Allegorical Wind Quintet

In this quintet five different texts from five different realms and times, spoken in five different languages by five persons of different age and character, are allegorically associated with the five instruments of the quintet. In each movement music and pre-recorded texts are combined in a different manner. As all instruments in turn feature as soloist in one of the movements, each one is characterized and contextualized by means of textual references to the respective historical period of its origination.

A herd of cattle – somehow suggested by the herding tune – represents an original or natural form of order. Add the herder, who entertains himself on his Mujanji flute, and one is tempted to imagine a situation of Arcadian quality.

Being the most ancient of the five, the flute opens the work. Following the recent single-origin hypothesis (the theory that archaic Homo Sapiens evolved to modern humans solely in (East) Africa), it seems compelling to assume that the flute was first invented in Africa. Hence the first movement is scored for the somewhat breathy colour of the piccolo, treating this instrument somewhat like an African reed pipe (umtshingo). Moreover, with its senza tempo opening it evokes an ‘unmeasured’ (pre-historical) space, eventually leading to cyclical, repetitive patterns, reminiscent of indigenous African musical structures. By way of referencing an early stage of anthropological development, the music is linked to a nursery song with ensuing poem and narration as recounted by a young Bugandan girl. (I.)

Skipping a few millennia, the next instrument to appear chronologically is the oboe. It is associated here with the Greek aulos, a widespread reed instrument in antiquity. Two excerpts of ancient Greek poetry by Sappho and Meleagros – recited by a young man in strict verse metre – offer a speculative reading of how musical structures might have been determined rhythmically by following the prosody of recited poetry. (II.)

Next in the line is the horn, portrayed here as a rather crude medieval instrument of war. The rendition of a battle scene from Heinrich der Vogelaer’s Rabenschlacht in Middle High-German dialect offers a ferociously graphic description of the tumultuous violence, in the midsts of which – what we now consider a most noble instrument – might have sounded first. (III.)

After this the tone adopts the Baroque sophistication of La Rochefoucault’s highly polished Maximes, courtly supported by the bassoon with a quasi-baroque basso continuo line. (IV.)

From the scepticism and resignation of these aphorisms it is but a small step to the overtly cynical and decadent world of Oscar Wilde, which characterizes the last movement. The clarinet, leaning heavily towards a saxophone idiom, now plays the solo part, creating a sensuous atmosphere for an insinuating passage from The Picture of Dorian Gray (V.)

This quintet (or rather double-quintet, if one adds the narrators to the instrumentalists) is a playful fivefold portrayal of historical periods (or atmospheric abstractions thereof) by means of style parody and broad contextualization. Conceived as illustrative music it requires the performers to strive for a high degree of musical abstraction and reflection. The task at hand is not the presentation of an immediate performance (of one’s own playing), but rather the re-presentation and reinterpretation of a variety of musical modes and styles. In this sense the composition, as well as its performance, amounts to an essay in applying the narrative (or ‘operatic’) means of rhetoric and dramatization to a purely instrumental genre.