© Klaus Lang
© Klaus Lang

Klaus Lang — der pythagoräische fächer.

What is a fifth?


We can define musical intervals with the help of physics, we can explain them according to musical theory, but in fact neither of them gives an answer to the central question: What does a fifth sound like? Or – more generally: what do intervals sound like? Through centuries of music history we have failed to develop a language capable of translating musical sounds into verbal expression. Following Pythagorean tradition, our musicology, “composition” as an academic discipline, and, in particular, our techniques of notation, have always focussed on the kinds of pitch and rhythm that can be expressed in figures.

However – exploring sound by means of listening is the subject of a great number of my works. Just as a contrapuntal composition of the 16th century takes a given motif, turns and twists it, expands and compresses it, I, too, subject sound to various compositional procedures and put sound-structures into different contexts in order to be able to explore sound in great detail. In doing so, my material is not limited to the traditional eight medieval modes – instead, I make use of the abundance of all possible forms of sound, from white noise to sinusoidal tone.
Neither are my means and methods circumscribed by the rules of counterpoint of the past centuries; instead they follow a newly created regulatory model and system of rules developed by myself. These compositional techniques and rules set a limit, they allow me to focus and give rise to a concentration on certain aspects of sound and their deepened perception. It is through these rules that what is individual and specific becomes clearly discernable. At the same time, rules generate musical forms and the form makes sounds accessible and opens them up. For me, compositional techniques are an expedient in my search for the beauty of sounds; I never endeavour to “say” anything with the help of sounds. On the contrary, with these compositional techniques I endeavour to liberate the sounds from the composer and to offer them the possibility of unfolding their beauty.

Sound has no intrinsic meaning or tendency towards a certain development or direction. Meaning is derived solely from the defined system of prohibitions and precepts that we call “musical style”. Music is anything but universal: an artist – or better: a generation of artists – establishes in and by their oeuvres certain guidelines of principles, prohibitions and precepts, either intuitively or – as is mostly the case with compositional techniques – quite consciously. Nonetheless, these invented rules are then generally termed “natural”. Freedom in the arts is always relative to these posited prohibitions or precepts and only through them becomes visible. Freedom is only made possible by regularity.

In the course of music history, musical scores became more and more detailed. The greater the composers’ “ego”, the more they saw themselves in the role of artistic genius; and the more counterpoint was replaced by the expression of emotions, the more detailed the scores became. All aspects of music and their execution were supposed to be put under the precise control of the ingenious composer and to be recorded as completely as possible in the score. At the same time, the unity of musician and composer, which hitherto had been taken for granted, was gradually dissolved; and with the ban of “degenerate” music in the 20th century; the link between composer and performer, on the one hand, was severed completely, and on the other a canon of works was created which has remained unchanged in circulation for the last 70 years. By banning living composers from the mainstream of musical life into a small niche, the relics of dead composers, namely their scores, became objects of virtually cultic worship in the world of music making at the major concert and opera venues and at the universities of music. The introduction, transfer and application of the protestant sola skriptura principle from religion to the realm of music resulted in phenomena such as the “historical performance practice” and editions of the original text – the scores were canonised, so to speak; the musicians resembling priests and theologians.

However – is the score itself in fact already music?

Wherein does music reside? Is it in the head of the composer? Is it in the score, in the concert, in the head of the person who listens? In this sense, der pythagoräische fächer. and other works that I have written, are more closely linked to the scores of the 16th and 17th century. Many of these scores are very simple and clear, but they depend on musicians who, with their skills of diminuition and figuration, are capable, during the performance, of imbuing the notated “skeleton” with radiant sound or who, from the notation of a few figures of the basso continuo, can conjure forth an elaborate carpet of sounds. But this means: the clearer the basic structure is patterned and organised, the greater the freedom for the player at the moment of the actual performance. Music is created in the moment it rings out and is born from the encounter of the precast with what is spontaneous as a subtle mix of determination and freedom. It is a matter of creating a balance which, ultimately, serves a purpose: the unfolding of the hidden qualities and of the beauty of sound.
—Klaus Lang, 2018

 in Werke
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