ENS.2007.5 | 17′
Poems by Paul Celan, trans. Pierre Joris
Soprano & Clarinet, Viola, Piano



After completing Still Morning I wanted to further explore the implications of the approach first discovered in that piece, where short poems are set to vocal melodies over a unison line of repeated musical “cells” to form a compacted song cycle.

Paul Celan has long been my favorite poet, and a setting of his work seemed overdue, especially with the appearance of excellent translations of his late work (my favorite) by Pierre Joris, so when I discovered the twenty-one poems of Breathturn had originally been published as a separate cycle called Breathcrystal, I didn’t need to look elsewhere. The melancholy and fragmentation of his work seemed to call for a darker sound, so I decided to use the classic Mozartian combination of clarinet, viola and piano, which was also taken up by Schumann in the wonderful Marchenerzahlungen op. 132, a personal favorite.

As in Still Morning I tried to unify the piece by favoring certain intervals (darker and more dissonant this time) and certain rhythmic shapes (more asymmetrical this time), although this time I attempted to somewhat disguise the unison properties of the accompaniment. As I worked I found certain ideas recurring, so that something vaguely resembling rondo form began to emerge; while there is no strict structure being followed, nevertheless I tried to give the piece a sense of symmetry by suggesting earlier ideas in later songs and reprising key musical ideas in the long poem, Eroded, that brings the work to a final frozen stillness.

Halfway through composition Kurt Vonnegut passed away, and as he had long been one of my favorite authors Breathcrystal is dedicated to his memory.