“Der Engel der Eewigkeit”
Sieben Blicke – Hommage à Adolf Wölfli
op. 71, 2017
For mixed choir
Duration: 16 min.
Commissioned by the Association Wölfli&Musik
World premiere: 29. April 2018, Kunsthalle, Zurich. Choir: Ensemble Corund Luzern, conductor: Steven Smith
Ensemble Corund Luzern, Dirigent: Stephen Smith, Foto: Norbert Banik
“Der Engel der Eewigkeit” is a homage to Adolf Wölfli, and dedicated to his life as an artist, author and musician. The piece was composed as a result of exploring his pictures and his “inner” world, his motifs, colours and their combinations. The content of his pictures alters according to the distance of the observer. From far away, they appear as concrete and clear pictures; close up, they surprise you with their world in miniature, created from many small pictures. This art form has inspired me to write this composition.
At the Kunstmuseum Bern, I saw the first picture that has inspired me: “Geographische Karte der beiden Fürstentümer Sonoritza und Willi=Wand=West” (1911). Wölfli’s writings reveal not only a very unusual parcours, but also a religious figure – often corresponding to painted crosses in many of his pictures. Often he writes about Mary, or calls out to the Gods. Many prayers and biblical quotations can be found in his main work “Funeral March”. The composition picks up on this and approaches Wölfli’s intellectual world from a religious perspective. In two of the seven pieces only vowels are used – as an homage to Wölfli’s neologisms and wordplays. For example, only the vowels of the Lord’s Prayer are set to music.
The pieces II, III and V contain texts from Wölfli’s writing “Geografisches Heft Nummer 11 – Schriften 1912-1913” which were set to music. Studying his artworks and texts, the thought of a fallen angel comes to mind. This idea of Wölfli as a person of the angels is confirmed in the recurring phrase “Der Engel der Eewigkeit” (the angel of eternity), and eventually led to the title of the composition.
My musical intention was to compose seven pieces, seven miniatures of a moment, portrayals in sound. Each piece has its own character, but all miniatures together unify sonically to form a bigger piece. There is also a certain intensity, which unfolds in each piece through harmonic tensions.
The first piece, Arrival, opens with a Kyrie Eleison. The musical elements of this piece create a meditative atmosphere and bring us into a new space whose atmosphere wins us over. The second piece, Encounter, describes Wölfli’s admiration for Mary. The tenors and baritones keep an unison sound that resembles an organ ostinato; a constant tension is kept by the two groups throughout the piece. The sopranos and altos alternate in singing the respective passages of Wölfli’s text with the idea of performing with one single voice from the beginning to the end. The third piece, Call, is based on dynamic close harmony, and conveys the intensity of calling Mary. Soloists sing the fourth piece, Prayer, while the tutti voices create a sonic backdrop. The tutti groups should breathe at different times, in order to maintain a continuous and active sound. The original text is the Lord’s Prayer, but only the vowels are sung in this piece. This depicts the helplessness of a person who cannot articulate a word completely. It seems like he has neither voice nor tongue, and good and bad are conflicted inside him. The harmonic mode is lightly reminiscent of Old Greek elements. The fifth piece, Light, sets the word itself to music and describes the Enlightenment in sound. For example, it builds up sonic tension through intense and continuous harmonies in long bars. The sixth piece, Eternity, is defined by its harmonic and musical ease. The groups sing the theme as a free round, and the conductor decides upon the timing of the entries and upon the end of the movement. It is important to keep the pulse and interweave the harmonies of the four groups. The theme was edited in a way that allows new sonic coincidences over and over again. The last piece, Farewell, is created by the sound of breathing in and out. The singing part has finished, and the ending becomes a beginning – of an inner, powerful, yet peaceful farewell.
All miniatures are sung in their respective order, brought together by the conductor with exciting pauses between them. The piece should be like looking at an artwork by Adolf Wölfi while moving closer and closer, in the course of which the details become clearer and clearer. In this way, it is also a spiritual ritual.
“Der Engel der Eewigkeit” is a homage to Adolf Wölfli and became part of my composition series dedicated to angels. This composition for choir is the sixth piece within this composition series for varying ensembles.
“Vor allem «Der Engel der Eewigkeit» von Konstantia Gourzi wirkt intensiv. (…) Da ist ein unberechenbar wogender Klang der Männerstimmen, und die Sopranistinnen singen extrem hoch. Die stimmliche Anstrengung ist wohl gewollt, bringt sie doch den Ausdrucksdrang Wölflis treffend zum Ausdruck. Das Ensemble Corund unter der Leitung seines Gründers Stephen Smith zieht den Ansatz durch: Die Silben des Wortes «Maria» scheinen auf einem offenen Ozean zu treiben, von Wölflis eigenem Namen bleiben bloss Vokale wie a, e, o, i und ü übrig. Am Schluss scheinen die Worte förmlich überhitzt, und das Stück endet mit einem ebenso schlichten wie ergreifenden Ein- und Ausatmen der Sänger.”
Basler Zeitung, 28. Mai 2018