Jörg Birkenkötter (*1963) bel Canto
for Solo Oboe [ob] 2013/14 duration: 13'30"
16 pages | 23 x 30,5 cm | 89 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18540-7 | Saddle Stitch
Belcanto is a term for the Italian art of singing which took its development from the richly ornamented solo vocalism of the early 17th century (“nobile maniera di cantare”) and dominated European operatic singing until the first half of the 19th century. Complete control over the voice meant not only legato and messa di voce, but also appoggiatura and portamento, as well as virtuoso ornamentation by means of coloratura (“canto fiorito”). This development towards utmost virtuosity, emulating instrumental playing techniques, led to a mannered, artificial style on the one hand, but on the other also emphasized the physical aspects of interpretation (castrati were considered the ideal belcanto singers). And today? In his essay “The Grain of the Voice,” Roland Barthes writes: “The grain is the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes and the limb as it performs.” Initially, he refers to the friction between language and voice in singing, but then transfers his thoughts to the physicality of instrumental music.
In this spirit, I went in search of “beautiful singing,” a beauty which perhaps results in the very place where the grain, the roughness, meaning also physical resistance, are not smoothed over.
The oboe seemed very suitable to me for singing with such a “physical expressivity,” as a very unruly instrument!
The backbone of my piece is one single, quasi endless melodic line, consisting of intervals that are constantly pulled apart and contracted again (breathing). Many different actions attach themselves to these notes: coloratura, trills, chords (multiphonics), double flageolets. However, there are not only sound types, but also impulses, repetitions, rhythmic figures and other elements: composed elements of belcanto.
In the opera tradition described above, these were improvised ornaments or additions; here they become composed figures which originate with the notes of the melody, but also pull on them, bend them, and “charge them with physicality.”