Programme Notes

Lines V (Chanukka)

for bass clarinet, violin,cello and accordion

As a non-believer, religious festivals do not mean a great deal to me. I find it difficult to identify with their historical and cultural background, which do not seem to resonate with me and the world I live in.

Irrespective of culture and religion, what I am able to appreciate when it comes to festivals of light is the notion of hope. In times of gloom and darkness, the wish for light and warmth is a basic human need which can be articulated in different ways: by both religious rites and works of art, most poignantly perhaps when people express utopian hopes (we know that all people will never be brothers – and this is precisely why we celebrate, time and again, a work that expresses this hope in such an inspiring way).

In my short piece, the bass clarinet plays a line which leads from its lowest note to its highest register. I have borrowed the structure of this upwards movement from the Jewish Hanukkah festival: in eight successively shorter sections, an increasing number of high notes are played: one in the first section, two in the second and eight in the final eighth section. The accordion, violin and cello are the instruments that play these notes, thereby creating a harmonic space that becomes gradually brighter.

The resulting musical process can be regarded as an expression of hope – and each individual can choose what to hope for.

Lines IV

for flute, bass clarinet and accordion (2016)

As in the previous pieces in the same series of works, Lines IV contains a network of contrapuntal lines which generate musical energy. During the course of the piece, 22 voices move from the most extreme registers towards a single central point. Individual points on these lines are, in turn, connected with each other by a whole series of subordinate lines. The instruments find their own way through this web of voices and express themselves according to the technical possibilities available to them. The tempo, which slows down systematically, and the gradual reduction in the number of voices, determines the course of the piece.

In this very moment

On the stage is a narrator; speakers and instruments are distributed across the room. An introspective main text, consisting of observations of daily life in rural surroundings and the reflections, emotions and realisations that they trigger in the narrator. Fragments of music which are fed via speakers, sung by a female voice and accompanied by an oboe, hint at a love affair that has recently ended. The plot is embedded in ‘musical stage sets’: recordings from the natural environment which, depending on the situation, either transition imperceptibly from one to the other or change abruptly. The instruments connect the ‘objective’ sounds from the natural environment with the narrator’s own ‘subjective’ sphere. They grow out of the sound feeds, are condensed in places to a layer which contrasts with the sounds from nature, or form a homogeneous field of sound with the recorded feeds.

The recordings of sounds from the natural environment are imported via a special recording and playback process (ambisonics) into the performance space. In contrast to the traditional distribution in fixed channels, acoustic signals are distributed across all the available speakers. The aim is to reproduce the original listening situation as accurately as possible.

The collaboration between the composer, Alexander Stankovski, and the author, Xaver Bayer, takes on elements of a melodrama due to the combination of a speaking voice and instrumental music – and by means of a consciously selected form of verse such as the nature poem. The text is recited to music, although both text and music can exist independently of each other, thereby creating at a given moment a situation akin to a concert or a spoken theatre production.

Its hybrid structure means that the piece can be presented in two versions: live as a concerto-like performance on stage or as a radiophonic audio piece. The feeds from the live version that was first performed at the festival Wien modern were created at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) in Zurich with the support of the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM) in Graz. The audio version was produced and broadcast via the Austrian broadcaster ORF’s programme ‘Kunstradio’.

Xaver Bayer’s text appeared in the book ‘Aus dem Nebenzimmer’ (‘From the next room’) published by ‘Korrespondenzen’.


for violin solo (2003, rev. 2016)

The basic idea behind my Courante for solo violin from 2003 was the composition of a single-part line while making full use of the instrument’s technical possibilities (quarter tones, harmonics, glissandi), but without any chords. I am interested in the concept of ‘lines’ – a more neutral term for monadic music than ‘melodies’, with its aura of nostalgia – because they allow for continuity, suspense and coherence over long periods of time. In this piece, this coherence is guaranteed by a mirroring technique, which was developed especially for it: starting from a two-tone cell at the beginning, the technique pieces together increasingly long segments of music which alternately advance and retreat, whereby small deviations may occur in each reflection which accumulate over time and determine the course of the piece. Throughout the piece, it is possible to recognise similar motifs time and again, which are embedded in a flow of contrasting and unexpected musical events: these, however, are all derived from the same core. The Courante’s gesture by no means flows as evenly as the baroque dance of the same name. The piece starts, according to the performance instructions, ‘very hastily and precipitously’, calms down gradually towards the middle (‘with decreasing restlessness’), increases in speed and becomes more dense towards the end, and finally ‘draws on its remaining strength to reach its goal’.

Dream Journal

for piano (2014)

My piano piece „Traumprotokoll“ (dream journal) is a suite of eleven independent, but subcutaneously related mini-bagatelles, which emerged from spontaneous improvisation and were exposed to rational criticism only in the process of formulating the details; a consolidation of fugitive moods, semiconscious memory fragments, impalpable and accidental connections.

The piece was comissioned by Till Fellner and is dedicated to him. 

Cena povera

for guitar and percussion (2012)

Is there any beauty in poverty?

Establishing a connection between poverty and beauty is reserved for those who can afford to draw some sort of aesthetic pleasure from the poverty of others. It comes as no surprise that opera goers are carried away by ‘La Bohème’, while most artists face more or less precarious living and working conditions.

Why is frugality a virtue?

Ever since the classical modern period, aesthetic education requires us to regard the ‘economy of means’ as an aesthetic value. The question remains as to why it is that rational economic behaviour is presented as an artistic ideal, whether this frugality is often enforced instead of being freely chosen and at what point frugality turns into scarcity.

Te appeal of constraint

And yet constraint does have a certain appeal – e.g. in dishes which originate from Europe’s poorer regions: getting the best possible result from the little that is available, compensating for somewhat meagre ingredients with creative preparation, capitalizing on shortages to foster creativity. All that matters is who is doing the cooking and how hungry you are.

A House of Mirrors III

for string quartet (2010-2014)

A House of Mirrors III is the third of a series of pieces that take the notion of a continuous musical flow as their starting point, and in which the context of the composition is always both audible and tangible. Its further course remains, however, unforeseeable.

The most important aid when realising this idea is a so-called ‘distorted mirror’ technique which was initially tested manually but was ultimately refined and generalised with the help of a computer. Starting from a single rhythmic and intervallic cell, a chain of micro variations is formed by a series of mirrors which are linked by slight deviations of interval, duration, playing style and dynamics. The further course of the piece depends on the mirroring depth (how much of the previously played material is mirrored), the degree of deviation (the extent to which this material is modified) and the number of instruments which are mirrored together (how compact or individualised the instruments are).

In contrast to many earlier pieces, A House of Mirrors III was not developed based on a pre-defined overall structure. In the composition process, the computer played the role of both a navigation instrument and a log book, marking the way to an unforeseeable realm. The decision to dispense with the computer in the second half of the piece was also unforeseeable: it reflects back from the middle to the beginning, thereby providing a complete, if distorted, reflection of the first part of the piece.

Images I-III

for flute (also piccolo and bass flute) solo (2009)

Music as an image of real sounds: a sound sample recorded outside, lasting approximately one minute, was transferred as precisely as possible to the piccolo, then doubled in length and transposed to a lower pitch. The resulting ‘doubles’ for flute and/or bass flute contain elements which appear only marginally in the piccolo piece. The musical image distances itself ever more from the ‘real’ original.



for orchestra (2009)

The title of my orchestral miniature refers to its clear contours, sharp edges and contrasts (which, from a musical perspective, relates to my general interest in concise expression and, more particularly, single-part lines).

Cliffs, however, also mean danger. Those who get too close to the edge can easily fall off – or be pushed. The piece was written for Vienna’s Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSO) – the orchestra that, for the last 40 years, has dared to take more risks than others.

A House of Mirrors I

für Bassklarinette und Akkordeon (2008)

- Two instrumental parts that unfold independently from one another

- The same compositional technique applies to both

- Each exists in its own right, yet they still have something in common


Gugging Songs

for mezzo-soprano, reciter, flute (also piccolo and alto flute), horn, harp and double bass (2007/2015)

The texts of Gugging’s ‘hidden artists’, with their emotional directness and defencelessness, seem to require a musical sequel. My Gugging Songs are not so much a song cycle as direct snap shots of extreme psychological situations.


Riddle of a day

for flute, harp and string trio (2007, revised 2012)

Just how realistic can music be? How precisely can it render the events and situations of real life? Can this rendition even make sense from a musical point of view? My quintet, which is named after a picture by Giorgio de Chirico, depicts the course of a single day in five movements. The first movement is a piece which focuses on the night and the passing from day to night; the second is a representation of morning bird song; the form of the third movement is inspired by the course of the sun; the fourth is based on a well-known afternoon flute solo; the fifth closes the loop back to the beginning. The degree of abstraction varies from one movement to the other and with it the extent to which the connection to ‘reality’ is recognizable. It is comparable to the degree to which a picture, a photograph or a symbol reflects the reality that is being depicted.

Frescobaldi da lontano

for piano (2003-2005)

Frescobaldi da lontano is a set of 20 variations on the Capriccio cromatico con ligature al contrario by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643). The original text is reinterpreted using various compositional techniques such as fragmentation, interpolation, diastematic and rhythmic transposition, anagram or superposition. In our memories, tradition is transformed – and appears not as a given or something that is self-evident but as a legacy that is consciously recalled. The distance that separates us from it is always measured anew.

11 spaces

for violin [or viola], accordion and double bass (2002)

Eleven sections, each of which is characterised by a particular duration, rhythms based on different divisions of this duration and contrasting musical components (ranges, scales, harmonic fields, noises) that bring these rhythms to life. The last section presents the whole piece once again, but on a smaller scale; the last section of that section also then rendered on a smaller scale and so on until the whole piece is reduced to a single beat. This represents a formal strategy that is typical of the fourteenth century isorhythmic motet, yet exaggerated and taken to extremes – the piece disappears, as it were, into itself.


Voices, syllables

for soprano solo (2002)

Voices, syllables is more or less a shortened version of my 20-minute cycle Pessoa for soprano, baritone and 5 instruments. In this cycle, Fernando Pessoa's drama-like split of his literary oeuvre into different heteronyms are reflected in stylistically and technically very different movements, which are compressed here in a short soprano solo. Constantly changing expression calls for a virtuoso performer like Anna Maria Pammer, to whom this piece is dedicated.



Lines II

for 2 clarinets (2001-2015)

The title identifies what this cycle is all about: ‘lines’ as a collective term for melodic contexts: in different forms – ranging from a melody played in unison by two instruments to a counterpoint of independent voices; composed in different ways – from ‘calculated’ proportioning to a spontaneous approach; expressive in different ways – from a lament to a competition. Ultimately, these pieces are also a journey through all the registers of the clarinet family, from the E-flat and B-flat clarinets to the basset horn and bass clarinet as well as two contrabass clarinets.

Spaces I-IV

for spatially distributed ensemble and electronics (2000)

4 commentaries

1. Like a sound of nature

Mahler’s indication in the score ‘Like a sound of nature’ is paradoxical: the musicians are instructed to produce sounds on their instruments which refer to a sphere which is beyond the boundaries of music. Tone sequences are not exposed as themes or motifs but appear as sounds that are external to the symphonic discourse, even though they are also – and this is where the paradox comes in – part of Mahler’s hypertrophic networks of derivations, variations, evolutions etc. Mahler transplants artistically alien sounds and the aura surrounding them to the realm of art music – an approach that both diverges from and relativises art.

2. Total sound space/arbitrary borders

Following the radical blurring of musical boundaries during the course of the last century (from the emancipation of dissonances to sampling), fresh demarcations seem unavoidable. Cage’s ‘total sound space’ needs to be measured, subdivided and filtered. The difference to earlier times is as follows: borders may be freely defined, only apply temporarily and can be shifted at any moment – nothing can guarantee their stability. If they are to be perceptible at all, the available material must be reduced to a typical excerpt from it, which remains stable enough for a certain amount of time (in other words, redundant), so that it may be differentiated from other excerpts, if required.

3. Mind the gap

In my view, composing requires me to take decisions, set boundaries, and stake out areas. I am unable to compose if I do not have a defined space for taking decisions. The definition itself – the limitation of my decision-making scope – can vary from piece to piece, from movement to movement within any one piece, from one musical layer to the next or from section to section. What interests me is the juxtaposition of differently defined spaces. My intention is not to convey opposites but to experience incommensurability.

4. Why electronics?

I regard electronic and traditional instruments as two fundamentally different things. The electronics in Spaces I-IV are not designed to be blended with the ensemble but to implant alien spaces in the concert hall.


for 11 instruments (1999)

This piece is directly derived from the second movement of the Mirror-Mask-Face sextet, which is itself based on a piano trio which I composed earlier. In this piano trio, I had reworked excerpts from one by Brahms. Brahms’ original piece and the question related to it (a confrontation between historical material and the contemporary treatments of it) were already of no relevance in the sextet. What the three pieces have in common relates to the approach that I have adopted: a finished piece of music is used as the basis for new formulations. The border between composition and reworking becomes permeable, new aspects of what had only appeared to be a finished piece of music come to the fore.


for six instruments (1997-99, rev. 2011)

My sextett Spiegel-Maske-Gesicht (mirror-mask-face) consists of three extremely contrasing movements. More than parts of a whole, they portray splinters of a broken mirror, each one showing a different image.

The first movement is a 8-part mirror canon based on a symmetrical chord, which remains constant throughout. The second movement, unlike the stasis and harmonic unity of the first, is a sequence of loosely connected fragments, representing a kind of Momentform. These fragments are based on excerpts of my piano trio, written in 1993.

The third movement is music about music as well. Derived from Debussy's piano piece Masques, the material is constantly being transformed, until the sound of the instruments is "turned off" abruptly. Only the gestures of the musicians remain.

Lines I

for alto flute and trombone (1996)

The title Lines is meant literally: the compositional interest relates mainly to contrapuntal webs of voices which are not only formed from the combination of two voices which are distributed over the two instruments, alto flute and trombone, but can also consist of up to five different sub-voices within each part which progress at the same time, superimposed upon each other. This results in a sequence of tones which ascends or descends in half, quarter or eighth tones, which are characterised by a common form of articulation, timbre or dynamic. The piece consists of ten short movements of different length, which can be played in the order of the performers’ choice. The lines’ rhythmic values and intervals either increase or decrease in a regular manner and, from one movement to the other, cover different sections of the tonal space within one single octave.


for piano and saxophone (1995, revised 2000)

My Duet for piano and tenor saxophone, which I wrote in 1995 and reworked in 2000, consists of a walk through three very different musical spaces which succeed each other according to a dramatic composition that becomes less dense as it progresses. Even though the piece is relatively short, it demands a great deal from its performers: in the first part, some virtuoso passages of an improvisational character; in the second part, some saxophone multiphonics and flageolet in the piano’s interior; in the final part, some mechanically precise polyrhythms.


for 1-7 instruments (1993, revised 2013)

Adorno disparagingly referred to the tendency of the contemporary music of his time towards spatialisation and statics as ‘pseudomorphosis in painting’. Since the late nineteenth century, a great deal of music has indeed broken with the naturally purposeful dynamics of musical discourse that are to be found in tonal music, but that is not all: many composers drew significantly more inspiration for their work from visual arts than from musical traditions. I will only mention those that have been the most important for me personally: John Cage, Morton Feldman and Peter Ablinger. Counter-Images consists of two strongly contrasting movements, each of which develops different types of statics. In the first movement, selective individual events flow into each other in a vague and ambiguous way; in the second movement, we witness the topos of ‘racing standstill’.

I wrote the piece in 1993. The revision, twenty years later, only affects the notation which is much more open, leaves the performers more space to take their own decisions and renders the sonic result considerably less predictable. The duration of the piece and the choice of instruments can be varied.


for 16 solo strings (1990, revised 2006)

Kristallianen is the name of a piece that I wrote for the Vienna Chamber Orchestra in 1990. The starting point for my composition was Anton Webern’s String Quartet Opus 28: fragments of this reduced text, which, at all times, focuses only on what is essential, were to be superimposed on the wildly sprawling vegetation-like music played by a 16-part string ensemble, in a way that is diametrically opposed to Webern´s original. I was not satisfied with the result as I did not succeed, at the time, in providing some structure for the uncontrolled proliferation of polyphonic lines to the required extent.

16 years later, I composed a completely new piece for a different performance by the same orchestra which, apart from the title, only has a few notes in common (originating directly from Webern’s quartet) with the previous work.

On 12 March, 1938 – while working on his quartet – Webern wrote the defiant yet helpless sentence: ‘I am immersed in my work and may, may, not be disturbed.’ The conclusion of my piece, even though intrinsically derived from the rules that govern the entire composition, can also be listened to with this sentence in mind.


for clarinet solo (1989)

My Essay for clarinet consists of five symmetric parts, which can be played in two different orders. The order of the sections of these parts is flexible as well but certain combinations are prescribed. The material for the first, third and fifth parts consist of four contrasting musical characters: long notes, nervous figures, singular notes with sharp accents and melodic lines. The second and fourth parts dissolve these characters into perpetual fast motion.

The title refers to the folllowing quote from Robert Musil's „The Man Without Qualities“: It was more or less in the way an essay, in the sequence of its paragraphs, explores a thing from many sides without wholly encompassing it –for a thing wholly encompassed suddenly loses its scope and melts down to a concept – that he believed he could most rightly survey and handle the world and his own life.

The piece was written in 1989, while I was still a student at the Musikhochschule in Vienna.