Heiner Goebbels: composer's notes

German composer, director and a sociologist Heiner Goebbels will try to approach the 30th MBZ phenomena of the city with different perspectives. He will tell stories about cities, expose himself to them and observe them. His composing thoughts are set out below.

Surrogate Cities

is an attempt to approach the phenomenon of the city from various sides, to tell stories of cities, expose oneself to them, observe them; it is material about metropolises that has accumulated over time. The work was inspired partly by texts, but also by drawings, structures and sounds, the juxtaposition of the orchestra and sampler playing a considerable role because of the latter's ability to store sounds and noises ordinarily alien to orchestral sonorities. The associations I have are with a realistic, certainly contradictory, but ultimately positive image of the modern city. My intention was not to produce a close-up, but to try and read the city as a text and then to translate some of its mechanics and architecture into music.

When it comes to the power dynamics of the city, the individual is always the more vulnerable party. Art rebels against this overpowering structure by strengthening the subjective element. Music, too, is composed from a highly subjective perspective, for composers usually justify what they write by saying that they "need to get it out of their system." That is only partly true for me. I try to gain a bit more distance: I construct something that confronts the audience, and the audience reacts to it, discovering in the music a space they can enter complete with their associations and ideas.

D & C

D & C for a large orchestra is an acoustic edifice; not an illustratively animated portrait of a city, but its very structural backbone: corners, pillars, walls, facades. Though no specific architectural images nor particular cities are invoked, the similarities are not coincidental, such as, for example, the five final fist-blows that will ultimately destroy the city in Kafka's story "The City Coat of Arms", which open D & C, repeatedly cut swathes through the images. From a compositional standpoint, the various parts of the work are developed as variants on the pitches of D and C.

Die Faust im Wappen

also refers to Franz Kafka’s The City Coat of Arms.

“All the legends and songs that came to birth in that city are filled with longing for a prophesied day when the city would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic fist. It is for that reason too that the city has closed fist on its coat of arms.”

Suite for Sampler and Orchestra

The perspective of the Sampler Suite is the vertical section of the city: we are offered a look underground, at the sewers, the inner workings of the city, at urban history, at what lies buried beneath the surface, at ruins that reveal glimpses of history – like the Scarlatti quotation in the Allemande or a chorale evocative of the Baroque in the Gigue. As a digital memory, the sampler is an ideal vehicle for human memory. It brings us the sounds of cities such as Berlin, New York, Tokyo or St. Petersburg – industrial noise (or what might be taken for it – the sounds produced when music is electronically transformed), subcultural "noise" and the sounds of history – like the scratchy recordings from the 1920s and 1930s in the Chaconne, which preserve the memory of the Jewish cantorial tradition, a vocal culture that has long ceased to be accessible in this form.

The Horatian – Three Songs

The material is ancient, passed down to us by Livy and the subject of numerous plays (from Corneille to Brecht) and operas (from Cimarosa to Mercadante).. a civil-war-like conflict between two neighboring cities, with battle to be waged on their behalf by two men to keep the losses at a minimum. Although they are related (one is engaged to the other one's sister), when one of the Horatii, representing Rome, defeats the Curiatius, fighting for Alba, he does not spare his life and hopes to be rewarded for it at home by a triumphal reception. When his sister bursts into tears instead, he slays her. Now Rome has two men in one: a victor and a murderer. How is he to be dealt with? That is the principal question of Heiner Müller's adaptation.


Heiner Goebbels

Photo: Olympia Orlova for OPPeople