The “Dialoge” series at Salzburg features Manfred Trojahn this year in an extensive composer portrait with two premieres and further works, contrasted with pieces by Debussy and Mozart. A few questions for Manfred Trojahn.
[t]akte: A preoccupation with Mozart runs through your work. Further study of his music has led to Libera me – perhaps even a new kind of work, as you’re concerned with a fragment here?
Trojahn: until now the Libera me has the unique claim of being an antecedent to Mozart’s Requiem. It is perhaps the most difficult exercise I have ever set myself, because the following piece has such a “mythical” status that it seems really presumptuous to tackle something of this kind. On the other hand, I love being presumptuous. What I have based the piece on is that fragment, a bass sequence, very typical for its time, impersonal, which I have transformed from major to minor, funnily enough to D minor. It brings a metrical sostenuto, with which my intentions can perhaps be achieved. Mozart has always challenged me since I decided I wanted to do something like that after hearing Don Giovanni as a child. Perhaps because of this I have less fear than trust in my relationship with him. If, then, fear is missing in the face of presumptuousness ...
What is your relationship to Debussy’s music?
Debussy is perhaps the composer whose music I listen to most frequently, in fact daily. I have learnt an endless amount from him and am beginning to realise what can be learnt from his models – Wagner, for example, who was alien to me for a long time. Debussy led me to the piano late on, and so my Préludes are a study of the aura surrounding his preludes. What I have attempted in Musique is a peculiar bringing together of two worlds – the piano writing of early Debussy with the serenade scoring of the Gran Partita. I’m very curious about this myself ...
Other works to be performed include the 3rd String Quartet, the Trakl Fragments and the Frammenti di Michelangelo. Generally, you remain very “true” to your poets. What do these works represent?
I generally remain very faithful – but of course to relatively many. Trakl is a poet who, at a superficial level, expresses the world-weariness of youth. I read him at a young age and then noticed that I did not forget him because I found other things, you couldn’t say deeper things – but definitely something which I only understood as an adult. The Trakl Fragments were the first things which I was able to bring to a conclusion with Trakl. To create something fragmentary was not unusual at that time, but as a composer, one took the trouble to understand self-contained forms. But I have attempted to bring the scraps of music into an aura which could be characterized in a few notes. This is also how it is with the Frammenti di Michelangelo: I hear short opera scenes in the little movement and have very happily included the piece in the cycle of Michelangelo works.
Ensemble Modern is giving the premiere of Contrevenir. Musique à la mémoire de H.W. Henze für Ensemble in which you reveal your many years’ study of René Char. What is the background to this?
René Char is an obsession, a constant struggle to read, a spiritual immersion – an author who suits and impresses me in many ways. A charismatic erotic writer who knows how to allow this characteristic to flower in all aspects of its content. For years I have tried to begin the cycle quitter, a major text which takes as its theme Char’s landscape, north-western Provence – also a spiritual home for me. Contrevenir, which is tantamount to contravene, is something which speaks deeply to me. And contravening a declared “truth” does indeed emerge graphically from the subtitle. I know the light tone of regret which comes from the final remark well: I am addicted to harmony – but not many will notice this.