Jagden und Formen

for ensemble of about 25 players, duration about 50 min. (composed 1995/2001)

Jadgen und Formen ("Hunts and forms") is an extreme statement on musical motion. The CD booklet (DG 20/21 series) compares the motion with that of a high-speed train. Indeed there is a mostly ceaseless, lively momentum, with a "perpetuum mobile" continuum of hurried agitation that significantly exceeds that of almost all modern musical scores. Perhaps to a certain extent a parallel can be drawn with the mighty instrumental fugato in the center of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. Yet there is an important difference, which also makes the comparison with a high-speed train not quite hold. In the main thread of the music there rarely is a "run-away" motion as can only be formed by regular rhythms; rather the irregular rhythms found in the main threads provide a constant game of holding back/jumping forward, with a jerking motion that nonetheless overall pushes the music ahead. The music thus does not really establish a Beethovenian forward momentum after all, yet a high level of energy of motion is found nonetheless.

Regular rhythms – as "run-away" patterns – mostly occur just for a brief moments, only to quickly disappear again. Only in the second half of the work there are a few passages where the music moves in more extended, massive unison motion of fast regular rhythms; the massive circular motion in these few moments pushes the music forward with almost barbaric, primeval vehemence, in great contrast to the refinement and elegance of the musical motion and timbres usually found in the work. All these unison motions in regular rhythm disperse, crumble quite rapidly, however.

From the very beginning it is clear that not only the motion is agitated, but also that the music features an excited tone. This tone is at first mainly associated with the predominant playing of smaller ensemble groups; bigger tutti initially feature more massiveness than excitement of tone. Yet on a large-scale, over the course of the entire composition, there is a development of this excited tone into an all-encompassing timbral envelope, gaining sharp brightness along the way. In a statistical manner – not in a gradual continuum – massiveness and excitement of timbre more and more coalesce the further the work progresses, up to the final climax (which is not the end of the work). This large-scale development, together with the common motivic material throughout the work, lends coherence to the music, even though the individual "hunts" never translate into a long, continuous thread along which the music might chase.

The two violins (later joined by other strings) present the motivic material that will be used throughout the work. Later woodwinds play an important role; the final sharpness of timbre is foreshadowed by polyphonic soloist playing of members of the trumpet section at about 1/3 through the work (after the first interruption of the rapid motion, see below), and in the final combination of massiveness and sharpness of excited tone the brass section as a whole plays an important role. The warmer, rounder tones of the marimba as heard in the middle of the work give way to the harder sounds of woodblocks, and there are powerful accents from heavy percussion in the final sections of the music. Woodwinds continue to play an important role until the end; the dominance of the string section at the beginning does not repeat itself. As coloring device, however, the sound of strings is used often in combination with other instruments, and strings also contribute to the polyphony in separate strands played by these instruments. At times the ensemble of about 25 players sounds like a larger orchestra in terms of weight.

The development of the motivic material at first may seem rather repetitive – the material is more oriented towards rhythm and interval than towards melody – yet it is not. Of course, the work is divided into sections that differ enough from each other, yet it may take some time to discover how astonishingly little repetitiveness there is (actually none, strictly spoken) within one section, even though a given section may appear to be of rather uniform color. In view of the "limited" material, the actual lack of repetitiveness seems the more admirable, the more one listens to the music.

Several times, at first about 1/3 through the work, the music comes to a halt, in drawn-out music that, at least partially, appears to represent broad augmentations of the motivic material in very slow motion. Those incisions in the music, full of tension since so much at odds with the main character of agitated motion, add to the complexity of the overall development of the work.

The main voice in the music may come from one instrument group, it may be formed by a dialogue between different groups, or there may be several main voices running in parallel and at different apparent speeds, forming diverse time layers.

The complexity of the polyphony is extraordinary. Following such polyphonic complexity in agitated motion over the entire length of the work with the concentration necessary to appreciate the musical argument is not easy, also given the relative uniformity of the musical material used throughout.

This certainly is one of those works that both challenge and train the listener's capabilites of perception, and in the end, the richness of experience fully rewards the effort. It is an important work: it says new things in music, and it does so with weight.

© Albrecht Moritz 2003, rev. 2011