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Diaries and Music, or Musical Diaries

During the period of the Enlightenment, but especially in the nineteenth century, keeping a diary developed into an independent literary genre. As a result, the form of the diary became ever more varied, with ever more strongly expressive statements revealing the thoughts and feelings of the authors in question. In permitting study of their diaries, these authors opened the doors to many possible interpretations. The diary - as an attempt to structure disparate elements, to preserve impressions, the passage of time and feelings of all kinds in whatever way possible - has stimulated all kinds of artists to create works of their own. Composers have adapted the designation as well as the form and some features of this genre in a completely original way. The catalogues of Sikorski Music Publishers are particularly rich in examples of this.

The Russian composer Grigori Frid, who hails from St. Petersburg, for example, chose one of the most deeply moving documents of all for his monodramatic opera in 4 scenes and 21 episodes - "The Diary of Anne Frank," based on the diary written by a Jewish girl who was persecuted and murdered by the Nazis shortly before the end of the war. He completed the vocal score in just three months; the orchestral score of the chamber opera followed two months later. The two-part opera consists of brief scenes, for example "Birthday," "School," "Conversation with Father," "Summons to the Gestapo," "Hiding-Place," and "Raid;" these depict the fate of the thirteen-year-old Jewish girl hiding in Fascist-occupied Holland. Anne Frank's documentary diary entries show the mental and psychological pressure encumbering the child, but also the fact that this pressure could not break her moral power. The girl's unshakable will to live is communicated through the diary entries. The libretto, almost literally taken from the original, is integrated into a musical-lyrical narrative. Its emotional content takes equally into account the tragedy of the events and Anne Frank's poetical expressive strength. Carefully using his musical means - tonality as well as twelve-tone technique and aleatoric moments - Grigori Frid expresses the girl's changing moods. He renounces a large orchestral ensemble, limiting himself to 26 musicians.

The Chinese composer Xiaoyong Chen, who has recently joined the Sikorski catalogue, has written two diary volumes for piano solo which get by without any words at all. He calls the two compositions, fully independent of each other, Diary I (Seven Miniatures for Piano, 1996) and Diary II (Two Pieces for Piano, 1998).

Diary I is a diary and, at the same time, a notebook with new ideas out of which several compositions for various ensembles arose, says Xiaoyong Chen. "It is a kind of important key with which I was able to open the door to a new land of ideas. The seven individual, independent, short pieces resemble seven diary entries. Although they contrast with each other strongly, they are nonetheless part of an inseparable unity. The musical materials have been reduced to a minimum. In some parts, echo plays an important role - the notes are played with differing dynamics. They appear successively at certain intervals and gradually melt together. In the end they taper off. Thus several colourful 'sound-clouds' are formed during this process."

The approach in the series "Diary II" is not radically different, but the structure is. Moreover, Chen gives titles to the terse, self-sufficient works: "The point is not to make a large form out of little material, but rather to consciously use as little material as possible so that the musical experience will also be an existential one. The idea behind the two short pieces is connectedness with nature. The musical development follows the laws of nature here. Although these compositions are precisely conceived and worked out, the acoustical phenomenon plays a more important role than intellectual, constructivist thinking.

"'Crossing': crossing over, also hide-and-seek. The scales must at first be played as rapidly as possible, like a cluster of over 20 notes, within a second. The following notes precisely observe the momentary characteristic of the echo of the slowly disappearing notes, determining their dynamic relationship to them. They hide in the sound-shadows of the notes which are fading away.

"'Floating Point': a scale as a point of departure continually changes, step by step, while remaining unchanged in its original form. It is constantly varied through slight overlappings, reduction of the durational values and the irregular metric 'floating.'"

The romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann, in his major work "The Devil's Elixir," expanded a diary to the full length of a novel. The author glaringly sketches the life story of a monk who has drunk a mysterious potion and become a traitor to his beliefs, indeed a murderer. There is no escape for Father Medardus, for fate pulls him into the lowest depths without mercy. The interlocked, involved relationships of the protagonists to each other are successively and gradually exposed. Already shortly after its publication, the work belonged to the most frequently printed novels of the Romantic period and had an especially strong influence on nineteenth-century French literature.

Ulrich Leyendecker turned to this subject in his ensemble work "Nachgelassene Papiere des Bruders Medardus, eines Kapuziners" (Bequeathed Papers of Brother Medardus, a Capuchin Monk). The piece was written in 1973 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of E.T.A. Hoffmann.

The Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, who died in 1998, did not write a diary in the usual sense, but rather a "Lebenslauf" (Curriculum Vitae). Schnittke expressly points out that the structure of the piece is indeed supposed to reflect his biography. "The events that were important in my development, impressions and musical themes of my own and others are hinted at through aperiodic insertions and accents at the corresponding time points. A constantly accelerating, yet periodic time mechanism goes on. After 1982 comes the hypothetic time span of the future, about which I cannot know anything except that time will still be measurable. That is why an aleatoric section comes here, above the time rhythm which continues to tick on. This then leads into a (for me as for everyone else unavoidable) coda. My personal life was until now, thank God, very poor in important events, but a succession of contrasting accents at various intervals does result out of it. This makes possible a counterpoint of subjective feeling and objective time measurement. For this reason (and not out of narcissism), I took my curriculum vitae as a model for and title of the piece. I do not wish to say a word about the events themselves, because 'Lebenslauf' is not programme music."

We have compiled examples from our catalogue of this fascinating subject-area, including the use of a concrete diary, piano pieces entitled "Diary," the fictitious diary of a Capuchin monk and a highly abstract ensemble work entitled "Lebenslauf" (Curriculum Vitae).


Grigori Frid:

The Diary of Anne Frank. - Monodramatic Opera in 4 scenes and 21 Episodes


1,0,3,0 - 0,2,1,0 - Timp., Perc. (2 players, incl. vibr.) pno., strings (5/0/4/3/2)

or: Version for Soprano and Piano

Performance time: 60'

Xiaoyong Chen:

Diary I. Seven Miniatures for Piano Solo (1996) Ed. 8514

Diary II. Two Pieces for Piano Solo (1998) Ed. 8515

Ulrich Leyendecker:

Bequeathed Papers of Brother Medardus, a Capuchin Monk (1973)

2(picc.), 0,2(b.clar.), 0 - 1,0,0,1 - guit., vc., cb., tape (speaker)

Performance time: 14'

Alfred Schnittke:

"Lebenslauf" for four metronomes, three percussionists and piano (1982)

perc. (bongos, side drum, tom-tom, bass drum, bells, vibr.)

Performance time: 12'