The fascinating characterisations of the hours in Greek classical antiquity are the starting point for Thomas Daniel Schlee’s third organ concerto. Twelve short movements, rich in content, lead through day and night.
The classical “Horai”, the ancient Greek idea of the hours of the day, are the inspiration for Thomas Daniel Schlee’s Concerto for organ and chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Camerata Salzburg with financial support from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation. “The hours offer a marvellous variable framework: these moments between night and night are portrayals of different essential components of life. The organ wanders like an individual through this process, the small orchestra is the firmament and the landscape”, says the composer. “A concerto form in which twelve short movements follow each other suits the organ, with its variety of sounds, very well, because each of these movement-pictures can be differently coloured.”
In the classical imagination the hours were not fixed elements in time, but were associated with a situation in the daily routine. “Augé” denotes the first light before sunrise. “Anatolé”, sunrise as the second hour, is also a term meaning the East. Then follow “Mousika”, the morning hour of music and studies, “Gymnastika”, physical exercise, and “Nymphé”, washing, to describe just the first few. Schlee has chosen an orchestral scoring in which the classical imagination is brought to life: a string ensemble which unfolds soloistically, and flute, cor anglais and harp correspond with the classical instruments of pan flute, aulos and guitar. The sparse use of percussion instruments completes the ensemble. The sequence of twelve movements is structured symmetrically: in the outer movements “Augé” and “Arktos” (starry sky), we hear “the singing of a nightingale which completes the circle. “Anatolé” and “Dysis” (sunrise and sunset) correspond with each other, first ascending harmonically and then notated in retrograde movement. The reflection is centred on midday – “Mesembria”, where the organ is silent. The longest movement is the eighth: “Eleté” (work in the afternoon), where the organ and strings are linked with each other in complex counterpoint” (Schlee).
The colouring of the organ is structured according to the character of the movements: starting from the neutral, soft sound of the eight foot stop, it brightens towards the colouring of the full chorus, rich in overtones. In succession, aspects of partial colours, more subtle shadings are explored. Each movement has its own tonal character, its own instrumentation. So, in “Mousika”, the organ plays as ‘primus inter pares’, a first among equals, with the strings. In “Gymnastika”, a virtuoso pedal solo on the organ obviously corresponds with the tambourine. “I was interested in the numerous associations of organ sound which, for example, a classical wind instrument can also evoke. We should not forget that the organ, which nowadays seems to be the quintessential sacred instrument, has Dionysian origins.” And unlike a symphonically-conceived concerto form, the work is a development in short, concise, colourful contrasts.
Marie Luise Maintz
(translation: Elizabeth Robinson)
(from [t]akte 2/2013)