Truth and lies. Premiere by Miroslav Srnka in Munich
The clarinet as representative of the human voice, chorus and symphony orchestra as sounding spaces: with these resources Miroslav Srnka is on the search for truth in our digital world.
In his new composition “Speed of Truth” for the clarinettist Jörg Widmann, the Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of Bavarian Radio and the conductor Susanna Mälkki, very individual forces join together with a special constellation of musicians. In contemporary music the clarinet, with its huge variety of performing techniques, becomes one of the most colourful and surprising of all generators of sound. For Miroslav Srnka, the clarinettist and composer Jörg Widmann is a particularly inspiring soloist in his new work.
Does composing also mean developing new methods?
Miroslav Srnka: Absolutely, as the working method always helps bear the result. For each piece I have to newly develop the method. That makes it very slow. But if I followed the same path twice, the result would become encrusted. You would sense this straight away.
The texts of the new composition deal with truth. In which form?
I wanted to research what truth can mean in digital space. On the internet, masses of shared quotations and aphorisms circulate about truth, from Aristotle to the present day. One aspect about it is always highlighted. There are sometimes even contradictory quotations, but despite this both highlight something. At the same time such quotations are often attributed to important historic figures in order to give them credibility. And then there are websites which in turn analyse from whom the quotations really originate. Even the first digital sources of the “truths about truth” are characterized by untruths.
It is about trust between musicians amongst themselves, and between the podium and auditorium there is also a kind of trust. The entire history of text settings is based on such a “contract”. To relativize this is my premiss for this work.
Does truth in fact exist?
If there were a simple answer to this, we would not be in such misery at the present. Often I hear: “We must recreate truth.” But that is never going to be possible again. We have to develop completely new concepts and spaces for understanding.
What does composing for choir mean for you?
The chorus stands between music and semantics. There are psychological tricks which can destroy our trust in what semantics and music are. If you repeat the word “Wahrheit” [truth] often enough in quick succession, you lose your trust in the word. Alternatively, if you repeat a short text exactly often enough, it becomes music in our understanding. That is called the “speech-to-song” effect. The means of propaganda – that is to win a “truth” for ourselves – is also constant repetition: the continual assertion that something is true.
How do you work with Jörg Widmann?
In preparing the work we met many times. It was always exciting for both of us. When Jörg, as a composer, explains something about his instrument, he can demonstrate in two sentences what entire books cannot explain. It is the pure happiness of a compositional “nerd” to think up a sound for an instrument which I do not play myself “theoretically”, but which then actually works with the soloist.
In your most recent pieces, you have worked with new kinds of forms of notation which give the performer a greater amount of freedom. Is this also the case here?
With this piece I constantly ask myself: how do I create a unified notation so that it includes the almost unnotatable, long-rehearsed sounds of the solo clarinet, but at the same time is quickly and instinctively comprehensible to the orchestral clarinettists? How do I notate for the chorus the consonants in the transition between beatbox-like percussive sounds, spoken voice and supported sung sections.And nevertheless, the notation only remains the surface. The substance of a piece can never be notated. This almost absolute certainty of having to fail with notation makes the search so exciting and so endless.
Interview by Marie Luise Maintz
(from “[t]akte” 1/2019)