temA 50 years on

Plenty of commemorations are taking place this year, in remembrance of the many 1968 revolutionary movements from Paris to Prague to Mexico City. In the modest scale of our particular field, many pieces could be spotlighted from that tumultuous year. One that strikes me as particularly significant is Helmut Lachenmann’s temA.

That was the first piece I ever heard of Lachenmann, as a teenager, twenty years ago: My first reaction wasn’t good. It took me time, and one generous person who took the time to show me more of his music and how carefully it was written, and encouraged us –then young students– to leave aside preconceptions of what music should be like, in order to simply listen.

I so often come across views, nowadays, of this music in terms of ‘extended techniques’, revealing what I can’t help seeing as a rather superficial understanding of composition. I even had the misfortune, many years ago, of witnessing a well-known ensemble introduce their concert of this repertoire with what they called an ‘improvisation in the spirit of Helmut Lachenmann’: All sorts of instrumental noises, randomly scattered here and there, and so little understanding.

This music was about redefining beauty, retuning listening, reinventing musical instruments, finding new forms of making sense, new forms of sensibility, new forms of dealing with history and musical tradition. Had it been merely about so-called ‘extended techniques’, it wouldn’t be still relevant half a century later.

© Pedro Alvarez, 2018

(Image: Extract from temA, ©1971 by Musikverlag Hans Gerig, Cologne)