HERMANN NITSCH (b.1938): Symphony No. 9 "Die Ägyptische".
Catalogue Number: 07M011
Description: As in all his art, Nitsch seeks in his music to strip away the convoluted and intellectual 'Glass Bead Games' that he and Marthé, his disciple, find in too much contemporary music, and replace them with an anti-intellectual, purely visceral experience (an apt choice of words, given his notorious art installations involving actual viscera), intended to evoke raw emotional response. To say that Nitsch uses the form of the traditional symphony is analogous to the image of a great library from which the stale intellectual texts have been removed, and molten lava directed into the void. The shell of the structure may be detectable as the inferno consumes it ... After a brief and misleadingly meek introductory common chord on the organ, the full orchestra slams into action forte-fortissimo, and stays that way for the remainder of the first movement. After some nine minutes the dissonant orchestral screaming is replaced by sepulchral rumblings and grindings, which gradually accumulate texture in the form of baying brass, ultimately returning to something similar to what went before. For the final five minutes of the movement the full-bodied texture is abruptly replaced by a noise-textured screaming, which persists as a daemonic background to further saurian howls and roars from brass and percussion. A return to the organ chord of the opening heralds the arrival of the scherzo, an idiotic peasant dance that goes around and around in increasingly noisy village- and military-band garb, like a Mahler Ländler hideously distorted and danced by post-apocalypse, demented, less-than-civilized remnants of civilization. After a while the composer can't resist reintroducing the formless grinding machinery of the first movement; then the Ländler reasserts itself - eventually our unfortunate descendants are reduced to tribal drumming and the meaningless tolling of the bells of the ruined churches. The 'meditative adagio' that follows starts off meditative enough, with the simple organ chord present throughout as a drone over which layers of increasingly dissonant texture build. Inevitably, though, the churning machinery of the first movement intrudes, though this time it is abruptly displaced by a radiant major chord in choir and strings, which is then adhered to for some ten minutes. The organ chord remains to link to the final movement, ushered in by the dissonant blasts that have become the symphony's recurring motif. Positive and negative energies are symbolized in this summation of the work's argument by sustained major block chords blatantly borrowed from Nitsch's idol, Bruckner, and jolly marching-band music, alternating with the work's most appalling noises yet - screaming whistles and rattles, perhaps the most hellish assault on the ears ever committed in the context of symphonic music. The work ends in a Brucknerian apotheosis extended to more than heavenly length, accompanied by what sounds like the bells of the world's churches ringing out in celebration (and probably is, thanks to contemporary sampling technology). It is certainly a legitimate aim of art - some art at least - to disturb, to shake the audience out of their complacent view of the world, and Nitsch is unquestionably very, very good at this - so if you have the stomach for it, and a ready supply of sedatives or possibly, painkillers, for afterwards, you are unlikely to come away from this work unmoved or unchanged. 2 CDs. European Philharmonic Orchestra; Peter Jan Marthé.