Heiner Goebbels’ work confronts, contrasts and combines elements from multiple sources, often provocatively. The task of describing it, however, he leaves to others: “With all my work I try to make this question difficult,” he advised UK newspaper The Scotsman. “What drives the attention of an audience is the unforeseeable, and the secrets and the mystery of a performance.” This is surely the case with ‘Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten’ (Landscape with Distant Relatives), officially ‘an opera’ yet one which stretches conventional definitions. Its many layers of meaning yield themselves up to repeated listening; ideas arrive in swarms. If music-theatre was its original context this ‘soundtrack’ version of it is packed with fascinating detail, drawing the listener in. “The acoustic aspect has a life of its own,” says Heiner Goebbels.
The work was premiered at the Geneva Opera in October 2002 and was subsequently staged more than 20 times in Switzerland, France, Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany. The present recording is drawn from four performances at the Théâtre des Amandiers, Nanterre, Paris in October 2004.
Goebbels has often talked about exploring the ‘landscape’ of a text and the writers identified as distant relatives here include, alphabetically, Giordano Bruno, Arthur Chapman, T.S.Eliot, Henri Michaux, Nicolas Poussin, Gertrude Stein, Leonardo da Vinci. Literary form and structure – the textual architecture – are frequently as important to the composer as content, and when setting, for example, Gertrude Stein, he is alert to the musicality of her phrases, which imply rhythms, pulses, melodic patterns. The texts of Stein – all drawn from her 1945 book “Wars I Have Seen” – are of quite central importance here. In her unique style – at once ‘avant-garde’ and colloquial (and an enormous influence on contemporaries including Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson and Paul Bowles) – Stein gives insight into the unchanging nature of political conflict. As Goebbels told Gramophone, “the intriguing thing about Stein’s book is how she discusses important philosophical issues in a light way. The book is written like ‘gossip’, reminiscent of women talking over the fence. This allows the readers to discover their own focus, and my music does the same ...” When Stein points to the parallels between political struggle in Shakespeare’s age and World War II, Goebbels has associative material for sound colour, allowing the sonorities of early music instruments to find their place inside his finely-focused post-modern sound structures. This associative connection is further underlined by texts from Leonardo da Vinci and Giordano Bruno, great imaginative minds of the 16th century. As Rob Cowan noted of the Geneva premiere, ‘Landschaft’ has discernible conceptual themes, “the ambiguous relationship between art and reality being one, and the nature of political conflict, another. The consistently gripping score runs the gamut of styles from Renaissance tonal tapestry (incorporating early instruments) to teeth-baring aggression –an army of drummers raising merry hell to sentiments aroused by T S Eliot's ‘Coriolan’. Viscerally and intellectually exciting, the production is remarkable for its fluency and impact. But it is far from comfortable. By his own admission, Goebbels was deeply affected by September 11. Even in the face of multilingual crossfire, you sense the presence of colliding cultures”. This is an opera able to embrace Indian themes by Bollywood composer Allah Rakha Rahman and country & western campfire singalongs such as “Out Where the West Begins” alongside contemporary music of bracing energy and movement. Members of the Ensemble Modern, maintaining standards as contemporary music interpreters of the highest caliber, are also encouraged to improvise. (Goebbels has said that “about ten per cent” of “Landschaft mit Entfernten Verwandten” is improvised). The German Chamber Choir explores Goebbels’ chosen texts with flair.
German composer and director Heiner Goebbels is one of the most important exponents of the contemporary music and theatre scene. His compositions are performed by orchestras and ensembles worldwide, his radio works broadcast by many German stations and eight of his music theatre productions in the repertoire of Ensemble Modern, Theatre Vidy, Les Percussions de Strasbourg and artmobil are regularly seen at major international festivals. In July 2007, Goebbels' 'Songs of Wars I have seen' (using the Gertrude Stein texts heard in Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten), was premiered by the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Royal Festival Hall. The Evening Standard found it "utterly hypnotic and quite unforgettable", the Guardian called it an "extraordinary musical experience" while The Times described "a thought-provoking, hauntingly tender work for troubled times".
Heiner Goebbels was born in 1952 in Neustadt/Weinstrasse and has been based, since 1972, in Frankfurt, writing chamber music, music theatre, audio plays, and theatre-film-ballet music. Goebbels also has a reputation as an improviser in free music and art-rock genres. In 1982 he founded the critically-lauded experimental rock group Cassiber and in the mid-1980s began composing and directing audio plays of his own, many based on texts by Heiner Müller. Since then, Goebbels’ work has been staged in more than 30 countries.
Heiner Goebbels’ ECM albums are “Der Mann im Fahrstuhl” (recorded 1988), “Hörstücke” (1984-1990), “Shadow/Landscape with Argonauts” (1990), “La Jalousie / Red Run / Herakles 2 / Befreiung” (1992), “Ou bien le débarquement désastreux” (1994), “Surrogate Cities” (1996 and 1999), and „Eislermaterial“ (1998). Goebbels’ work has won numerous national and international awards, including the Prix Italia, the Prix Futura, the Berliner Hörspielpreis, the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden, the Karl-Sczuka-Hörspielpreis des SWF Baden-Baden, the Goldene Ehrennadel der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and the Hessischer Kulturpreis. In 2006 he received the Polish theatre critics “Future of the Theatre” prize for his piece “Eraritjaritjaka”, performed during the Warsaw Theatre Festival.
In September 2007, Goebbels launched a new music theatre production, “Stifters Dinge”, with performances in Frankfurt, Berlin and Luxemburg, followed by performances in Munich in November. Further performances are planned in France, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland in 2008.
The complete cycle "Surrogate Cities" for large orchestra is planned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Mickelthwate in Canada and by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle (choreographed by Mathilde Monnier) at the beginning of 2008. Simultaneously, the College of Music in Den Haag (Netherlands) will present a festival dedicated to the compositions of Goebbels.
Heiner Goebbels is currently working on a new music theatre production featuring the Hilliard Ensemble, which will be premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2008.
CD booklet includes all sung texts – in original English, French, German, Italian – and photos from the opera production