Music for choir (CD »Music for Choir«)

Kurt Schwaen: »Music for Choir«

Vocal compositions

(Exerpt from CD booklet)

Vocal compositions are a recurring element in Schwaen’s artistic work from 1949 onward. While his works in the 1950s are dominated by songs and cantatas suitable for lay singers, Schwaen’s vocal compositions grew more complex with the emergence of professional choirs, allowing him to explore a wider variety of forms. His a-cappella works, for instance, draw heavily on the practical experience Schwaen gained during his time at university. As a member of Friedrich Blume’s Collegium musicum vocale in Berlin, Schwaenwas fascinated by Renaissance poly-choral works and the choral compositions of Leonhard Lechner and Giovanni Gabrieli.

The selection of works on this CD showcases Schwaen’s versatile accomplishment and distinctivestyle. Schwaen’s trademark is unmistakable; his brief and succinct musical language is reflected inthe transparent notation of his works. The sheer cantability of individual parts and the absence of more extreme registers is another distinctive elementin his work. Schwaen allows his singers to workcomfortably within their vocal range and without fear of tonal escapades. This approach, coupledwith his preference for syllabic composition, ensuresthat his lyrics remain comprehensible to listeners. The influence of Slavic folk music on Schwaen’s work is often quite evident, particularly with respectto their rhythmic composition (variations in metersignatures, poly-rhythms etc.). Schwaen favored intricate melodies and free, often bi-tonal, tonality.While his compositions draw on traditional listening habits, their surprising changes and departures from the realm of the familiar transcend these constraints.

Schwaen once said of his love of folk literature:

»I enjoy writing music to folk poetry more than any other genre. The rich imagery, brevity, internal logic and humanity capture my imagination. Nothing is concealed or rendered indistinct. (...) Although I did not adopt the original melodies, I felt that I was unable to wander far from the genre. The melody had to dominate...«

The songs in his cycle Komm wieder zur künftgen Nacht capture the Zeitgeist of the 16th-centurytexts and the score’s composition is grounded in ist often graphic vernacular wording. Here Schwaen has employed familiar forms and sequences with great insight, bending them occasionally to infuse the music with zest and thus revealing his musical signature. His penchant for Slavic folklore is evident in Schlafe wohl zur Nacht and the cycle Unterm Himmel unter Sternen, where he proves his ability to blend more powerful notes with delicate and sophisticated passages that evoke an aura oflyrical intimacy. The composition of Ein Zicklein is distinctively artificial and several versions of the piece exist, among them the Jewish festive song Lied vom Böcklein. The version featured on this CD originates from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of songs published in 1808 by Achim von Armin and Clemens Brentano.

In addition to folk poetry, many of Schwaen’s vocal compositions drew on contemporary sources and sought to address current issues. Schwaen discovered texts that he deemed to be »deserving of music« in the works of Bertolt Brecht, Heinz Rusch, Günter Kunert, Volker Braun and Pablo Neruda. Schwaen enhanced the expressive power of these texts, particularly in his later choral works, by utilizing modern techniques of composition in a very free and unrestrained style. Schwaen’s interest lies clearly not in the technique itself, but in the effect that it achieves.

In his choral arrangement Blut ist durch die Straßen regengleich geflossen (Text: Günter Kunert) the twelve syllables of the arrangement’s first words are reflected in the 12-tone row underlying the composition. The composition’s melodic motion parallels the spoken intonation, while its steady quarter-note rhythm reinforces the brief and unerringpoetic account at the heart of the piece. And while the vocals follow a linear sequence, they do not adhere to Schönberg’s tone-row technique. Schwaen’s composition features distinctive switches in the tone row which create a harmonic, free-tonal score with an austere beauty.

Schwaen’s Gagarin (Text: Kunert) departs from the original text with the choir repeating its final demand twice: »Die darauf sind, müssen miteinander lebenThis conclusion highlights Schwaen’s faith in humanity’s resilience. A small and rhythmicallyfree female choir is audible above the vocalizing clusters, ensuring that the lyrics remain comprehensible, and the individual words stand out against the wall of sound created by the clusters.

Schwaen’s cycle Nimm an die Weisheit, based on the proverbs of Solomon, is the culmination of hiscareer as a choral composer. The cycle was written in 1986 at the behest of the director of the worldfamous Dresdner Kreuzchor, Martin Flämig.

Schwaen’s creative genius, wealth of experience and sophisticated expertise is evident in every single note.

Ina Iske

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