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ClassicsOnline Home » KAISER-LINDEMANN: Hommage a Nelson M., Op. 27
By Jed Distler
By Michael Oliver
At Home with Nelson
After I had read the last pages of Nelson Mandela's autobiography A
Long Walk to Freedom during a holiday in Hawaii in 1995, I was so moved by
the charisma and the human greatness of this man that from then on one burning
wish never left me: the wish to meet him personally, to feel his strength at
first hand, to be allowed to take his hand and look into his eyes.
I felt that by using music as mediator between all people of this world
I might have a chance of being able to transform my wish into reality. The idea
of commissioning a composition dedicated to Mandela occupied me more and more.
Title: Hommage à Nelson M. for cello and percussion. With this
combination of instruments I wanted to create a musical bridge between the
European music tradition and the native feeling for rhythm of the black
population of South Africa.
In the composer Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann I found an ally; we exchanged
ideas, and he began to write the composition. Our common objective: the first
performance should take place in South Africa with Mandela as guest of honour.
Thanks to my friendship with Johannes Rau, who was at the time
Minister-President of Northrhine-Westfalen and is now President of Germany, I
was then able to deliver a letter to Mandela during his state visit to Germany
in which I informed him about our idea which had been engendered by my fervent
admiration for him.
Unfortunately it turned out impossible to realise our plans for a
concert in South Africa. Since, however, I was determined to release the
composition and its message into the world as quickly as possible, the first
performance took place in December 1996 in the Tonhalle, the concert hall in
Düsseldorf, before an audience which was deeply moved by the music. Then in
1997 I received an invitation to give a concert in the Nico Theatre in Cape
Town on 14th September – Heritage Day in South Africa – including Hommage à
Nelson M., with the president as guest of honour in the front row. My joy
was indescribable, but also my disappointment when Mandela called off his
attendance the day before the concert. As President he had to attend to other
representational duties on this national holiday.
However, he sent his closest friend, Govan Mbeki, to my concert. The
85-year-old came backstage after the concert, obviously very moved, and invited
me to visit him in Parliament the next day. What a warm-hearted encounter!
Govan Mbeki, who had been imprisoned together with Mandela on Robben Island for
24 years, assured me that he would tell his friend Nelson Mandela all about the
concert in detail.
I flew back to Germany, and received an invitation from President
Mandela a few weeks later to visit him in his residence in Cape Town. In the
most exciting moments of my life I gave a completely private concert – only
five people were present – for the State President. I played parts of the
composition and explained connections between his autobiography and the musical
ideas resulting from it. These happy moments will stay with me all my life as a
source of inspiration; to have experienced in the person of Nelson Mandela one
of the great personalities of the century, a man with a brilliant intellect,
iron discipline and an unyielding will free from all feelings of hate, with unshakeable
faith in the goodness of every single person and an almost superhuman
persistence in the pursuit of his aims. Nelson Mandela, a man of great personal
modesty and humility.
Translation: Diana Loos
Hommage à Nelson M.,
for solo cello and percussion, Op. 27
Hommage à Nelson M. >was suggested by the cellist Maria Kliegel.
Consideration of the charismatic personality of Nelson Mandela had made a
profound impression on me. What kind of man and politician is it, I asked
myself, who, illegally imprisoned for 26 years, humiliated and maltreated, once
he is President and in power does not let the heads of his tormentors and
political opponents roll but with his programme of national reconciliation
finds his own way to come to terms with the past? Since I had no opportunity to
know Nelson Mandela personally, I was only able to approach him as a composer,
that is intuitively and through meditation. I have tried to express in music
his circumstances and his hopes. After the first performance of the work on
16th December 1996 in Düsseldorf the ambassadress of the Republic of South
Africa in Germany, Mme Lindiwe Mabuza, told me that she was particularly
surprised how a non-African artist had been able so to put himself into the
South African situation. I am happy to try to raise in my music a monument,
however modest, to Nelson Mandela.
Mandela's early years in prison were very difficult. He and his close
colleagues were subjected to harsh routines, and even victimisation. Later the
situation improved somewhat and he was allowed, among other things to start
programmes of learning and teaching in which finally even his personal guard
took part. This first movement is characterized by numbing despair with
outbursts of feeling, but also certain positive visions of the future can be
perceived. The second movement, Hunting, is a concept derived from
be-bop-jazz, in which the instruments alternate in fast tempo, in pursuit of
each other. This and other jazz elements are the basis of the movement.
Included, however, is something different, that is a man-hunt. An evil
movement, although also calling for particularly demanding virtuosity and very
rewarding for the soloist. Metamorphosis is certainly the most African
movement. It is in 7/8 and expresses something of the African joy of living,
sometimes restrained, sometimes obvious. It describes, at least subliminally,
my hope for South Africa's own progress in normality and spiritual freedom. Lullaby
for Zaziwe, the fourth movement, provides a tranquil finale, based on a
lullaby from Mandela's own people. Here I have composed my wish for this
country, that mothers can finally sing their lullabies in peace, without the
fear that the door may be broken down and the arbitrary abuse of power by
man-hunters triumph. Zaziwe is a grandchild of Mandela and between the two
there is an obviously close emotional bond.
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KAISER-LINDEMANN: Hommage a Nelson M., Op. 27