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Three Songs

Three Songs

for soprano and 3 instruments
(based on poems by Paul Van Ostaijen)
Vers 2
Vers 3

(from 'The Feasts of Fear and Agony')
When Paul Van Ostaijen wrote De Feesten van Angst en Pijn (The Feasts of Fear and Agony) in 1918-1921, he was seeking a new language, one that was detached from narrative significance. In using coloured ink and an experimental arrangement of pages, he was suggesting that his poetry did not necessarily have to mean anything concrete, a principle which is inextricably linked with abstract music. After all, what is music expressing if not the sound of nature (waves, storm,...)? It expresses itself.

This idea also applies to Van Ostaijen’s The Feasts of Fear and Agony, which I first got acquainted with in 2001 when setting to music the poem Vers 4. From the very first reading I heard music in my ears, and I felt the urge to set this text to music in my own way. This early work became a key element in my musical language. For the first time, serial procedures and symmetrical constructions raised their heads, and nine years on they still filter through my compositions.

The Three Songs are based on Vers, Vers 2 and Vers 3 of the same volume by Van Ostaijen. Despite my principle of basing abstract music on a text, I sometimes had to work ‘programmatically’. Van Ostaijen at times explicitly cries for ‘music’ by using words with a musical connotation.

In Vers 2 the compelling word 'Valse' (waltz) comes up. Its musical elaboration is not a real waltz, but only the memory of it. The typical Viennese topos is still there, but has been torn out of its context and camouflaged within other metres.

The harmony of the Three Songs can be explained within a polymodal system of my own making. Both the form and many rhythmic passages often have a serial origin, but also meticulously follow the rhythm of the text. But as with all my compositions, this system is not an end in itself, and it is only employed as a means to get the original idea onto paper. In other words, the goal was still to write intuitive, natural music, and I always had an organic end product in mind.

Three songs was incorporated in 2012 in the extended composition The Feasts of Fear and Agony.
10 minutes
  • Soprano
  • Clarinet in Bb
  • Violin
  • Piano
Commissioned by
Festival International de Musique de Chambre de Thèse (Fr.)