dark dreams -
Georg Friedrich Haas

Karsten Witt interviewed Georg Friedrich Haas on 18 December 2013

Your last piece to be performed at the Berlin Philharmonie was in vain. Has your new work drawn on in vain

I don't think so. Of course it is by the same composer. But the same composer, thirteen years on, is certainly a different one.

It is written for a large orchestra rather than an ensemble...

...and one has to handle intonation differently when it comes to a large orchestra compared to a chamber ensemble.

Your orchestral work limited approximations with six pianos tuned in twel h-tone intervals and your new Concerto grosso no. 1 for four alphorns and orchestra were consciously written for soloists from whom the orchestra take their lead regarding intonation.

This is not the case in dark dreams.

But is there microtonality in this piece

Yes, I can't write without it. There are a few overtone chords, but overall the intonation is far easier than in in vain.

Can one describe your music as Klangmusik, which is primarily based on the attraction of sounds

at is definitely something that characterises my personal style: the development of the sound contains the main information. at said, there is something special that happens in this piece: towards the end, a very clear melodic structure suddenly appears. After seventeen minutes, the bassoon starts playing a solo melody. After the lengthy development of the sound prior to this, this linearity appears as an alien element: an expressive alien element.

And this is then transferred to the orchestra

e orchestra then takes over the melody: the whole orchestra begins to sing. I write a lot in unison in that part, with the tones spread over several octaves. Imagine an organ where you can continually and gradually change the register, say through a computerised control system - which of course would not be possible on an organ.

So we get a sort of Klangfarbenmelodie.

I started using this technique at the beginning of Tetraedrite. the idea came to me when I heard Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic with Mahler's Ninth. In Tetraedrite, it's very simple: there are two unisoni one with all the strings and one with all the wind. In dark dreams, it is a bit more complicated because these unison are extended to several octaves with the registers constantly changing. One melody, for example, begins in a medium register and then shifts to another octave, then the lower register unfolds.

You say you got the inspiration for a work by listening to Mahler's Ninth conducted by Simon Rattle. Does this mean that very concrete experiences are the starting point

I suppose that the trigger can no longer be recognised. By listening, a process is set in motion that then continues.

Was there also a concrete trigger for dark dreams

Indirectly yes, because I continue where Tetraedrite le o . A section of dark dreams was also influenced by a composition class. A student, Nina Young, wrote a piece for six percussionists that impressed me a lot. ere was one point when the instruments play the same notes very quickly: one plays Dadidadidadi and the other Didadidadida. I said, that's an exciting thought - you could do a lot more with that than you've done in your work. I sat down at the piano and started to improvise. Then I apologised - I noticed that I was beginning to compose myself. Later I thought a bit more about it. And now there's a long section [in dark dreams] just like what the student composed for the percussion instruments: it consists only of F♯ and A♯ (= B♭), but in a much more varied way and extended to the whole orchestra. That's the second time in my life that I have consciously adopted something from a student. Incidentally, the first time it happened, it was from a piece that wasn't very good.

But you do not have any dark dreams about your students, do you

No, I enjoy teaching them. However, I do have a somewhat uncomfortable feeling about the title of my new orchestral work. It has something quite obviously exhibitionistic about it. But I don't really want to go into more details about that. the title says it all really.

Everyone can make of it what they wish.

That's the way music as a form of expression works. My concrete dark dreams - whatever they may be, if they do in fact exist, which is something I would not claim - are completely irrelevant for the understanding of the music.

For you they are catalysts, motivation. And for the listener, the title is a clue...

Exactly, a kind of invitation as to what to listen for.

Do you expect the listeners to develop quite concrete associations when they listen to the piece, that they reflect on their lives, that they deal with di cult personal questions, that suppressed things come to the surface

It would be an accomplishment if this were to happen. Music is ultimately striving to achieve this, what we reflect on ourselves. One could also use dark dreams as the title for Schubert's unfinished Symphony in B minor, at least for the first movement.

When you are writing a piece for the Berlin Philharmonic, are you then challenging the particular virtuosity of the players Is this something you have in mind while you are writing Or does it not really matter who later performs the piece

e high level of the orchestra and conductor and his high opinion of in vain - these were things that paralysed rather than motivated me. But here's a simple example: the orchestra's bass bassoonist is quite fantastic and there's a solo for bass bassoon at the end. I know how great the brass section is and that's why I gave it very special tasks. the strings are always so secure in their intonation and that's why I use that. But it's not something that's been planned beforehand. The bass bassoon solo wasn't envisaged at all - it became clear at the end that it had to go in this direction. Here was this wonderful player and thus the possibility for this solo.

Of course, your sounds require a suitable space to come to life. Did the Berlin Philharmonic play a role in your vision

It was really more the abstract space since the piece will be performed at Carnegie Hall as well, and these are quite different spaces.

When you do finally hear the performance of the piece, you have spent months imagining, searching for the appropriate notation, will you still be surprised by the performance or simply reassured

Things always happen that weren't planned. If you're lucky, they are good things that enrich the work. ese you can then apply to the next work. It's a constant learning process. Unfortunately, intonation is often problematic in my music, and it often isn't realised the way I would have hoped. In this case, it may be that I am negatively surprised and must rest my hopes on the next performance or remember an earlier, better one.

Are there also positive surprises

Here's an example. In the trio of the third movement of Torso, my Klangfarben composition on Schubert's unfinished piano sonata D840, I consigned the main melody to the double basses in an extremely high register. at was a risk and I was worried that it would sound awful. At the first rehearsal I even had an ossia version ready. But the double bassists were so happy that for once in their lives they got to play a Schubert melody, that they came very well-prepared. is part was also always perfect in later performances. Such a thing can occur. I can't imagine a fundamental surprise any more though. I have too much experience for that now.

And do you have high hopes for dark dreams

at one surrenders oneself to the pull of the sounds and emotions and that the music communicates directly with the listener without having to explain very much. Much is always said about microtonality. But I don't think it is necessary, for example, that the audience identifies the extended section before the bassoon melody as series of overtone chords. It's enough simply to enjoy the wonderful sound of the wind instruments.

Translation: Celia Wynne Willson