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Percussion as a Metaphor of Revolt - Jan Müller-Wieland's Most Recent Comments on his "Luftstück"

On 30 November 2002 the new work entitled "Luftstück" ("Air Piece") for percussion and large orchestra by Jan Müller-Wieland received its world premiere in the Berlin Konzerthaus. Peter Sadlo was the soloist with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin conducted by Peter Hirsch.

Jan Müller-Wieland has supplied the following commentary on his work, thus completing earlier statements:

"My first considerations regarding 'Luftstück' had to do with aura, statement and harmony. I wanted to attempt a compositional development leading into a mild, bright, stationary sound, gradually arising out of dance-like, percussive and darker conflicts.

"The nature of the percussion is naturally very well suited as a metaphor of revolt, even of outbursts of fury. I wanted to pit this against a classical, romantic, conventional orchestra. Conciliatory symbols are the basis of the ending and the statement of the piece, which is lively up until then.

"The harmonic language arises out of three sound zones: on the one hand, from particles and flourishes from a Polish-Jewish street ballad called "Vyo, Vyo," which is about a rustic coachman who would like to harvest a few potatoes before winter comes. He sets out on the coach-box with the cry 'Vyo, Vyo' to encourage the horses.

"I transcribed and transformed this little song from a folk song collection. It never appears in my work in its original form. Its rhythmical impulses and harsh, acrid minor-key harmonies fascinated me.

"On the other hand, the harmonic language evolved out of a mode. This is the so-called 'Gypsy Minor' (f, g-flat, a, b-flat, c, d-flat, e), famous in art music especially in Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition.' This mode is used in the picture 'Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle' (The Rich Jew and the Poor Jew). I used it entirely freely in my opera 'Nathan's Death' based on George Tabori and in the violin concerto 'Ariel.'

"In this 'Luftstück,' however, this mode is only a kind of subsidiary theme, confronted with 'major,' almost jazzy chords as the third sound zone.

"These aspects now lead into and ignite the instruments of the drum-set. The marimba (an African word for 'sounding wood') forms the centrepiece. Eight gongs (in the mood of the mode) surround the marimba and all other instruments of indeterminate pitch. Most of the instruments come from India, Africa and Latin America. My attempts are therefore rather alienated from the instrumental point of view, far removed from their idiom and origin. A kind of 'cultural mixture' thus takes place.

"Finally a concluding cadence arise in reaction to an airy string sound, enriched by a 'song' on the brass plates (finger cymbals or crotales). Beforehand and at the beginning, the performance instructions are fulminante, inno (hymn-like), misterioso, scherzando (including tango rhythms), feroce and estatico."