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Angelus novus.
Music theatre after Walter Benjamin

Composer: Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen
Playing time: 90:00
Opus/Year: (1997-2000)
Genre: Opera
Instrumentation: Sopran, Fl, PiccOb, Vc, Klav, Schl 1(Picc,AFl),1(EnglHorn),2(Es-Klar,BKlar),1(KFag) - 1,1,1,THorn,0 - Schl (Crot, 5 Holzbl, 3 Tomt, gr.Tr, 2 Timbales, Tam-t, Glsp, Vibr), Harfe, Git, Klav, Streicher (4/0/2/1/1)
Premiere performance: 04.05.2000 / Munich / D / Ensemble SurPlus / James Avery


Angelus Novus is the name of a painting of Paul Klee owned by the philosopher Walter Benjamin, inspiring him to create one of the most important historical-philosophical these of the 20th century. For Benjamin, the figure of Angelus Novus represented the angel of history that is driven relentlessly into the future, with its gaze fixed in horror on something in the past that remains hidden to the observer. The angel is driven by a stormy wind blowing out of Paradise and continually creating one catastrophe after another. The angel of history would like to stop and recreate the world, but the wind is so strong that there can be no stopping.
Benjamin designates this storm as what we call progress. With it, he interprets not only the great historical catastrophe in the middle of the 20th century but also gives an extremely sceptical, even pessimistic interpretation of historical progress. This music theatre applies this famous thesis by Benjamin to the primacy of music. With primarily musical rather than scenic and narrative means, it attempts to come to terms with aspects of Benjamins view of the course of the world. It is made up of a combination of six independent works. At the centre of focus stands a singer, more or less a female angel, who present the five fundamental moods of mankind (fear,
joy, hope, mourning, desperation) in a dramatic, highly expressive manner. Three instrumental soloists (violoncello, piano and flute) represent three different dimensions of the angel: his past, his present and his future (dream, horror, vision). A longer chamber symphony, in two parts, deals with musical complexity and multi-dimensionality as an image of the 20th century, a period of many perspectives. The music theatre is completed by a chamber concerto with piccolo oboe, offering a cautiously messianic perspective of the redemption of mankind from this tower of progress.
The work is based on an open conception and is experimental, to the extent which it hardly contains conscious indications regarding staging and direction. For this reason, it can be performed in very different degrees of visualisation. A purely concertante performance is conceivable but also, at the other extreme, a total visualisation, e.g. in the form of a film. In any case, the director is challenged to invent, in his own independent creativity, a visual language and a story in images, a further layer in counterpoint to the music.

In printed editions:

Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen
  • Angelus Novus
    Music theatre based on Walter Benjamin
    Edition no.: SIK8657
    Edition: Study Score
    Price: € 75,00 incl. VAT plus delivery