here is the advocate of this constancy in the midst of all transformation, just as the arpeggiated chords of the Aeolian harp in Franz Schreker’s opera are a ‘faraway sound’. Thus the ‘faraway’ quality itself – which has been a specifically individual, unmistakeable gesture of Ruzicka’s work for a long time – attains the status of a highly significant parameter, both as a spatial dimension and also in the sense of an ‘aura of feeling’. “The music is searching for an imaginary, faraway sound, which it approaches without ever completely reaching it. The path leads through clouds of sound, crystalline musical shapes that seem to obstruct the view in various formations and densities. Then the musical discourse is obscured by a vehement outbreak of the entire orchestra. Finally, one enters fields of memory of past events. The path is lined by increasingly fragile, musically overpainted shapes. A nd then, gradually, the music appears to return.” (P.R.) The score, with its numerous condensations by means of divided strings, large wind forces, an extensive battery of percussion and the string quartet – soloistically positioned and incorporated into this ensemble – represents an attempt to translate visual conceptions into clouds of sound with varying consistencies, each with its own edges and individual tempi. The listener learns that the clocks tick differently in the clouds. They have their own time, a cloud-time measured only by the great rhythm of the seasons, the interplay of forces between ebb and flood and by the eternal cycle of becoming and passing. After the first eleven bars, played by the string quartet and the crotales played with the double bass bow, one perceives a harp harmonic which could be associated with the A eolian harp in Franz Schreker’s opera ‘Der ferne Klang’ or with Mörike’s spring poem Er ist’s: “Horch, von fern ein leiser Harfenton!” [Hark, from far away a soft harp tone!] And like an emphatic reference to the inner proximity to Schreker’s vision, the harp and finely coordinated percussion part mark the middle of the work, playing alone over 20 bars; a solitary harp tone (C) together with a Javanese bossed-gong then die away in the final bar. The faraway sound itself, a more or less tonally based chord flashing by the listener’s ear like a chimera, remains merely an illusion, only hinted at, a hardly perceptible ‘as if’. Unnoticeable, nonsynchronised entrances, shimmering sound fields of strings and sound events thinned out to the point of oppressive emptiness are the ingredients of a virtuosic, precisely composed imprecision which audibly communicates the ungraspable quality of the faraway sound, indeed of music itself. In the environment of such productive imprecision, rendering unclearness so ambiguous, the excessive outburst of the entire orchestra appears extraterritorial in its directness – an acoustic state of emergency that evaporates as fast as it overtook the bewildered listener. If associations and images do not open up access for that listener, as perhaps in this case, then he/she should become engaged with his/her own perplexity with the mysteriousness of the music, which is, with R uzicka, always a component of the aesthetic programme. A ccording to Erhart Kästner, it is a seal of approval on today’s art as a whole: “It is only the enigma that gives counsel.”