Hans Zender (1936–2019) Stephen Climax
Opera in 3 Acts – Words by the Composer after James Joyce and Hugo Ball [solos, choir, orch (2 groups), stage music, tape] 1979/84 Duration: 135'
Choir: SATB – orchestra 1: 3(3picc).3(cor angl).2(Eb-clar).B-clar.3(dble bsn). – 184.108.40.206. – perc(4) – guit – E-org / orchestra 2: 0.0.0.0. – 0.3.3.1. – perc(4) – hp.mand – acc.cel.pno.synth – str: 220.127.116.11.6. – tape
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Libretto by the composer based on „Ulysses“ by James Joyce in the German translation by Hans Wollschläger as well as „Symeon, der Stylit“ by Hugo BallPlace:
1. In the Syrian desert: Simeon (T), Antonios (BBar), 3 people seeking advice (2Bar,B), Simeon's mother (S)
2. In the night city of Dublin: Stephen (Bar), Lynch (B), Leopold Bloom (Bar), Bella Cohen (Mez), Zoe, Kitty & Florry (S,Mez,A), Cissy Caffrey (S), Carr (T), Compton (B), Drunken Man (Bar), 7 Apparitions (S,T,2Bar,B,persona muta)
About Stephen Climax
The development of modernism had reached a point in the 1950s and 1960s when it was in fact no longer possible to write an opera.
The center of experiencing modernism is the non-pictorial. The non-pictorial is much more than an abstraction: …it is the radicality of a zero point that no longer allows the mutual contact and penetration of the arts as they are constituent for the musical theater.
By the mid-70s at the latest – after Adorno’s death – this central moment of musical development of our century was crossed. The question was: Where, and how, do we go from here? A straightforward progress – as in the avant-garde – was no longer feasible. So, many composers then started thinking restorative; especially in Germany, a “neo-” period began: neo-romanticism, neo-expressionism, neo-tonality...
The positions of modernism were squandered, irrationalism began flourishing.
Most people overlooked that there were other possibilities. In his own way, Stephen Climax tries to solve the problem caused by the historical development: images are being rediscovered, but rather as vestiges of the past. Since the past also plays a role in shaping the present (even at times when we are not aware of it), we, initially, must reveal the old images in our thinking and then reassemble and recombine the image material.
However, the methods for this composition process must be the same as the ones provided by the modernism that has reached its goal: i.e., structural thinking is essential. Only then can the horizon of the present – so far the only projection surface of the traditional operatic drama – be deepened in such a way that it reveals the past without being sucked back into it.
In the light of these considerations, I have chosen – as a basis for my opera – two pictorial worlds belonging to two different historical periods and constructed a musical world in which the language of modernism is interspersed with intricacies of characteristic stylistic features of European music history, from the Gregorian to the 19th-century salon.
The sunken worlds are not quoted, they rather slip into a transformation process. Created from the frictions of the different worlds are intermediate forms whose meaning is ambiguous and open; from the clashes of styles and logic systems derives the shock of the frightening or of the comicality; a new force derives from the electricity of the contradictory, from the anti-logical, the absurd, which can drive the development of music beyond the zero point, because it has gained a new dimension: the interaction of history and present within the boundaries of the artwork.
From Peter Mussbach, who created the staging of Stephen Climax in Brussels in 1991, I have learned that modern brain research has made a surprising discovery: the process of remembering is of productive nature rather than of the reproductive one. And that is just how we deal with the cultural tradition in Stephen Climax.
(Hans Zender, 1985)