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ClassicsOnline Home » REIMANN: Zyklus / Kumi Ori / Die Pole sind in uns
Among the German composers who came to prominence during the 1960s, Aribert Reimann occupies a special place both as a composer and as the piano accompanist of well-known singers including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His predilection for vocal music, with the poetry of Paul Celan as his most frequent source of inspiration, takes the form of Lieder or pieces with orchestra. Zyklus employs an orchestra rich in woodwind and brass, but without violins and with a prominent rôle for percussion. Kumi Ori is a forceful yet understated setting of the poem Du sei wie Du, immer, which ends with the (Hebrew) words of Isaiah ‘kumi ori’ (arise and shine). Similar in expression but even more austere in character, Die Pole sind in uns, for voice and piano, opens with plangent sonorities from inside the piano as well as on the keyboard, the voice then entering with sustained phrases that emphasize the sheer emotional force of Celan’s poem.
By David Denton
Aribert Reimann (b. 1936)
Zyklus • Kumi Ori • Die Pole sind in uns
Among the German composers who came to prominence during the 1960s, Aribert Reimann, born in Berlin on 4 March 1936, occupies a special place through his eminence as piano accompanist to singers including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Brigitte Fassbaender, Elizabeth Grümmer, Ernst Haefliger, Barry McDaniel and, more recently, Christine Schäfer, an activity reflected in the imagination and resourcefulness of his writing both for voice and for piano. Lieder, whether single songs, groups of songs or extended song-cycles, have had a more central place in his output than in those of his relative contemporaries.
Having attended the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, where he studied composition with Boris Blacher, counterpoint with Ernst Pepping and piano with Otto Rausch, Reimann established himself as an accompanist by the end of the 1950s, and had already begun to attract attention with his own music. From the outset, the influence of Webern was tempered by that of the Lieder composers he performed (notably Schubert and Schumann, whose songs he has arranged on several occasions). Similarly, the influence of Berg on his stage works has been complemented by that of Wagner as well as Weill, Hindemith and Debussy. His best-known operas are Lear, which had its première in Munich in 1978 with Fischer-Dieskau in the title-rôle, and Das Schloss, first given in Berlin in 1992. On a similar scale is Requiem (1982), largest of several major choral works written over the course of his career.
Reimann has understandably shown a predilection for vocal music, and his choice of texts confirms wide-ranging literary sympathies. Although he has set a large number of authors, ranging from medieval French troubadours through Shakespeare, Shelley and Hölderlin to modern figures such as Cesare Pavese and Günter Grass, the poetry of Paul Celan (1920-1970) has been his most frequent inspiration. Born in Czernowitz (now in Romania) of German parents, Celan had studied medicine in Paris and Bucharest. In 1947, at the onset of Communism, he fled first to Vienna then to Paris, where he supported himself as a language instructor and won acclaim for his idiomatic translation of Rimbaud as well as twentieth-century French and Russian poetry. French symbolist and surrealist poets feature prominently in his translations and also had a profound influence on his own verse.
Having first set Celan in his Fünf Gedichte (1960), Reimann's initial involvement with this poetry culminated in Zyklus, commissioned by the city of Nuremberg to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Albrecht Dürer and dedicated to Fischer-Dieskau, who gave the first performance with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra and Hans Gierster on 15 April 1971. The texts are drawn from a late volume of Celan's entitled Atemwende, the verse of which uses a richly associative, non-logical language in which sheer sound, often determined by the colour of consonants and vowels, plays as important a rôle as those images evoked by the words. Poetry that stands in direct lineage from that of Mallarmé and Joyce and, as with their mature work, is all but resistant to translation. Zyklus employs an orchestra rich in woodwind and brass, but without violins and a soloistic use of lower strings, as well as a prominent rôle for tam-tams and tom-toms alongside timpani.
The first song, 'Einmal', opens with the voice unaccompanied. A faint stroke on tam-tam is the first instrumental sound, before bass flute enters very softly in counterpoint against the voice. The bass flute is joined by alto flute, flute and then piccolo as the instrumental texture opens out accordingly. The postlude to the first song merges directly into the prelude to the second song, 'Aschenglorie', which yet offers the strongest contrast within its extremely delicate dynamics. The ensemble of low strings is divided into fourteen separate parts, with some playing harmonics and others bowed close to the bridge. These are combined first with muted trombones, then with horn and trumpets in a subtly-shifting tone cluster. The vocal line itself is often highly chromatic, while the instrumental background alternates between passages of stasis and those of an extreme rhythmic complexity.
The orchestral prelude to the third song, 'Am weissen Gebetriemen', recalls the spare contrapuntal writing of the first. Here the vocal line focuses on repeated notes that give it a recitative-like character, varied by large intervals that emphasize the natural stress of individual words. The fourth song, 'Du darfst', again features tone-clusters of shifting density and colour, and its postlude has an elaborate solo for timpani. The fifth song, 'Hinterm kohlegezinkten Schlaf', builds to a powerful climax which is also that of the whole work; after which, the sixth song, Fadensonnen, reverts to a linear style, its accompaniment often limited to a single line on muted basses. The end recalls the opening of the first song, as bass flute returns punctuated by harp.
The poetry of Celan, whom the composer met in Paris during 1957, continues to be pervasive in Reimann's work, as is attested by the two recent pieces included here. Kumi Ori (1999) was commissioned by North German Radio for the event Sieben Horizonte, and first performed by Yaron Windmüller with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach in Hamburg on 2 January 2000. Reimann has recalled looking through a volume entitled Lichtzwang and coming across the poem 'Du sei wie Du, immer' which ends with the (Hebrew) words of Isaiah 'kumi ori' (arise and shine). "My first thought was that this enlightenment was the hope for the next millennium: that what had happened in the past century would never happen again".
The work opens with an austere unaccompanied recitative, lower woodwind entering to plaintive effect before the voice continues against tuned percussion. Another passage follows for woodwind, joined by muted brass and upper strings (often in harmonics), before the voice again takes up the poem. Strident gestures from trumpets and trombones induce a forceful climax where the voice resorts to heightened declamation to convey the fervent sentiments embedded in Celan's text. This subsides to leave hesitant figures on lower strings, against which the voice withdraws. It reappears along with angular gestures on woodwind and harp, the strings gradually re-entering as the work continues on its intensely inward course. At length, chill clusters of string harmonics herald a conclusion that evokes the same powerful and yet understated manner in which it began.
Similar in expression but even more honed-down in character, Die Pole sind in uns (1995) defines Reimann's mature idiom in essence. The piece opens with plangent sonorities from inside the piano as well as on the keyboard, the voice then entering with sustained phrases that emphasize the sheer emotional force of Celan's poem as much as its semantic cohesion. Supported on a backdrop of plucked and also conventionally played chords, an intense rendering of the text unfolds that is the more affecting for its evident restraint. At the close, an evocative motive on piano-strings is heard resounding into silence.
(with material drawn from the composer's notes)
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REIMANN: Zyklus / Kumi Ori / Die Pole sind in uns