For soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, narrator and 5 orchestra groups

Path to the Opera :

In situating this piece within the cycle, the following propositions are an attempt to clarify my position on the question of the place and the relation between texts and music in a symphonic or theatrical piece.

The history of opera, or more exactly a certain history of opera, is a question of exhausting a number of technical olutions concerning the development of a dramatic plot; this plot has, in principle, a musical equivalent, a sort of mirror in the progression of musical forms.

In Mozart’s arias the ritornello, or refrain, seems to arise from the theatrical reading of the text. The chronology of one in relation to the other would be valid if the immediate transitivity between text and music were not a characteristic of classical opera; the melodic curves of the narration, apart from creating a language between words and song, are clearly articulated in a harmonic progression that expresses a coherence in accord with the development of the work, or part of it.

From the Mozartian recitative to the « recitative style » of Pélléas by Debussy, there is not a jump, but a shift towards a kinetics more organically linked to the work’s themes; in addition, there is also in Pélléas a symphonic aspect, whose different propositions are the orchestral interludes between the scenes, that summarize the previously stated material and also announce the following scene; they act as a transition, an opening, or a change in scene.

Midway between the two, the Wagnerian solution tends to define a musical correlation « in a mirror » of the situation of the characters at different moments in their history; the orchestral material, woven by the leitmotifs that are not only functional signals, but also the material that constructs the architecture of a musical time, creates this singular configuration that « musifies » the mythical figures of the characters and gives a « version » of their development.

In Berg’s Wozzeck... .

Sprache is an imaginary scene in which words find a space, and are pronounced, carried by singer-actors that represent the paradigmatic characters of the history of opera (the Baritone could be « Arkel » , the Tenor « Mario », the Mezzo « la comtesse Geschwitz » , the Soprano « Marie » or « Lulu »). Only the journalist (the narrator) is a set figure whose discourse represents maximum absence as he reads, at the beginning of the piece, a report on Kart Waldhuim’s visit to the Vatican, a report he did not write himself but that he presents « objectively » . He accepts « modern » responsibilities; he speaks of a place where there is no subject.

The singers are the « moving » subjects of a « verbal action » whose objective is not to resolve a dramatic tension; it is a « scene » veined by texts that were chosen globally by theme, and that address the question of the pronounced words, their written and spoken traces, their possible and impossible communication, in a way, their weight. It is not the texts that guide the music, but the musical form, the flow of events, that imposes certain texts and their successions and superpositions.

It could be advanced that Sprache does not serve the text, but uses the texts and situates them in a score that recomposes them in a musical context. The texts have different resonances that can be outlined in 4 archetypes:

-A direct or indirect invocation to love: Cummings , Goll , Garcia Lorca, or simply hope (poetry of the Indians of the Andes).

-The question of the validity, the absence, the presence, in short, the dimension of the words; this applies to the majority of the texts: Bachman, Paz, Sachs; the texts of Ingeborg Bachmann and Octavio Paz are sung together in six refrains using all vocal and instrumental performers.

-The metaphor constructed on a figure of « nature », a figure of «woman », a figure of « incarnation » (respectively Larkin, Plath, Montale); the texts of G. Webern (description of a chance encounter) and of Jacottet (description of a « listening » aesthetic) can be put in this category.

-The « delivery »-enunciation of a journalistic report, in a common language that expresses one does not know exactly what, perhaps awareness, the irony or horror of forgetting.

The text on Waldhuim is not central, but opens the work (it is recited in the very beginning by the narrator in the language of the country where the work is executed, then fragmented by the singers in several languages during a section that presents a musical equivalent of a « benediction race » by means of a rhythmic system (metric modulation) that accelerates and slows down neutral melodic material (pages 33 to 50 of the score), in the image of the trip from Fiumicino Airport to the Vatican, while passing the sites of Imperial Rome; this section is also punctuated by other texts that continue their paths to the end.

All of these texts are not really carried by the actor-subjects to be presented to a public (even though the set might give this impression); they are recited in the work’s space by musical/theatrical characters.

Sprache prepares the ground for a possible visualization of the imaginary space of language; the first step in the recomposition of a visual space leading to the opera L'Homme trouvé.

As to the scenic aspect of the work, the singers are in costume (cf. description of the costumes in the list) and are placed on podiums along with each orchestra group; Soprano/group 5 forward right, Mezzo/group 4 forward left, Tenor/group 1 back left, Baritone/ group 2 back right; the narrator is in the middle or behind group 3 in the beginning text, then reads Jacottet’s text voice-off (pages 89 and 90 of the score).

These podiums slowly disappear below the stage (or at least descend to the level of the musicians) during the performance of the work/ following scene, Étude pour le poème.

Here is the list and the contents of the texts used in Sprache, as well as their publishers; for their distribution in the work, cf. Synopsis.

E.e. cummings : 58 +58 poèmes (1928-1938). Editeur Christian Bourgois.

be of love
more careful
than of everything

Ivan Goll : « Malaiische Liebeslieder » (excerpts), Langewiesche, BrandtEbenHausen bei München.

O flüstre mir was ich dir bin
Erschüttere mich mit meiner eigenen Süsse
Entzücke mich mit meiner Schönheit

Also sung in French :

Chuchotte moi qui je suis
Étourdis moi de ma propre beauté
Séduis moi par ma langueur
La femme boit l'ivresse dans l'oreille de nacre

From the same volume :

Ich bin die Schwarze Spur
die dein Kanu ins Wasser schneidet
Ich bin der gehorsame Schatten
den deine Palme neben sich legt

Georg Webern : (unpublished exerpt from « Parisereien », with the author’s permission) :

Einer äußerst sensibler junger Mann in jenem Tabakladen
vermeidet es, mit dem Wechselgeld zu klingeln, meinend,
er werde sonst die schöne, junge Verkaüferin nervös machen.

Ingeborg Bachmann : « Die gestundete Zeit » from Psalm.
Piper & Co. Verlag, München.

In die Mulde meiner Stummheit
leg ein Wort
und zieh Wälder groß zu beiden Seiten
daß mein Mund ganz im Schatten liegt

« Anrufung des Grossen Bären » (excerpt). Piper & Co. Verlag, München.

Wort sei bei uns
von zärtlicher Geduld und Ungeduld
es muß dies Säen ein Ende nehmen

Octavio Paz : Seix Barral, Barcelona (no title, I quote from memory). « Semillas para un himno » (50/54) Fondo de la cultura economica,

El día abre la mano
tres nubes
y estas pocas palabras

Quechua poem ( Indians from the Andes), unknown source.

Hoy es el dia de mi partida
Hoy no me iré, me iré mañana

Philip Larkin : « The North Ship » (excerpt). Faber and Faber, London.

The moon is full tonight
and hurts the eyes,
It is so definite and bright

Nelly Sachs : « Glühende Rätsel » (excerpt), Suhrkamp, Frankfurt.

Wo nur finden die Worte
die Erhellten vom Erstlingsmeer
die Augen- Aufschlagenden
die nicht mit Zungen verwundeten
(Wo nur finden die Worte)
die von den Lichter-Weisen versteckten
fûr deine entzündete Himmelfahrt
die Worte die ein zum Schweigen gesteuertes Weltall
mitzieht in deine Frühlinge

Sylvia Plath : Selected Poems, « Edge » (excerpt), Faber and Faber, London.

The woman is perfected
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplisment

F. Garcia Lorca : « Divan del Tamarit », « Gacela del amor desesperado » (excerpt). Colección Austral, Madrid.

La noche no quiere venir
para que tú no vengas,
ni yo pueda ir.
Pero yo iré,
aunque un sol de alacranes me coma la sien.
Pero tú vendrás
con la lengua quemada por la lluvia de sal.

El día no quiere venir
para que tú no vengas,
ni yo pueda ir.

Pero yo iré,
entregando a los sapos mi mordido clavel.

Pero tú vendrás
por las turbias cloacas de la oscuridad.

Philippe Jacottet : « Pensées sous les nuages » to Henry Purcell, with permission of the author. Editions Gallimard.

Songe à ce que serait pour ton ouïe,
toi qui es à l'écoute de la nuit,
une très lente neige
de cristal.

E. Montale : Edizione Mondadori, Milano.

ecco il segno; s'innerva sul muro che s'indora :
un frastaglio di palma bruciato dai barbagli dell'aurora.

Il passo che proviene della sera si lieve,
non è felpato dalla neve, è ancora tua vita,
sangue tuo nelle mie vene.

D. Cohen