Reflective Structures

(2003) 36' / for string orchestra with solo percussion 
a reminisence on Beethoven's Op. 127 

Premiered July 2003. Ensemble KulturGut, Frank Beermann, cond. with Michael Kiedasich, percussion. Commissioned by KulturGut in cooperation with the Stiftung Kunst und Kultur NRW.


Strings ( - 3 violins off-stage (tuned to a scordatura)
percussion solo with:

  • off stage: 5 tree trunks halved and approx. 3 feet long, tuned and played with 2 wooden hammers on stage: 1 clay pot tuned and played with 4 thimbles on the 4 fingers of each hand and 1 metal marble, ca 1/2 inch in diameter
  • on stage: 1 bass drum very large, at least 32“ in diameter played with 4 differents mallets, 2 large soft bass drum mallets and 2 brushes: one very large (like used to clean the street) and one relativley small one, Toy piano (sounding 1 octave higher!) 2 whips of freshly cut branches without twigs and leaves, ca. 3-5 feet long resulting in two different pitches 2 hand sized pebbles, 1 large metal tub, partly filled with pebbles, large enough to walk in 1 small flat metal pail, half filled with water 1 metal pail, half filled with pebbles

I was perhaps 12 or 13 years old when I found out about Beethoven’s deafness. The great composer, at that time a God figure and the epitome of genius to me, was apparently absolutely deaf when he wrote his 9th symphony and his op. 127. It seemed impossible to me that somebody could write music without hearing it; like painting a picture without being able to see. A few years later, after I had begun to compose my few first pieces, it became clear to me that this perception was false. While sitting at a desk composing, one hears nothing outside the inner voice. This realisation does not diminish the tragedy of Beethoven’s suffering but it makes the phenomenon more conceivable. One composes using memories of sounds already experienced and with the imaginative ideas of a particular reorganisation of these memories. (or: One composes using memories of sounds already experienced and the imagination reorganises these remembered sounds)?. It is exactly the influence of these memories of previously heard/experienced sounds from which one wants to free oneself when one composes.  One should, must and wants to write his/her own music, however the same 12 pitches that Bach used are still available to us now, one ‘plays’ with the same rhythmic syncopations that Stravinsky employed and so on. It is barely possible to retreat from this influence, but it is perfectly possible to engage with it. My commission was to write a piece that refers to Beethoven’s string quartet Op. 127. I knew that the audience would hear the quartet before they heard my work. It had to be clear that my piece had a link with the Beethovinian original. I decided upon a ‘reminiscence’ rather than a reworking of or variations on the original. I did not want to distance myself from the influence of Beethoven’s music but instead consciously expose it and then write in my own way. For several months I listened extensively only to nun/nur? various recordings of the string quartet, analysing and internalising the music. After this process I could follow my own thoughts and conceptions and hardly had to consider how they related to the Beethovenian prototype. I trusted that the music to come out of this process would be far enough ‘removed’ to maintain the necessary artistic distance. In contrast to my more recent works that refer to other music in order to impart an extra-musical statement ("14 Versuche Wagner lieben zu lernen", "My God Mozart!" und "Love Hurts - Carmen Remix"), quotations have almost no role to play.  Quotations are included only every now and then in order to build a relationship between expectations and memories. In addition, the principle of variation only functions when the listener can comprehend what is being varied. In "Reflective Structures" nothing is varied and no social-critical declarations are made. My contemplation of Beethoven’s work applied not only to the pitches of the original model but also the life of the composer at the time the quartet was conceived. Friedrich Hölderlin, who was also born in 1770 and in his later years had to create from his memory, was also present to me at this time. The ‘reflective structures’ of the title refer not only to the walls and surfaces of a concert hall but also the structures inside our heads where the music rings on long after the listening process is over.
Because the creative often arises from limitation/restriction, I have reduced the percussion instrumentation to few instruments and objects. This is a welcome relief for the interpreters as far as transport is concerned. It is a great challenge to make music with such reduced material.- Mike Svoboda, July 2003

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