ENS.2020.6 | 22′
I. Evening Song
II. Winter Sun
Seeland is an orchestral piece inspired by the work of Robert Walser, the wildly productive Swiss author of thousands of remarkably original, mostly tiny texts. Although best known for his feuilletons, brief prose works often first published in newspapers, his novel Jakob van Gunten is considered one of the great European novels of the twentieth century, and when given the opportunity to publish collections of his stories, considerable effort went into polishing and preparing them for print.
Considered by many his most important collection, Seeland, or Lake Country, includes some of his best known and carefully worked longer pieces such as The Walk and Kleist in Thun. My reasons for selecting this title echo Walser’s own: “The title is sensuous and simple…‘Lake Country’ can be in Switzerland or anywhere—in Australia, in Holland, or wherever else…I consider the title appropriate in every way because it sounds as simple and unassuming as it is sensuously vivid and vitally earthly. It seems to me both objective and also colorful and charming…and there is something magical in the sound of the word, Seeland.”
There are two movements, their titles drawn however from poems, not stories, as this work is meant to pay homage to Walser’s work generally rather than specifically depict it. Evening Song evokes the glowing magic hour of sunset, beginning with luminous chords rising into a darkening sky, before giving way to yearning melodies hovering over a slowly churning sea. Winter Sun depicts a kind of imaginary journey across snow-covered fields such as the one traversed by Walser on that cold Christmas Day in 1956 when he suddenly fell dead while taking a walk. In such landscapes all sense of scale drops away, tiny objects made huge and large objects reduced to mere specks, as in Walser’s writing; the metaphor in my head as I composed was of air travel, where though one moves at a tremendous speed the mountains and plains below barely seem to stir.
Tragically, Walser was committed to an asylum and wrote nothing in the final decades of his life. “I am not here to write,” he famously said, “but to be mad.” Whether he was so remains an open question, or whether, as his eminently sensible writing suggests, it was instead the world around him that had gone mad, and Walser the one sane man standing at his century’s deranged center.