Had you told Wilhelm Müller (1797–1828) that the depressive and forsaken words he spoke through the voice of the bewildered and forlorn traveller in the final edition of Die Winterreise in 1824 would live and flourish into the 21st century, and even appear in an electroacoustic guise — could he perceive that! — he would surely have banked hard out of your trajectory and seeked out saner company!
However, this is what has happened, and the lonely and desperate winter traveller, lingering on happier summer days with a woman who would turn out to be deceptive, does turn up again in the electroacoustic workings of Daniel Leduc (1965) from Montréal. This goes to show that some writings keep there urgency throughout the ages, since man is the same now as then — just in a changing human environment – and since words that speak out of commonplace and universal experiences always will be recogonized and validatet by man wherever in time he happens to find himself.
This CD also contains a few other works by Daniel Leduc, but here I will concentrate on the main piece; Le voyage d’hiver.
Leduc hereby steps into a tradition of electroacoustics, which can be traced back well into passed decades of creative sonic illustrations. When best these auditive variations serve the purpose of furthering the understanding and the experience of the text, in the same manner as the Bible illustrations of Gustave Doré from the 19th century magnifies the events of biblical times in a way that can never be forgotten by those who grew up with them.
Sometimes these re–workings of old texts serve as a casting of a conjuration net across existence, through their old and liturgic–like forms. There can be no question about the need of such liturgies in modern society and it’s art, to handle the existential anxiety that brews just below the surface of urban man, showing up in dreams and erratic behaviour. A culture without ceremonies and liturgies slides down a sloping plane. The rites of human societies do however exist everywhere, though they may be surpressed in the materialistic world of today. However, there are many beautiful examples of life in ritualistic societies, permeated by ceremonies. The Aka pygmies of Central Africa, for example, sing a special song for the child who just has gotten a little brother or sister, so the older child won’t feel rejected or cast aside. This is civilization!
When it comes to modern electroacoustic presentations of old texts, the majority of works are of religious origin. Moreover, most of these works have sprung out of the French speaking sphere, like France or Canada. A random list can look like this: Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse de Jean and Messe de Liverpool, Jacques Lejeune’s Le Cantique des Cantiques and Messe aux Oiseaux, Michel Chion’s Requiem and Xavier Garcia’s Apocalypse.
The secular works are more sparse, but they exist. Examples might be Jean Schwarz’s amazing Quatre Saisons — a setting of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Vier Jahreszeiten from 1797 — François Bayle’s Purgatoire & Paradis terrestre — an electroacoustic rendering of The Divine Comedy by Dante, which also might be referred to as religious, of course… – and the work we talk about here; Le voyage d’hiver — a set of twenty–four poems by Wilhelm Müller (1797–1828) from 1824, made famous by Franz Schubert’s composition.
I have always had great pleasure in listening to the great interpretation given by Hans Hotter (baritone) and Gerald Moore (piano) in a recording from 1954, which I rate as a first choice of a traditional lieder interpretation of the work in question. It is of course very interesting to hear how Daniel Leduc treats the material in an electroacoustic manner. Well, there is nothing new or surprising about the way Leduc traverses these poems. He has done it in a traditional way, electroacoustically speaking, and he has succeeded very well. His work compares well to the aforementioned electroacoustic variations on old texts, and in this tradition he now belongs, without any disturbing glitches or anomalities. The text appears in it’s original language — German — and the words are spoken by Montréal actor Erwin Potitt. Daniel Leduc uses musique concrète–methods in addition to the pure electronic alterations, applying concrete and altered concrete sounds around the text, and he utilizes established methods of permutating the voice itself.
After the twenty–four poems he has added a short concluding “coda” without words, rounding off this very well worked–through piece of art, which in itself is an homage to poets of the past, in a setting of today.
These kind of works give a continuation through the flow of time, and a sense of belonging, a sense of direction, and a time for contemplation. It is a great pleasure to receive all these re–workings and variations of old but timeless pieces of art. They build bridges from yesterday to today and back, and on these bridges we can walk back and forth, and truly feel that all places are here, all times are now!
An analysis of Wilhelm Müller’s text and the circumstances around Schubert’s setting can be found at: www.bway.net/~hartung/schubert.html and more on Schubert and Winterreise, for example translations, can be enjoyed at: www.gopera.com/winterreise/.
[This review was also published in Sonoloco Record Reviews]