Once Around the World

once around the world - family concert
– a musical adventure with sights and sound from far away and long ago for ensemble, narrator, gramophone and animated film
Music Mike Svoboda 
Text Manfred Weiss
Animated Film Matthias Daenschel
Dramaturgy & Education Johannes Fuchs
Consultant (historical illustrations and sound documents) Dr. Christoph Wagner
Duration 60 minutes
Premiere of the ensemble version on April 9th, 2017 with the Lucerne Festival Acadamy Alumni, Mike Svoboda conducter and narrator
Premiere of the version for orchestra on October 21st, 2017 in Essen, Bochum Youth Orchestra, Mike Svoboda conducter and narrator

In the interplay of text, image and music

Since reading the book Auge und Ohr (“Eye and Ear”) by Christoph Wagner about ten years ago, I have played with the idea of composing a work based on the historical postcards and shellac recordings compiled in his book. The collection juxtaposes hand-colored picture postcards of a music group and the corresponding historical recording. I was enthralled! The recordings are from the 1920s and when you can also see the musicians in their costumes and surroundings, the music comes to life. The combination is very touching and full of nostalgia for a lost time and music.


My composition Once around the world is a combination of the postcards partially animated and seen on the screen above the orchestra, recordings heard from a gramophone, live music and narration.  The story about the postcards, recordings and journey they were found on is presented in a dialoge between the conductor and his or her Great-grandfather, an animated cartoon figure seen on the screen and interacting with the music. 


Structured similar to an opera, the composition is comprised of various forms with specific purposes. There is music imitating and transforming the recordings, music free of external references, music accompanying the narration, music accompanying the recordings, recordings excepts heard pure, narration by itself, and so on. In general, the live music relates to the records as a means of commentary to the music and transformation to the next station on the journey. Each leg of the journey has its own rhythm and rapport between the recording and the orchestra: In Europe the presentation of the records is episodic, each time taken over by the musicians on stage. In Africa and Asia the records are headed en suite, connected with music and narration. Through the USA, the historical recordings are integrated in the live music both underscoring the animated film. In addition individual orchestra groups are in the foreground from station to station. For example in the English reel Morphat Rant the flutes are prominent, in the South Indian Kandaswami Rag Thodi the violas. This way the music is a journey not only around the world, but also through the orchestra.


With Once around the world I wish to take the audience, young and old, on a musical journey not only around the globe but also back in time, and share my enthusiasm and endearment for the sounds of diverse music making from all over the planet.  

– Mike Svoboda

Once around the world – an journey for both the eye and ear

Around a hundred years ago many of our grandfathers were pirates. And if they have died, one finds treasure chests with pearls, coins, and gold chains in basements. Other grandfathers were captains of industry who founded important companies. In the drawers of their desks one finds thick checkbooks and patents with which one can become a millionaire. My grandfather was a musician. He played all over the world, in concert halls, dance halls, and on ships (fortunately not on the Titanic). When he died, my father found two heavy wooden crates in the attic. He never opened them. When my father died, my mother told me about these crates, and, with my curiosity aroused, I climbed up the small ladder to the attic to see what had been lying around for years. After I had wiped off the thick layer of dust, I opened the first crate and in it were hundreds of postcards. Postcards, my God! No treasures, no stocks and bonds – postcards. Nobody writes postcards anymore. When I am somewhere, I take a picture of my girl friend and myself with the cell phone and send the photo by email to all our friends. Who still goes into a store, picks out seven silly postcards, sits down and writes (do you always have a pen with you?) an address (which you don’t remember) and a stupid greeting (“Having a great time – Wish you were here!”), and then looks for a post office (that happens not to be closed for lunch!) in order to buy a postage stamp (“One airmail stamp to Germany, please”)? Not me. Well, the disappointment about the crate with postcards was huge, and I nearly didn’t even open the second crate. But in the meantime my mother had come up to the attic, looked through the cards with increasing enthusiasm, and soon began to sob: “Look, how romantic. – Isn’t that sweet? – He was a good-hearted soul.” And then I took a closer look and saw that my grandfather had sent all these cards to my grandmother, and that each of these cards was a declaration of love to her. He was certainly not Goethe, and by no means a Heine, but there was so much affection and yearning for my grandmother in every line that I, too, was soon sobbing. And my mother remembered how, when she was a child, these cards landed in their mailbox, with an exotic postage stamp and an illegible postmark – messages from the large, distant, foreign world. And we soon started to open the second crate. But what a surprise, no postcards, but rather records! They look like this. You probably don’t know them anymore. This was long before CDs and DVDs. In the crate were about a hundred shellac records from all over the world. They were in sleeves on which grandfather had written the music group, the place, and the date in his old handwriting. He had been in so many countries that we had to fetch a map to see where they were even located. Map projection. My grandfather had been everywhere marked by a flag and brought a recording of music back with him. Crazy, isn’t it? And back then they didn’t have Miles & More and intercity express trains. Fortunately, there was still the old gramophone ... that my grandfather had given my grandmother so that she could hear the music he had brought back for her. So now, for several weeks, my mother and I spent many hours each evening after school and work reading the postcards and listening to the music. We lay on the wooden floor of the attic and, as the light slowly faded in single small window ... we were all over the whole world...! And now, many years later I am myself a musician and can finally share this wonderful music with your the audience. And that’s exactly what we’ll do right now! – Manfred Weiss


Ensemble version 14 musicians world premiere April 9th, 2017 in Lucerne, Switzerland
1(picc).1.1(bscl).1(cbsn). - - perc(2) - 
Orchestra version 35 musicians premiere October 21st, 2017 Essen, Germany

Technical requirements

  • gramophone
  • amplification for the narrator and the gramophone
  • video projector

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