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Dance of Death



Shipping time: Will not ship until 05/07/2024
Most of us, when contemplating medieval representations of danse macabre, in which Death leads people of all walks of life, do not pay attention to the sound aspect of the allegory. Yet it is very important – where there is dancing, there must also be music. In the oldest depictions, dating back to the end of the Middle Ages, it is Death that plays an instrument. Interestingly, it is a wind instrument, such as a flute or bagpipes, or a percussion instrument. In the Middle Ages, such instruments were associated with the devil (the violin is a quite modern attribute in this context). Knowledge of this association has allowed art historians to understand the genealogy of the popular motif. The similarity of the contemporary images of death and the devil (whose domain included such bodily activities as dancing) explains the didactic function of the famous allegory, which appeared in Europe after the plague epidemic in the 14th century. In the context of numerous painted representations and literary texts of this period, the collection of old musical records referring to the dance of death is relatively modest. Nineteenth-century works such as Totentanz by Ferenc Liszt and Danse macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns have little in common with the classical shape of allegory. Only the times of modernism and the development of historical art sciences meant that composers, exploring old techniques, directly referred to preserved medieval representations. The composers’ imagination was most influenced by paintings from Basel and Lübeck. The Swiss Totentanz inspired Arthur Honegger (La danse des morts) and Frank Martin (Ein Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943), while Hugo Distler paid tribute to the north German one in his work Totentanz, Op. 12 No. 2. (...) In the well-known motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen, Op. 74 No. 1 by Johannes Brahms from 1877, the issue of the continuity of German culture plays an important role. The composer used the music of his unfinished youth project Missa canonica (in which he explored Renaissance contrapuntal techniques) to pose fundamental existential questions. Brahms left some clues on how to interpret this compelling piece. He pointed out, among other things, that it was related to his melancholic disposition. Taking up the genre of a religious motet is interesting because the composer, baptised in the Protestant church, often ironised about religion, and his worldview can best be described as humanistic. (...) O Tod, wie bitter bist du from Geistliche Gesänge, Op. 110 is Reger’s voice in final matters. The composition is believed to have been created in just five hours in 1912 and was dedicated to the recently deceased youngest daughter of another Leipzig master, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The text of the motet comes from the Ecclesiasticus, and its spirit teaches the same difficult moral as the dance of death and asks the same questions as Brahms’ Job. Reger, though, highlights the contrast between a human who prospers and a human facing death in a different way. In one of his letters he wrote about this work: ‘it will be a terribly sad work, ending with a transformation – that is: Death is the end that transforms.’ (...) There is one more piece on this album – Sarabande from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013. It will sound like the lament of Death itself on the ruins of the Lübeck church. For 19th-century German culture, Bach was both the ideal of a romantic artist and at the same time a religious craftsman. The culture founded on similar contradictions gave birth to masterpieces of musical literature, but also to the criminal ideology of Nazism. Each of the above-mentioned composers wanted to equal Bach, and it was Bach who was perceived as a proof of the German people’s superiority. Yet, like them, he was just another human in Death’s procession. (Szymon Atys, translated by Anna Marks)
Information
Catalogue number ACD335
Barcode 5902176503352
Release date 05/07/2024
Category
Label CD Accord
Format CD
Number of discs 1
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