Tag Archives: Commissioned composition

“As a composer, you’re always a beginner” | plus video

In his composition for the project “Swiss Beethoven reflections”, Christian Henking uses the melody of the Swiss song used by Beethoven as a basis. In his six variations, he utilises different principles. Text by guest author Markus Ganz; Video by Manu Leuenberger

Christian Henking respects Ludwig van Beethoven, “this monument, this granite rock in music history”. “He is a master teacher to me again and again, independent of the aesthetics; fantastic what he has formally achieved.” As a consequence, Beethoven’s “Variationen über ein Schweizerlied” (Variations on a Swiss song) irritated him even more, as he explains in a conversation at the end of January 2020. “I really don’t understand them, thought, it wasn’t possible that they were by Beethoven.”

Since the composer from Biel and Berne could not relate to these variations, he dealt with the original song, “Es hätt e Bur es Töchterli” (A farmer had a daughter once) in more detail. But that was also rather awkward, he thought the melody was strange for a folk song, and he was also missing the elegance of the “Guggisberglied” (Guggisberg song). “At the same time, though, it holds the incredible tension of the huge tonal range. Its straightforward, pulse-like nature is also rather interesting; there isn’t really a rhythm, just those quarter notes that ‘hang about’. The song therefore has a certain emptiness and thus also offers openness.” Christian Henking thus decided to base his composition on the melody of the folk song. Then he also wrote six variations, “just like Beethoven, but rather accidentally”.

Christian Henking explains that he first analysed the melody and then cut it into individual segments. “In my first four variations I regard individual segments of the song, so to speak. The last two relate to the entire song.” He therefore stayed altogether or not altogether with the material: “In the second variation, I avoid, especially when searching for this variation, all notes that occur in the original piece.”

The basic approach was to apply different work modes, respectively different principles for each variation. The concept crystallised while composing and developed further. “I knew that I wanted to compose miniatures, short variation movements. I first wrote the 5th variation. Then I realised that I did not want to begin in such a machine-like manner, and therefore did something rather unrestricted as a contrast. One consequently affected the other. And from such relativities, many interrelations arose.”

Christian Henking very often works at the desk, and composes in his head. In order to stimulate his imagination, he often plays piano or cello. “While improvising, I often get ideas, very simple. That is my old-fashioned vein; I am really rather far away from the computer when I compose, I actually write the notes by hand onto the score sheet.” This also includes that he plays all instruments of his scores himself one time. “I like to have the instrument in my fingers. Not in order to hear its sound – I am a pianist, not a string player – but to play the fingerings, sounds and bow positions myself. Strangely, it helps me compose when I apply the haptics in this context even if it was not necessary; it provides me with a kind of grounding.”

Christian Henking selected the combination of strings trio with flute on the one hand because he wanted a small instrumentation so that no conductor was needed. He does, on the other hand, mainly find this instrumentation fascinating. “I have a close relationship with string trios per se. And then the flute joins in, as a kind of outsider, and melts with the sound of the trio.”

You must not expect a “typical Henking composition”. He rather sees “the task of a composer to look at each piece as if it was new, since as a composer, you are always a beginner”. Christian Henking has even started from scratch for each of his variations within the piece and consciously worked with different approaches and techniques: “This is what makes up the art of composing”. To start from scratch also signified to have a heap of possibilities ahead of oneself. Facing so many freedoms, one would have to reflect. He then also sees the risk to select and use a means or a method too quickly because it has worked in one place and has already been tried and tested before. “Routine is a risk and I fight against this with each note.”

During the conversation at the end of January 2020, the composition process had already been mostly concluded. “Everything is here now”, explains Christian Henking and points to numerous score sheets. “I will rethink everything again so that it is possible I apply corrections and other alterations.” Then, however, the composition will be finished into the last detail. Compared to other works, Christian Henking does not grant the performers any freedoms here.

Christian Henking was born in Basel in 1961. He studied music theory at the Conservatory Berne under Theo Hirsbrunner; Ewald Körner trained him to be a chapel master. After that, he studied composition with Cristobal Halffter and Edison Denisov, in master courses with Wolfgang Rihm and Heinz Holliger. He received various awards, among them the Culture Award of the Bürgi-Willert-Stiftung (2000), Acknowledgment Award of the Canton Berne (2002) and the Music Award of the Canton Berne (2016). He is a lecturer at the University of the Arts, Bern, for composition, theoretical subjects and chamber music. www.christianhenking.ch
Swiss Beethoven reflections: A project by Murten Classics and SUISA on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven had not much to do with Switzerland. He did, however, write “Six variations on a Swiss song” (Sechs Variationen über ein Schweizerlied), namely the folk song “Es hätt e Bur es Töchterli” (A farmer had a daughter once). This is the starting point for the composition assignments which the summer festival Murten Classics and SUISA allocated to eight Swiss composers of different generations, aesthetics and origin.

Oscar Bianchi, Xavier Dayer, Fortunat Frölich, Aglaja Graf, Christian Henking, Alfred Schweizer, Marina Sobyanina and Katharina Weber had a choice of basing their work on the variations, the folk song used by Beethoven or Beethoven in general. The compositions were written for the ensemble Paul Klee which allows for the following maximum instrumentation: Flute (also piccolo, G- or bass flute), clarinet (in B or A), violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano.

The initiator of this project, launched in 2019, is Kaspar Zehnder who has been Artistic Director of Murten Classics for 22 years. Due to the corona crisis and the measures ordered by the authorities, it was not possible to hold the 32nd instalment of the festival in August 2020 or the scheduled replacement festival in the winter months that followed. The “SUISA day” with eight compositions of this project was performed and recorded nevertheless, without an audience, on 28 January 2021 in the KiB Murten. The recordings are available for listening at radio SRF 2 Kultur in the programme “Neue Musik im Konzert” (5 May 2021, 9pm) and will be released on the platform Neo.mx3. The project will also be documented online via the SUISAblog and the social media channels of SUISA.

www.murtenclassics.ch

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In his composition for the project “Swiss Beethoven reflections”, Christian Henking uses the melody of the Swiss song used by Beethoven as a basis. In his six variations, he utilises different principles. Text by guest author Markus Ganz; Video by Manu Leuenberger

Christian Henking respects Ludwig van Beethoven, “this monument, this granite rock in music history”. “He is a master teacher to me again and again, independent of the aesthetics; fantastic what he has formally achieved.” As a consequence, Beethoven’s “Variationen über ein Schweizerlied” (Variations on a Swiss song) irritated him even more, as he explains in a conversation at the end of January 2020. “I really don’t understand them, thought, it wasn’t possible that they were by Beethoven.”

Since the composer from Biel and Berne could not relate to these variations, he...read more

Archipel Festival – a well-established works smithy | plus video

The Archipel Festival is going to give a large audience access to a plethora of new works between 16 and 25 April 2021 from its location in Geneva. The audience will be able to delve into the festival from the comfort of their homes and to log on in order to follow about 70 events which take place each afternoon. Text by Erika Weibel; Video by Nina Müller

The entire festival programme is going to be broadcast via streaming and will be made available via the Archipel website, free of charge. It is also possible to meet artists online, to participate in discussions, answer questions in quizzes, get an impression of the weather and throw a glance into the premises of the event venue.

Archipel provides a festival “under supervision” with a Web TV team which is going to broadcast live for ten days, from noon to midnight. A unique, experimental and artistic project which allows the audience to take part actively on air.

Baptism of fire for new composers

This year, the Archipel Festival has provided composers again with the opportunity to create new works and thus give the audience the pleasure of enjoying these new compositions. Salômé Guillemin-Poeuf, a young composer from Geneva, has, for example, created the work “50 Hertz”, whose première will take place on 21 April 2021 at 7.00pm.

Salômé Guillemin-Poeuf is a designer and musician who lives and works in Geneva. She creates interactive sound installations, performances and musical instruments. Her works have already been performed to be audio- & audiovisually on numerous international stages. The creative and versatile artist recently registered as an associate member of SUISA.

Collaboration with Archipel

SUISA is a sponsor of the festival again. It is great news that the Archipel organisers have found a creative means to adapt to the circumstances and to carry out the festival under strict stipulations in a new format – and thus enable many new works to be performed.

As a sponsor, we would like to point out two of the 70 events in particular:

Première of the work “50 Hertz” by Salômé Guillemin-Poeuf
on 21 April 2021 at 7.00pm

SUISA round table talk on being a composer in Switzerland
on 24 April 2021 at 2.00pm

Broadcast from the Maison communale de Plainpalais via: www.archipel.org
between 16 and 25 April, from noon to midnight each day

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The Archipel Festival is going to give a large audience access to a plethora of new works between 16 and 25 April 2021 from its location in Geneva. The audience will be able to delve into the festival from the comfort of their homes and to log on in order to follow about 70 events which take place each afternoon. Text by Erika Weibel; Video by Nina Müller

The entire festival programme is going to be broadcast via streaming and will be made available via the Archipel website, free of charge. It is also possible to meet artists online, to participate in discussions, answer questions in quizzes, get an impression of the weather and throw a glance into the premises of the event venue.

Archipel provides a festival “under supervision” with a Web...read more

20,000 Swiss Francs and an imaginary composition project

To discuss artistic creation is anything but simple. That’s why Swiss association Jazzy Jams and SUISA have come up with something special in the course of the Jazz Festival in Bess (Lugano). Composer Maria Bonzanigo, from Ticino, and composers Pietro Viviani and Damiano Merzari developed an imaginary composition project in front of the audience. The result was rather fascinating and took those present on a journey into the thought-world of authors. Guest contribution by Zeno Gabaglio

Jazz in Bess: 20,000 Swiss Francs and an imaginary composition project

Zeno Gabaglio (Co-moderator), Maria Bonzanigo, Pietro Viviani, Alessandro Zanoli (Moderator) and Damiano Merzari (in the picture from left to right) have discussed their most private creative processes as composers. (Photo: Erika Weibel

An entire evening focussing on the subject of musical creation can actually be rather boring. Especially because the topic itself creates a conundrum – comparable to the mysteries that surround each history of creation, or genesis. The explanation of musical creation usually leads to two unpleasant results: erring around aimlessly between contradictory philosophical beliefs or completely rejecting something that conflicts by nature with logical thinking and explanations.

Fully aware of this starting position, Swiss association Jazzy Jams and SUISA organised an evening dedicated to musical creation on Thursday, 25 January 2018 in the Swiss National Sound Archives in Lugano. Naturally, the question arose how you might map out such an evening without ‘dead-ending’ in the above mentioned, fateful cul-de-sac.

Spontaneous composing in front of the audience

The idea was to let three invited music authors directly dive into the subject matter; into a situation which is as practice-related as it is specific, so that there is neither room for philosophical palaver nor any moments of awkward silence.

But how? By sending each of them an invite by an imaginary committee. They got summoned to collaborate on a new project. The text that was only revealed at the beginning of the meeting was the following:

“Jazzy Jams wishes to inaugurate its new hall with a number of concerts and invites musicians from the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland to spontaneously conceive an artistic work. The event is about a performance in a modular-built and technically well-equipped room with a capacity of 400 seats. The composition budget amounts to CHF 5,000. For the actual implementation, CHF 15,000 is available. The time span from concept to implementation is nine months. There are no specifications regarding music styles or duration, and the composer shall have the entire evening to him/herself.”

The only condition for each author was to lay bare their very own creative process to the audience – in a kind of inner dialogue, but spoken out loud.

Maria Bonzanigo, Pietro Viviani and Damiano Merzari (members of the band The Pussywarmers) have generously made themselves available for this project by – in a rather unusual open brainstorming – revealed their generally most private creative processes.

Different music styles, different approaches

The result: captivating, electrifying, surprising and sometimes ironic. This was due to the fact that music genres (theatre and concert music in the case of Bonzanigo; jazz, soundtracks and concert music in the case of Viviani; independent rock in the case of Merzari) illustrated rather different ways to access the very same phenomenon which all of us – rather unimaginatively but proudly – refer to under the same term, “music”.

Certain doubts and questions arose in the course of the discussion – apart from solid technical and poetic certainties. And maybe they were the most interesting moments of the event. They revealed the creative process not only as an equation which can be solved with one single result, but also a part of your life map which you need to travel to, even though this entails the usual unavoidable surprises along the journey.

In the second part of the evening, the subject of the creation process moved a little bit into the background; the focus was rather on the question whether artistic creation can be taught. And if so, how?

Tamara Basaric of the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Giorgio Meuwly and Marco Conti of the Scuola di Musica Moderna as well as Andrés Ortiz of the Scuola di Musica e di Arti Creative were the specialist mentors (as well as authors) and provided answers in both an expert and an exciting manner.

Links
Jazz in Bess
Maria Bonzanigo
Pietro Viviani
The Pussywarmers

Guest contributor Zeno Gabaglio is a SUISA Board member, composer and was the co-moderator of the Jazz in Bess.

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To discuss artistic creation is anything but simple. That’s why Swiss association Jazzy Jams and SUISA have come up with something special in the course of the Jazz Festival in Bess (Lugano). Composer Maria Bonzanigo, from Ticino, and composers Pietro Viviani and Damiano Merzari developed an imaginary composition project in front of the audience. The result was rather fascinating and took those present on a journey into the thought-world of authors. Guest contribution by Zeno Gabaglio

Jazz in Bess: 20,000 Swiss Francs and an imaginary composition project

Zeno Gabaglio (Co-moderator), Maria Bonzanigo, Pietro Viviani, Alessandro Zanoli (Moderator) and Damiano Merzari (in the picture from left to right) have discussed their most private creative processes as composers. (Photo: Erika Weibel

An entire evening focussing on the subject of musical creation can actually be rather boring. Especially because the topic itself creates a conundrum – comparable...read more

Eidg. Volksmusikfest 2015: Ein Festakt, ein Bundesrat und eine Hymne

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Wie die Hymne für das Eidgenössische Volksmusikfest 2015 in Aarau entstand

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