Radar Ensemble: “La fabbrica”

A week ago we had a remarkable performance with Radar Ensemble of which I am a member. On the program were pieces related by topics, political circumstances and friendships between authors: Friedrich Goldmann’s Drei Ensembleszenen (Three Scenes for Ensemble, 2002) Luigi Nono’s La fabbrica illuminata (1964) and Georg Katzer’s La fabbrica abbandonata (2005) based on a short story by Wolfgang Hilbig.

Luigi Nono: La fabbrica abbandotata
Field recordings from a rolling mill are a main component in La fabbria illuminata by Luigi Nono. Furthermore, Nono used texts by Giuliano Scabia and Cesare Pavese – comments of workers and sentences from their labor contracts – as well as singins voices (choir and a solo soprano voice) and electronic sounds. The tape recordings, some of them unbearably loud and noisy, are combined with the solo soprano voice. The background of the piece is Nono’s critics of working conditions in Italian factories.
After finishing the piece in 1964, Nono had been invited by worker’s cultural circles to perform his music in the rolling mill in Genova where he took his recordings, as well as in factories in other Italian towns. In a conversation with Hansjörg Pauli in 1969 Nono tells about the reception of his performances:

“I used the same approach in all places: First I gave some general explanations and then showed instrumental music, vocal music and electronic pieces. An in al cases the result was the same: the workers had difficulties with the instrumental and vocal pieces; probably because the acoustic material is bound to a cultural development from which they were – and still are – excluded. (…)
The difficulties that appeared with instrumental and vocal music were wiped away with the elctronic pieces which used the acoustic material of today. There were no fundamental objections any more and no aesthetic-oriented questions. Nobody wondered if this was still music, and no one said that a music like this would at best work accompanying science-fiction on TV. They workers asked directly how this was composed, how facotry noises and labor contracts could turn into music. Everything they heard they immediately related to themselves. And then they blamed me and said the noises in my piece, ‘La fabbrica illuminata’, were by far not as strong as those they were used to. They noticed that. They realized that they had been going to the factory like robots and had done their work without thinking about it. Now they suddenly got aware, by the comparison, under what acoustic conditions they were working, and they started to think about if it needed to be this way and if there was a possibility to change it.”

(Hansjörg Pauli: Für wen komponieren Sie eigentlich?, Frankfurt 1971. Translation: Nora-Louise Müller)

Friedrich Goldmann: Drei Ensembleszenen
In our concert, La fabbrica illuminata was paired with Drei Ensembleszenen by Friedrich Goldmann (1941-2009) who was well-known in communist East-Germany (GDR) at the time. Goldmann, a student of the boarding school of the famous Dresdner Kreuzchor and thus equipped with a very thorough music theory knowledge at an early age, had already been composing as a boy and got acquainted to Paul Dessau. With Dessau’s help, he got permission to take part in the Darmstädter Ferienkurse in 1959, as an 18year-old, where he took class with Karlheinz Stockhausen and first met Luigi Nono. (In the following years, Goldmann was re-invited to Darmstadt but was prohibited to travel by the GDR ministry of culture.) Goldmann and Nono became friends, and during Nono’s frequent visits to East Berlin – as a member of the Italian communist party Nono officially was a welcome guest to the GDR – he used to stay at Friedrich and Lina Goldmann’s house. Goldmann worked as a freelance composer and music director, often with Berliner Ensemble, and he conducted many contemporary music concerts, e.g. the German premiere of Luigi Nono’s Prometeo.

Drei Ensembleszenen, composed for the same instrumentation as Katzer’s 2005 version of La fabbrica abbandonata (except trumpet), is a composition rich in detail. Each movement is about 5 minutes long. Conductor Gerhard Scherer had worked a lot with us on precision in cues, finest dynamic differenciation and a detailes balance of sound colours. A very good work that deserves far more performances.
(sources: talk with Gerhard Scherer and friedrichgoldmann.com)

Georg Katzer: La fabbrica abbandonata
Georg Katzer, another close friend of Friedrich Goldmann and well-known composer in former GDR, took his inspiration from Wolfgang Hilbig’s 1971 short story Die verlassene Fabrik (The Abbandoned Factory). Hilbig, born in 1941 in a village in Saxony – later part of the GDR – did an apprenticeship as a toolmaker before working in opencast pit. Being an autodidact writer, he was delegated by the GDR government to a „circle of writing workers“ in 1967 (but evicted a short time later because his critical and intellectual texts were not welcome). Since 1970 he had been working as a stoker in a factory in his hometown Meuselwitz, „a decrepit town of steampipes, soot and cut-down linden trees“ (Hilbig). His impressions inspired the above-mentioned short story, recalling the eerie atmosphere in an out-of-use factory building with the stoker, visiting the abandoned area, dying from an unseen person’s hand. Hilbig’s first publications came out in West-Germany in 1978; his dark, unfiltred writings, describing his experiences as a factroy worker in direct words, were not wanted by the GDR government. It was not before 1983, supported by writer Franz Fühmann, that works by Wolfgang Hilbig were published in the GDR.
Photographer Dietrich Oltmanns portraied Hilbig and his home town Meuselwitz in 1983, underlining Hilbig’s own literary decribtion of the atmosphere:
Oltmanns’ photo series
Georg Katzer had been visiting an abandoned factory somewhere in the former GDR in the beginnings of the 2000s; after the fall of the Berlin wall, many firms had to close down. The atmosphere in the building touched Katzer, and he decided to set Hilbig’s text to music. Instead of ending the piece with the death of the stoker, he extends the story by using another short text by Hilbig, Episode, which describes the encounter with a pheasant.
Katzer’s first version of La fabbrica abbandonata was a structured improvisation for four musicians; the second version, which we played, was composed and premiered in 2005 for an ensemble of twelve musicians, including accordeon and electric guitar. The lowest string of all four string players (2vl, 2 vc) is tuned one octave lower which creates the morbid, muffled, distorted sound that is featured throughout the piece. The percussion set-up includes discarded metal parts that add a great effect to the factory noises played by the ensemble (pizzicati, slaps, prepared piano) and from a tape. Well-known actress Corinna Harfouch spoke Hilbig’s text.

(To be corrected and continued.)


About msmullerful

Freelance musician (clarinetist), mostly involved in contemporary music projects but still able to play the classic repertoire.
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