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'The soprano sighs, supports, whispers, breathes in, breathes out, blows, squeals' - Helmut Lachenmann Got Lost in November Music

German composer Helmut Lachenmann (1935) is a champion of evocative squeaks, creaks and crunches. Like John Cage, for instance, he hears music in unusual sources. Rarely is an instrument played the way it is written in the books. 'Making music with sounds is relatively simple and always somewhere modern,' he once said of this.

Although he began his career as a choirboy, his catalogue counts surprisingly few vocal works. At seven November November Music will sound his only cycle for soprano and piano, Got Lost. It will be performed by soprano Yuko Kakuta and pianist Yukiko Sugawara, wife of the composer. Lachenmann himself is coming to Den Bosch especially for a talk after the concert.

He composed Got Lost in 2008, commissioned by the Biennale for New Music Theatre in Munich. It was a request from British soprano Sarah Leonard, one of the singers in his opera The girl with the sulphur sticks. This explains the subtitle 'Sarah's Song'. While that opera was based on Andersen's fairy tale of the same name, this time he used texts by Nietzsche and Pessoa. From the former, he chose verses from Der Wandrer about an abyss that inevitably leads to death. From Pessoa, he quotes a reflection on how ridiculous it is to write love letters. - Concluding that it is even more ridiculous not to write one.

My laundry basket got lost

Finally, there is an English text, from which the title of the cycle is taken. 'Today my laundry basket got lost. It was last seen standing near the dryer. Since it is pretty difficult to carry the laundry without it I'd be most happy to get it back.' At an earlier performance in Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, Sugawara told me that these words stemmed from their neighbour. The latter had hung a note in the laundrette where she had lost her laundry basket. Since then, the phrase became a running gag between the couple. 'Helmut is always losing things, so then he says again: ow, my pyjamas got lost.'

Unlike a song cycle by, say, Schubert on Schumann, you can rarely understand the words literally. The score of Got Lost consists mainly of loose consonants, vowels and syllables. The soprano sighs, supports, whispers, inhales, exhales, blows, squeals and sings only the occasional snippet of arioso. The pianist occasionally stirs with tongue-clicks and suddenly expelled guttural sounds, while alternating thunderous clusters with graceful strings of notes.

Ridiculous situations

In his own commentary, Lachenmann describes how he forged 'three only seemingly incompatible texts' into a unity. He has 'stripped them of their emotional, poetic and profane diction' and put them in the mouth of the soprano. She produces 'a constantly changing field of sound, reverberation and movement. Sometimes calling, other times playfully vibrating or wailing.'

As Lachenmann constantly mixes up the different texts, unexpected interactions, layers of meaning and a witty kind of expressiveness emerge. Thus, in his own words, he emphasises the "transcendent, godless message of the ridiculous situations" that connects the three texts.

Like Anna Korsun Helmut Lachenmann writes music that eschews analysis. He himself likes to "broaden the listener's horizons". That's what he is in Got Lost excellently succeeded.

Good to know Good to know
Thursday 7 November Willem Twee Toonzaal, 12.30pm
Helmut Lachenmann - Got Lost

Mark Andre - iv 1
Mark Andre - Job. 3.8

Yuko Kakuta - soprano; Yukiko Sugawara - piano

More info and tickets here.

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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