NEW CHORAL MUSIC FOR SOUTH AFRICA

“WEGGEWERP” (2019–2020)

Siklus van toonsettings van Afrikaanse poësie vir gemengde koor a cappella

Return to Weggewerp

Afrikaans

Die koorsiklus Weggewerp is ‘n opdragwerk van die koor VOX Cape Town ter nagedagtenis aan Albrecht Hahne, ‘n leprose lyer en besonder empatiese Lutherse Pastor wat in 2015 oorlede is.

Albrecht se voormalige eggenoot – ‘n VOX koorlid – is besonder getref deur die aangrypende ru poësie van ‘n vervaagde graffiti waarop die fotograaf Derek McKenzie op die muur van ‘n verlate skaapwagtershut op ‘n afgelëe Karooplaas afgekom het. Terwyl sy haar ingedink het aan die besondere omstandighede waarin ‘n onbekende person dekades gelede op die mees afgeleë en eensame plek genoodsaak was om die verse uit te skreeu het dit op so ‘n merkwaardige manier met Albrecht se lewenservarings geresoneer dat die gedagte van ‘n toonsetting daarvan as huldeblyk ontstaan het.

Inderdaad verleen die spesifieke konteks aan die Psam verse ‘n besondere kwaliteit en spreek hulle as gevolg daarvan ‘n onmiskenbaar eie ‘Karoo-taal’ wat aan die kanoniese bybelteks ‘n nuwe en feitlik oorspronklike outeurskap verleen. Dit word nog onderstreep deur subtiele maar doelbewuste weglatings: Waar daar in die bybel staan “u het my opgehef en my weggewerp” (vers 11) het die anonieme skrywer klaarblyklik geen rede gehad nie om die kwessie van “opgehef” te noem nie. Die verse 14 tot 27, waar daar sprake van ontferming en verlossing is, ontbreek volledig. In plaas daarvan kom die skrywer tot sy eie finale gevolgtrekking oor die ewigheid waarmee hy sy klaag onweerlegbaar kortknip: “tot dood”.

Om verdere gewig aan die toonsetting te verleen en om dit in ‘n landskaplike Karoo-konteks te plaas, het dit toepaslik geblyk om dit deel van ‘n siklus met sielsverwante tekste te maak. Al is hierdie dalk ‘n bloot subjektiewe oordeel, wil dit vir my voorkom asof die taal van W.E.G. Louw (gebore in Sutherland) en C.L. Leipoldt (gebore op Worcester) as gevolg van die twee digters se herkoms ‘n bepaalde atmosferiese verwantskap toon. In vergelyking met die Psalm is dit wel veel meer refleksief en teruggehoue maar skep dalk juis daarom ‘n geskikte raamwerk vir die drastiese en hoogs dramatiese weeklaag van Ek is slapeloos wat uit die aard van die saak die kern van die siklus uitmaak.

In ‘n wyer verband vorm Weggewerp deel van ‘n kompositoriese proses waarin ek poog om ‘n eiesoortig toepaslike musikale idioom vir die klank van Afrikaans as gesproke – of te wel gesonge – taal te vind. Ek is van mening dat dìe taal met sy kenmerkend kort woorde en knap uitdrukkings, oop vokale, groot verskeidenheid van genuanseerde diftonge, ‘n besonder geskikte sang-taal is. Desnieteenstaande wil dit voorkom asof dit ‘n bepaalde weerstand bied teen generiese toonsettingskonvensies, asof standard benaderings dit nie tot sy volle reg laat kom nie. Dalk het dit te doen met die wydverspreide gewoonte om betekenisse met behulp van uitspraak reeds direk uit te beeld (soos in die laaaaang pad) wat ‘n aanduiding is van inherente liguistiese integrasie van beeldspraak en uitspraak. Dit verklaar dalk ook die groot aantal onomatopese woordskeppings en vryelike inkorporering van eksotiese klanke en uitdrukkings uit ander tale, soos bv. die kenmerkende gorrelklanke van goggas en gramadoelas. In ‘n taal waarvan die uitdrukkingskrag tot so ‘n hoë mate daarvan afhang hoe dit gepraat word, sal dit nog meer saak maak hoe dit gesing word.

Vanuit ‘n steeds wyer perspektief is hierdie worsteling met die ‘musikale klank’ van Afrikaans net een van ‘n reeks bepalende kontekste (of ‘ekologië’) van my werk – soos ook die studie van musiekidiome van spesifieke inheemse tradisies van Afrika kulture, die veld van histories ingeligte uitvoerings van vroeë Europese musiek of die pogings tot artistieke response op die oorweldigende biodiversiteit van my onmiddellike natuurlike omgewing.

As ek self oor hierdie wyd uiteenlopende raamwerk van verwysings besin, wil dit voorkom asof ek die oorkoepelende artistieke uitdaging om tot ‘n moderne musikale estetika by te dra, net deur ‘n fokus op baie spesifieke en nou beperkte vrae kan nakom. Verder sou ‘n mens egter ook kon redeneer dat so ‘n hoofstroom doelwit eers dan werklik ‘modern’ sal wees – in die sin van inklusief verteenwoordigend, oop, toekomsgerig en volhoubaar – wanneer dit tans nog gemarginaliseerde newestrome ook inkorporeer. Ek sou wou hoop dat my werk mettertyd tot so ‘n tipe geïntegreerde diversiteit sal kan bydra. Des te meer wanneer idiomaties treffende Afrikaanse toonsettings vanselfsprekend deel van die diversiteit is.

Weggewerp se geskeduleerde eerste uitvoering in 2019 moes om verskeie logistieke redes tot die volgende jaar uitgestel word. Maar met die uitbreek van die COVID-pandemie, die beperking van openbare konserte en veral die streng verbod op koorsang moes dit toe weer afgesê en as’t ware weggewerp word.

VOX kon eers in Sept 2022 sy sangaktiwiteite opnuut hervat en die siklus sal in Oktober 2023 vir die eerste keer volledig uitgevoer word.

Hans Huyssen

English

The choral cycle Weggewerp (Cast Away / Banished) was commissioned by VOX Cape Town in memory of Albrecht Hahne, a leprosy sufferer and particularly empathetic Lutheran Pastor who passed away in 2015. Albrecht’s former wife – a VOX choir member – was particularly struck by the poignant raw poetry of a faded graffiti that the photographer Derek McKenzie discovered on the wall of an abandoned shepherd’s hut on a remote Karoo farm. Reflecting on the circumstances in which an unknown person would have been compelled to shout out these desperate verses many decades ago in a most remote and lonely place, resonated in such a profound way with Albrecht’s life experiences that the idea came up to use the verses in a musical tribute to his memory.

It is interesting to note that the place and space from which the verses came to our attention contributed so much additional meaning to the text that it took a somewhat more distant observer to recognize that the ‘writing on the wall’ was actually a Psalm verse. I will admit that I was still blissfully unaware of this fact while setting the text to music – which I consider a very fortunate kind of ignorance in hindsight. In this way I was guided by what I considered to be the special quality of an unmistakably unique ‘Karoo language’, in effect furnishing the verses with a new and original authorship, rather than submitting to a potentially more revering and less intense treatment of a traditionally biblical text.

Recognizing the canonical origin of the text did, of course, not take anything away in the end but instead added another layer of meaning and offered some further interesting insights. One of them concerns a framework for dating the wall scribbles to a certain degree, considering that they are based on the old Afrikaans bible translation first published in 1933. Another one concerns the subtle but clearly deliberate omissions: Where the biblical text reads “you lifted me up and cast me away” (verse 11), the anonymous author evidently was not compelled to mention the issue of “lifted up”. Verses 14 to 27, where there is talk of mercy and salvation, are completely missing. Instead, the author offers his own take on eternity with which he irrefutably concludes the lamentation: “until death”. Thereby the ‘Karoo authorship’ is in fact reaffirmed – an overwhelmingly existential experience of place overriding canonical scripture.

To further emphasize this Karoo context, I decided to place the piece into a cycle of landscape-related text settings. Admitting that this is a rather vague, very wide and fully external frame of reference and, moreover, that my choice of related text is purely subjective, I will nevertheless proffer that the language of W.E.G. Louw (born in Sutherland) and C.L. Leipoldt (born in Worcester) shows a particular atmospheric kinship due to the two poets’ ‘phenotype’. Compared to that of the Psalm, their language is much more reflexive and restrained, but thereby arguably creates a suitable frame for the drastic and highly dramatic lament of Slapeloos at the core of the cycle.

In a different context, Weggewerp forms part of a compositional process in which I attempt to find a well-fitting musical idiom for the sound of Afrikaans as a spoken – or rather sung – language. I consider this language, with its characteristically short words and succinct expressions, open vowels and large variety of nuanced diphthongs to be a particularly suitable singing language. Arguably the expressive quality of Afrikaans relies less on sophisticated grammar or extensive vocabulary and more on how (well) it is spoken individually – and hence how it is sung. Hence it resists all too generic conventions of setting texts to music, asking for a highly nuanced approach to do justice to its own fine and quite intangible expressive nuances. I have come to appreciate this as an equally hard and rewarding compositional challenge.

From an even wider perspective, the struggle with the ‘musical sound’ of Afrikaans is but one of a series of defining contexts or ‘ecologies’ of my work, on a par with the study of musical idioms of selected indigenous African cultures, the field of historically informed performances of early European music or the attempts at credible and meaningful artistic responses to the remarkable diversity of South Africa’s cultural and natural heritage.

While this very heritage arguably amounts to a most inspirational environment, it is alarming to note how it is instead increasingly being disregarded and neglected, in fact threatened, downgraded or downright destroyed in tragically ignorant and irreverent ways. Support for projects that culturally engage with this uniquely complex ecology and that attempt to find meaningful connections to appropriate ways of living with and in it, is rare. I therefore sincerely thank VOX for creating this collaborative opportunity: for commissioning the work, for not being intimidated by its technical challenges and for the sustained and dedicated commitment to ‘voice’ this tribute to Albrecht Hahne, to Afrikaans as a ‘harshly poetic’ form of expression and to the vastness of the Karoo, which will hopefully continue to exert its cultural and spiritual stimulus, begging us to stretch our imagination beyond our usually all too cluttered horizons.

Hans Huyssen