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The music of in-between spaces

When composing, Mark Andre always keeps an eye on the fragile structure of the coming and going of sounds, on all levels. In a comprehensive portrait that the Musikverein dedicates to the German-French composer, this can be experienced in a wide range of works – from miniatures for solo instruments to chamber music and large orchestral works, such as the one written by Mark Andre on behalf of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.

In the past, things were simple, and the question of why music was written in the first place did not arise. Since the beginning of Western polyphony and then especially in the tradition from Bach to Schönberg, it was often first a matter of a craft that could be learned and only then of meaning. In modernity, these orders have begun to falter. It was composed to change the world – or at least to change oneself and the listeners, or to turn one’s inner life outwards as intensely as possible.

Diametrically opposed are the self-descriptions of the actions of two of the central composers of recent times. “Composing means thinking about the means” or “building an instrument”: this is how Helmut Lachenmann put it, who is concerned with a constant reflection of the musical material and its renewal. Wolfgang Rihm, on the other hand, postulated a radical counter-position that emphasizes immediate emotionality: “We have to shake with energy, or we have to be silent with emptiness, then we are composers.” So if one person puts reflection in the foreground – even with the claim of music that constantly reflects on itself – the other pleads for direct, subjective expression. A few decades ago, these two positions seemed absolutely irreconcilable and incompatible.

Confronted with these two quotes, Mark Andre first expresses his appreciation for both “revered” composers. When asked about his own definition of writing music, his answer leads on the one hand in a very differentiated way to concrete sonic phenomena, and on the other hand also directly to an essential source of his creative inspiration: “I am concerned with the most sober, transparent, fragile observation of music in the process of disappearance and with the unfolding of the most intense, most unstable, most fragile compositional spaces.” Andre would like to see this fragile structure of the coming and going of sounds realized on all levels: from the smallest gesture to the formal form.

“I am interested in the most sober, transparent, fragile observation of music in the process of fading away and disappearing and in the unfolding of the most intense, unstable, fragile compositional spaces”.

Mark Andre

Every note, every noise – and in Andre’s case it has to be said: as well as all the nuances in between and all mixtures of these qualities – is doomed to fade away, but can appear, come and go again and again. Such processes are central to the thinking of the composer, who was born in Paris in 1964. Of course, they simply play a role in all music, but with him they come to the fore and mean something existential-spiritual, transcendent-religious to him: “Disappearance has a metaphysical dimension and refers, among other things, to the Last Supper at Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). According to ecumenical theology, the concept of ‘disappearance’ is one of the central messages of the Gospel.” The story of the apostle Luke, according to whom the slain Jesus appeared to two disciples and they then proclaimed the Good News of the resurrection of the Messiah, can be understood as a symbol of Andre’s basic aesthetic attitude.

National schools have also established themselves in New Music, which are sometimes uncomprehending towards each other. Serialism in the 1950s, with the three central proponents: Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, and Luigi Nono, was a transnational project that sought to objectify musical means as comprehensively as possible: In an extension of the twelve-tone method of Arnold Schönberg and his students, not only the pitches, but also the duration or volume were organized in rows. Subsequently, this enormous differentiation was often used without the method being so strict. About two generations later, Mark Andre is already biographically mediating between France and Germany, where he has lived since 1995. After studying composition in Paris with Gérard Grisey, one of the main proponents of spectral music, in which compositional structures are derived from (computer-aided) analyses of overtone series, he came to Stuttgart to work with Helmut Lachenmann: “It was the highest privilege and an honour for me to be his ‘master student’ for three years. I am very grateful for that. The meticulous, thoughtful, fragile questioning of all compositional activities fostered my self-discovery. He has also supported my spiritual, Christian path. To this day, it seems to me to be an indelible trace.”

Lachenmann’s approach of a “musique concrète instrumentale”, which traces the subtle nuances of sound and noise components that inevitably and always arise when playing instruments, as well as the precise listening and compositional recording of sound spectra, have an equally active effect as traces in Andre’s works. In addition, he often uses a live-electronic extension, with which the tonal facets are further differentiated and spatially designed. The instruments also move into space at times, according to the soloist in “… blessed are …” for clarinet and electronics, where a dense aura unfolds from wind and key noises. Often, before actually composing, Andre searches for his material in the everyday world, makes sound analyses with technical support and then further processes the sounds found in this way.

Since 2009, he has been a member of the Akademie der Künste Berlin and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts as Professor of Composition at the Dresden University of Music. In doing so, Mark Andre teaches his students what is also the most important thing for him: “Thinking about self-discovery. For me, it’s about a permanent introversion, in this sense about a compositional energy oriented inwards and against oneself, self-critical and one’s own composing. As a flawed person and a sinner, I strive to receive the energy, the power of the Holy Spirit. It remains an unattainable challenge and refers to the Aramaic word field of ‘Ruach’ (breath, fragrance, wind, spirit…).” Thus, for Andre, composing becomes a religious exercise that is practiced again and again like meditation or prayer – for example, in the series of works “iv” (abbreviation for introversion): a sequence of chamber music pieces that, as if in a scrupulous self-questioning, illuminate and question tonal fragments until something new emerges from them.

In the 2022/23 season, parts of this cycle can be heard – as well as Andres piano and chamber music, in addition to works for large instrumentation, such as “an” for violin and orchestra with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Markus Poschner and Ilya Gringolts as soloist. However, a newly commissioned work for the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, with the Orchestre de Paris, under the direction of Klaus Mäkelä, can be eagerly awaited. At the time of the conversation, the composer was in the process of collecting initial ideas for the novel piece, which will be played directly before Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 and will take up the idea of the resurrection formulated there. But even then, Mark Andre had a concern: “I would like to express my sincere thanks to the artistic director Dr. Pauly and his team for their trust and enormous loyalty. It is a true and special privilege and honor for me to be able to present my music in such a renowned institution as the Musikverein in Vienna.”

Text by Daniel Ender.

Musikverein Wien, red carpet, staircase to the Großer Musikvereinssaal and Brahms Saal

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Musikverein Wien, interior, Großer Musikvereinssaal, Golden Hall, architecture, organ, rows of seats, seating, ceiling painting

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