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Bruno GanzWenn Wasser wäreT.S. Eliot / George Seferis

T. S. Eliot: "The Waste Land"George Seferis: "Thrush" and other poems

Bruno Ganz: speaker

with music by György Kurtág, Giya Kancheli andNikos Xydakis

When will you speak again'Our words are the children of many people.They are sown, are born like infants,take root, are nourished with blood.As pine treeshold the wind's imprintafter the wind has gone, is no longer there,so wordsretain a man's imprintafter the man has gone, is no longer there. -George Seferis

While Swiss actor Bruno Ganz was working on the film "Eternity And a Day" on location near Mount Athos, Theo Angelopoulos's assistant gave him a book of poems by George Seferis, the author felt by many of his countrymen to embody the very soul of Greece. Ganz was immediately taken with Seferis' writing.

As he says, "I began to 'nurture' Seferis in long conversations with Angelopoulos, who, as I soon re-alised, loves the writer, and through reading. I read everything by Seferis that has been translated into German. And so it was that Manfred Eicher's invitation to embark on a new project, extended after the Hölderlin recording and gently repeated from time to time, finally received some definite contours from my side."

Fifteen years after his acclaimed readings of poems by Hölderlin, Celan and René Char (Hölderlin) - "a blessing amongst poetry recitals" as critic Herbert Glossner described it - it is now the poetry of Seferis and "The Waste Land" of T S Eliot that form the basis of Bruno Ganz's new ECM recording. "As someone long interested in interconnections, I viewed Seferis's af-fection for T.S. Eliot and the fact that he had translated 'The Waste Land' into Greek as a lucky coinci-dence - an understanding that extended to the drum-like rhythms of Eliot's poem and led to the 'weaving' of music in and around Seferis' verses."

Bruno Ganz is recognised as the most important contemporary actor in the German-speaking world. Alongside his distinguished theatre work he has appeared in leading roles in numerous movies, under directors including Wim Wenders (the internationally successful "Wings of Desire"), Eric Rohmer, Alain Tanner, Volker Schlöndorff, Theo Angelopoulos's (whose "Eternity And A Day" was awarded the Golden Palm at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival). This autumn Bruno Ganz will be playing the title role in the 20-hour "Faust" production of Peter Stein, one of the cultural highlights of the EXPO World Fair in Hannover. After closing in Hannover this production, which has already drawn the most intense press attention; will be staged in Berlin and, in 2001, in Vienna.

"Wenn Wasser wäre" ("If there were water") connects the work of two innovative writers, both of them winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. T.S. Eliot's epic "The Waste Land", first published in 1922, is arguably the most important poem of the 20th century and, alongside James Joyce's "Ulysses", is a key text of literary Modernism. For many critics it defines and describes a period of cultural, spiritual and personal crisis in the "waste land" between the first and second world wars.

George Seferis, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year, was connected to Eliot in many ways. He was inspired by the expatriate American writer, translated "The Waste Land" and other Eliot poems into Greek, and also befriended Eliot in his later years. Bruno Ganz reads, amongst other works, Seferis's lyric cycle "Thrush", regarded as one of his most important poetic texts.

The recital is structured and given a sense of dramatic flow through discreet musical interludes. Amongst these are pieces by György Kurtág. The deployment of his compositions is not arbitrary. When Bruno Ganz received, in 1997, the Iffland Award, the highest honour bestowed in the German acting profession, György and Márta Kurtág provided music for the occasion.

György Kurtág is represented on this disc with excerpts from his Jatekok anthology of miniatures (Aus der Ferne and Scraps of a colinda melody faintly recollected, both played by Márta Kurtág) as well as the Arioso interotto from Officium breve in memoriam Andreæ Szervánszky and the first of his 12 Mi-croludes for String Quartet. We also hear Márta and György Kurtág play a transcription of J.S. Bach's "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit", the Sonatina from the Actus Tragicus BWV 106. Two further mu-sical sources are interwoven into the selections of Seferis' poetry. Part of Georgian com-poser Giya Kancheli's Lament (Music of Mourning in Memory of Luigi Nono) surfaces briefly. And finally, incor-porated into the readings from the "Thrush", and again after "The Argonauts", extrapola-tions of re-betika music by composer Nikos Xydakis. Ross Daly and Yiannis Philippou play Xydakis' Anatoli (The Dawn).

Here, Kurtág provides a subtle transition between Eliot's Modernist masterpiece and selected poems of George Seferis. There is no illustrative intention behind the choice of music; it is included rather to provide a moment's pause, and to clear the mind, on the way to a brighter world - or at least a world lit differently - than the fraught and fog-filled Waste Land. In this context, Kurtág's Budapest can be seen as a way station between London and Athens. Kurtág and Eliot and Seferis share a view of music and/or literature and language unfolding as a continuum. They are not the kind of cultural revolution-aries who would burn their bridges and sever contact with the past. Quite the contrary. Kurtág is as close to Bach as he is to - for instance - Schumann or Messiaen or Stockhausen or Eötvös, or to the Transylvanian folk music that Bartók mined for contemporary redeployment. His own music is highly condensed yet ency-clopaedic in scope and depth. In a similar way, Eliot as a writer was as much at home in the 6th century BC as in the 20th century. This idea, implicit in Eliot, that an artist can shape his own contemporary tradition by following his enthusiasms through history was one that had a major impact on Seferis.

Seferis shared with Eliot an intense interest in music of all kinds. His diaries find him responding to singers in tavernas, pipers in the streets, trees bustling with birds, with a connoisseur's attentiveness. He was also an authority on both jazz and twentieth-century music. Seferis collaborated with Greek composers including Hadjidakis and Theodorakis, corresponded with Benjamin Britten, and wrote a most sensitive introduction to Stravinsky's Harvard Lectures. "I understand Stravinsky, when, praising 'Bach's incomparable instrumental writing' he notes that one can smell the resin of his violins and taste the reeds of his oboes." For Seferis, too, music was a sensual, tactile experience. Its textures, harmonies and rhythms infiltrate his writings.

Important as the musical interludes are on "Wenn Wasser wäre", much of the "music" resides in the writing. Critic Alan Marshall has talked about the way in which the words of "The Waste Land" are weighed for their sonic attributes as well as their sense:

"In Eliot's waste land most of the individual details about people and places are supplied by the ear...London exists most frequently as a place that Eliot hears; as a place where one is accosted or visited by sound. The city is traced by the sound that it makes. Music gives directions and defines space...The city is mapped and traced by desire - defined by the current that flows through it or is blocked by it. In The Waste Land desire is repeatedly figured in music subdued and skulking, lewd and protesting, creeping along the Thames and winding through the streets."

Buno Ganz's narration brilliantly conveys both the claustrophobia of Eliot's neurotic, fog-swathed London and the clear, bright light and lapping water of Seferis' Greece.

CD package for "Wenn Wasser wäre" includes an 84-page textbook in slipcase. The texts include a preface by Bruno Ganz (in German and English), and essays by Ulrich Schmid (in German) and Steve Lake (in English). Also included are facsimile pages from "The Waste Land", poems by Lawrence Durrell addressed to Eliot and Seferis, photos, and an introduction to Eliot's "The Waste Land" by Hans Egon Holthusen.

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