Current Composition Project

Posted on February 22, 2009 at 7:50 PM

    In the beginning of December last year, I was inspired to set a letter by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) to music.  This is a letter that he wrote while in prison, which is addressed to his parents, who had first written to him of their concern and yet their hopes that all would go well.  Despite his circumstances, he wrote in the letter about how he was thankful to God for the little things.  He even reflects on a famous German song by Joachim Neander (1850-1880), "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König ... in wieviel Not hat nicht der gnädige Gott über dir Flügel gebreitet." ("Praise to the Lord, the almighty King ... in how much distress did not the graceous God spread His wings over you." -my own rough translation)  Bonhoeffer was imprisoned because of his stand against the Nazis and for his faith.  He was not freed from imprisonment and was eventually hanged before the end of the war.  Still, his writings, poems and songs live on to this day to inspire many that wish to find a deeper understanding of life as a Christian.

    I was honored to be given permission to use the text, as I sought quite a bit to find the text in it's entirety and in the original language.  Most publications of Widerstand und Ergebung: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft, which is the book containing the letter, along with many others, omit some parts of the letter.  But I was determined to find the letter in it's entirety, as I had heard it read in a Sunday sermon in church.

    So, I called the publisher and they directed me to the person which holds the rights to the letters and I wrote that person a simple letter introducing myself and asking for permission to use the text.  Kindly, they granted me permission, and without any cost.  So, I've been working on various ideas and also attempting to implement a technique to establish a structure to the piece so I know when specific things should happen based on the Golden mean.  (If you don't know what this is, then you can find all kinds of cool information on it and its uses online).  So here is a chart that I've put together to help me keep on track and try and reach a sound structure.  I've titled the piece "Liebe Eltern" which means, "Dear Parents."

   So, just to make a bit of sense out of this.  The thicker black lines labeled with letters A-O are the points based on the golden mean. Where "Lobe den Herren..." is written is to be like the climax of the piece.  Seeing as Bonhoeffer was still praising God despite his situation, this naturally came to mind as not only the essential message of the piece, but the point at which the piece reaches its climax.  Since "Lobe den Herren..." itself was originally a song, I'll sort of sneak variations of its melody throughout the piece as little hints leading up to the climactic point, which is where Bonhoeffer quotes a few words from the text of the song.  There, I'll probably have the singer finally sing the original words and its melody to my own accompaniment.

    The numbers then represent how I broke up the letter into 9 sections.  This lets me know approximately where each part of the letter will come in in relation to the points set by the Golden mean.  Based only upon the ideas that I have so far, I could already figure out how long the piece will be and from there calculate approximately what time each event labeled will take place.  So it should be about 18 minutes and 47 seconds.  Of course, it's not that everything has to land exactly at the labeled minutes and seconds.  It is simply a rough template to give me an idea of what I'm shooting for.

   This is actually the second time I've deliberately used this technique for a composition.  That other piece was my one for solo guitar: "Holy Spirit Venturvane."  I look at this time table chart now and think to myself, "Wow!  I didn't realize I could be such a nerd coming up with complicated charts.  Now all I need is a pair of suspenders, thick nerdy glasses, fake buck teeth and a couple bullies to steel my lunch money" ;-)

    Click here to listen to a midi sample of some of my ideas for the piece so far (spoken voice reading letter from Karl Bonhoeffer: Friedemann Neupert --- Baritone singing letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daniel Mollé

-Daniel Mollé

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