SPIRITUAL STREAMS IN CONTEMPORARY ARTS

Prof. Alois Piňos - Professor Emeritus of JAMU Brno /CZ/

A colloquium within Forfest festival 2007 – Kroměříž An article for OPUS MUSICUM 4/2007

Every two years a colloquium is a part of the Forfest festival. Its topic – The Problem of Spiritual Streams in Contemporary Arts – does not change. This year it was held between 18th and 20th June.

Spirituality is understood quite widely and does not refuse any kind of artificial art. In the limelight is music. Also fine arts and literature are important, quite often right in context of music (librettos, lyrics, multimedia works etc.). The participants of this year’s colloquium were musicians (musicologists, composers, and concert performers), artists, and men of letters and representatives of culture institutions. Foreign guests came from seven European countries and from the US. The total number of reports was 23, 12 from foreign guests and eleven from the Czech ones.

Kateřina Piňošová-Růžičková conceived her report “The Sense of Ritual Function in Contemporary Arts” in full generality and independently of concrete compositions. She analyzed relations between scientific knowledge and religious streams during modern period and she leant on Romano Guardnini’s conception. Also Guardini influenced her final composition in JAMU – „The End of Modern Period“. In her report she reminded that present people, deprived of religion by science, look for alternative religious space. She tries both music and theater brings to the original purpose, to renew the basic item – ritual.

Also Petr Pokorný conceived his report “Spiritual Music – A Refuge?” quite widely. He connected philosophical ideas about the situation of spiritual music and – in a broad sense – all artificial music in current world with several basic refers to a position of protagonists of music of 18th, 19th and 20th century. This report is largely a continuation of his report “Music and Ideology” from a colloquium ‘05.

The topic “Time Explored by Ears” together with Polish historical reminiscences (battle of Grunvald, Pan Tadeusz, Polish musical landscape of the second half of 20th century and today) was sketched by Lidia Zielinská.

Pavel Slezák in his report “Spiritual Culture – The Difference between the East and the West” apprised auditory of his subjective view of spiritual music, which is connected with the view of the world in general.

Connection of sacral music and liturgical acting (ceremonies, prayers) is advisable. Only Gregorian chant and classical polyphony is understood as liturgical singing. The other types of music are only suffered. Of course, all the forms of real art are allowed.

Topic prepared by František Kunetka – “Christian Sacrament as a Hermeneutic Key to Problems of Sacrality” was one of those, which caught the conception of the colloquium the best. The author asks and answers a question, in what lies venerability of devotional music and devotional space in general, in what in the 20th century and today.

It is quite notorious that in the 20th century the role of pause against sound strengthened and, pauses have emancipated: Massimiliano Massieri and Michele Selva associate stressing pauses with spirituality in their performance called “Silence as the Highest Expression of Spirituality”. They say that already Bach, Beethoven and Brahms and in the 20th century A. Webern, L. Nono and G. Scelsi attributed great spiritual sense to pauses. It is an analogy to a Jewish thinking, in which gospel is silence.

Ludmila Vrkočová reminded the Czech tradition of idealistic teachers – musicians, cantors – they were organists, choirmasters, instrumentalists and choristers. They adopted spiritual compositions for their choirs and also composed their own compositions. Ms. Vrkočová says that the continuators are teachers in conservatories and similar schools. Their compositions are often known only in their place of work (Plzeň, Teplice, České Budějovice, …). This year Czech Radio 3 – Vltava has started to broadcast their compositions. While in the times of national revivalists (18th, 19th century) these people were strongly bounded by working for school and church, nowadays the aspect of spiritual creation is weakened.

Vojtěch Mojžíš presented Prague exhibition “Secret of Note manuscript” in the colloquium. The exhibition was prepared by Czech museum of music, Prague. Mojžíš informed the audience about principles and form of the exhibition, which interestedly documents notations from last three centuries. It is interesting especially for graphologists.

Rudolf Růžička furnished information about electro-acoustic compositions from religious sphere, which were presented in the international competition of electro-acoustic music “Musica nova 2006” in Prague. Besides the premiere of Růžička’s electro-acoustic “Missa” took place in Forfest. The form of mass is traditional (seven parts: Kyrie-Gloria-Offertorium-Sanctus-Benedictus-Agnus). “Missa” is without any lyrics. The author took advantage of Bratislava experimental studio.

The compositions “Preludes and fugues for piano” by Vladimír Bokes and “Echoes I”, “Aretusa”, “Ostrov I” and “Lichtewellen” were also presented at Forfest concerts. Later, the authors analyzed them and talked about their creative poetics.

There was also another premiere, an opera by Andreas Yin Swoboda, Canadian composer of Czech origin, called “Martin Středa”. The author wrote this piece for solo baritone (monologues of Martin Středa, the protagonist) and chamber orchestra. Swoboda wrote this one-act at the age of 25, in 2004 he died aged 27. He used his own libretto and is influence by shocking experiences of Czech political prisoners, in 1950’. In colloquium many detailed information were available.

Ruth Forsbach informed the audience about biblical spiritual opera – oratorio “Petrus” by Hennig Forsbach (1936-2003). It tells the story about the apostle Peter in three acts.

In the first one, Peter left off fishing for fish and so he could fish for the souls of men and became a follower of Jesus. The second one shows Peter as an enthusiastic follower who loved Jesus, but is also able to deny Jesus. He is sorry for that for whole his life. In the last act, Peter became the first of apostles and after Jesus’ death he led the Church. He died as a martyr. In the introduction, responsorial melodies are sung in Latin, the rest of libretto is written in German. The opera is conceived as an inner dialogue between elderly Peter before an execution and his life memories. It is a soliloquy. The protagonist is rent into two: baritone, the voice of his memories by soprano, represents an elderly apostle.

Tomáš Pálka’s reprot compares types of spirituality between three Czech living composers – a septuagenarian Marek Kopelent, a fiftier Pavel Novák-Zemek and him, Tomáš Pálka who is in his thirties. To make statistics, he would need more people to compare, although the results are quite interesting.

In the creation of Marek Kopelent a Catholic base is clear. Further social-political and critical inspirations are evident; it is caused by his aversion to totalitarian regime. It is reflected in his symbolism (inserted genre passages: kazačok, funeral march, laughter into a piano composition). We can find philosophical ciphers, moral message and great conceptions – an oratorio in honor of St. Adalbert, innovative full-length multimedia work in honor of St. Anežka Česká etc.

Since 1980’, Pavel Zemek has attended almost only to spiritual music. He reduces music to unison, eliminates dissonant harmonies, understands time as static and prefers miniatures.

Tomáš Pálka finds the inspiration in the Bible and some poets: V. Holan, B. Reynek, I. Blatný, A. de Saint-Exupéry and especially Jiří Jan Vícha and Zdeněk Volf. Vícha was arrested for his belief and wrote on in prison. Pálka found purity, humility and beauty in his poems. Volf’s poetry aims to the essence, without any embellishment. Their poems are full of faith. Pálka is also impressed with reductionism.

Fred O’Callaghan from Ireland chosen Suk’s symphony “Asreal” for his analysis. One of the reasons was 100th anniversary of its premiere. In O’Callaghan’s report, many reviews from that time are quoted: by Kovařovic, Štěpán, Hoffmeister, Květ, Talich and even by Suk. O’Callaghan is sorry for that this Asrael is not performed more often, because he reveres this excellent composition. In conformity with Talich, O’Callaghan says that Asrael is not a symphony of the end and desperation, but a hymn about incessant changes of life and death. In the end the light and darkness units – life and death are reconciled.

Wilmar Hader talked about his compositions inspirited by Angelo Silesias’ spiritual poems. Silesias lived in the 17th century, studied philosophy and medicine. He converted to Catholicism (was a Protestant before) and became a priest. He published several garners of spiritual poems, e.g.: “Cherub pilgrim”, “The Light of Lights” and “The Creator’s Rest”. Had has created many compositions and cycles using these poems.

Wanda Dobrovska’s topic was “Spiritual projections in music by Alan Havhness”. Havhness, American composer of Armenian and Scottish origin, composed “Spirit murmur” in the 1940’. It is a special kind of music, which can be counted as the predecessor of minimal-music and aleatoric. It was not successful those at that time. Only after 20 years, some other authors started to use it.

Vladislav Grešík reported some notes about sculptures by Lubomír Purdeš (born in 1965 in Prešov, Slovakia). He named his report “Fossil time, archetype and eternity”. Already during Purdeš’s studies at Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava he was highly regarded for his intensive feeling for olden primitive forms and traditional sculptural materials (wood, stone, metal).

He still uses these materials. He connects spaces and also uses artificial color sources. It strengthens mystique, allusiveness, indeterminateness, polyvalence, playfulness and controlled fortuity.

Purdeš is expressing a continuous interest in spirituality. He exerts it in two basic aspects:
By expressing of harmony and emphasis on hyperbole and expressivity
By symbolism and radical simplification of symbolical shapes

Multiform shapes of something eternal and unseizable fascinate him. It is a continual endeavor of human to approach to eternity and its secrets with the help of symbols and signs.

Also members of Mobius Group of Boston (USA) took the part in the colloquium. They also prepared several happenings and organized an exhibition of their works.

The program of the colloquium was variegated by night presentations of authors connected with a debate about presented works and about creative direction and intentions of present composers (V. Bokes, M. Drude, A. Piňos, P. Pokorný, T. Plsek).

It is a pity that there was no round table today, last time it was very fruitful. Its participants have recommended continuing with round tables, maybe this tradition will continue next colloquium. Unlike last years, this time there was no report about non-Christian spiritual streams.

The colloquium was perfectly prepared by Mr. and Mrs. Vaculovic and was moderated by PhD. A. Kröper. It was closely connected with concerts and other actions of Forfest and it proved its currency and sense.

Prof. Alois Piňos
composer /JAMU Brno, CZ/

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