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Learning In Freundschaft

While here in Cologne I’ve been working on some of the big contemporary repertoire pieces for the flute. With Camilla Hoitenga I’ve been tackling Stockhausen’s In Freundschaft – originally for clarinet and scored for a great many different orchestral instruments. Indeed, the meaning behind the title is twofold, referring both to Stockhausen’s friendship with clarinettist Suzanne Stephens, for whom the piece was written as a birthday present, and to the friendship that might be developed between the different instruments by giving them a piece that they could each of them play and make their own. Camilla has been playing the work since the 1980s, and has performed it for Stockhausen, so has had plenty of great advice!

This is my first Stockhausen work, and to be honest I’m not overly familiar with his oeuvre. As with many musicians, my impressions have been mostly of his more dramatic and eccentric exploits. His Helikopter-Streichquartett for instance, and his Tierkreis (Zodiac) cycle.

While in Cologne I have also been fortunate enough to participate in Barbara Maurer’s classes at the Hochschule, where we had a go at some of Stockhausen’s text pieces, Aus den Sieben Tagen. I found these actually to be very thoughtful, interesting works – seemingly simple, but a real challenge to perform convincingly.

In Freundschaft is a fifteen-minute work requiring the performer to memorise and incorporate movements that embody structural and melodic elements of the score. The compositional structure is designed to be audible – an exercise in listening that Stockhausen elucidates in his lecture “The Art, to Listen”. The melodic material that forms the basis of the entire work is given in the very first line, five fragments that he calls ‘limbs’ and that he then inverts and otherwise manipulates (in line with the traditions of serialism), interspersed with a ‘middle layer’ of trills. The piece is essentially the gradual coming together of the limbs and their inversions through seven melodic cycles, with the addition of two cadenza-esque ‘explosions’ after the third and sixth cycle. I’m not going to outline the structure further here, but any performers learning the work should seek out a text of the lecture to get a clear idea of how the work comes together.

It’s interesting to compare the learning process to other contemporary works I’ve been looking at, such as Cassandra’s Dream Song, by Brian Ferneyhough. Cassandra, composed some seven years before In Freundschaft, is a work of new complexity and features extremely detailed and at times contradictory directions – the effort to make the sounds asked for is in fact part of the work. Stockhausen is almost minimalistic by comparison, and every one of his directions must be followed exactly as written. The rhythms need to be one hundred percent accurate, and the best way to assure this is to subdivide into semiquavers. No confusion arises from what is printed in the score, but part of the challenge is to realise this absolutely.

Ritardandos and accelerandos are extreme, usually at least halving or doubling the tempo. Sometimes it is so slow, or a trill held so long, that it becomes very difficult to maintain the sense of continuity. But it should never become stilted, it’s more like super slow-mo – a constant sense of motion just stretched out a lot. The first ‘explosion’ is really the only place you can be quite free, playing with the phrasing and using rubato.

As I learnt the work and got the sense for its mathematical precision and structural development, I began to incorporate the movements and to start the memorisation process. For me, this is where the real challenges arose. For the lopsided flautist, achieving even motions on both side of the body requires dramatically fast and somewhat awkward changes. In my lessons with Camilla, she’s filmed me to show how such movements can exacerbate other bad habits, such as leading with my head – working on these movements has helped me to have a bit more body awareness, and to move from my torso more.

While the repetition of the cycles should make memorising fairly straightforward, the subtle changes between each present a challenge! Particularly difficult is the ‘middle layer’, the trills, which in some cases start on F, some on Gb, in various dynamic and length combinations. The notey cadenzas are somewhat easier to lock into the brain!

So it’s a work in progress, but I am hoping to find the time to perform In Freundschaft while I am home in Brisbane in July. In the spirit of the work, I would love to hear from other instrumentalists who have played the work – their experiences of learning and performing it. Hopefully I will meet some while at the Darmstadt summer festival in August.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Teasing out the subtleties: Thoughts on our upcoming ‘Tempi Espressivi’ | Kupka's Piano

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