A. Tissandier - Histoire de mes Ascensions (1878)
Walter ZIMMERMANN – Glockenspiel
In the fall of 2008, I gave my master’s recital at UCSD, which featured several canonical works of tremendous difficulty. As a reward for my arduous efforts leading up to that concert, I decided I owed myself the joy of learning a piece that would be simple, beautiful and easy. I knew of a piece by a called Riuti by the composer Walter Zimmermann which seemed to be nothing other than a beautiful lullaby, perfect for learning in the aftermath of a challenging recital. I budgeted about two weeks of practice time before it would be presentable.
One forty-page analysis later, I found that while Riuti far surpassed my criterion of beauty, it fully missed the marks of simplicity or ease of learning (it took me 18 months to finally present it). Learning Riuti has been by far the richest and most revelatory experience I have had as a musician. As I grew to fully understand what Zimmermann had done in terms of packing so much meaning into a piece of such apparent simplicity, his work, at least to me, verged on the miraculous.
After plenty of email correspondence over a few years, I managed to track Walter down in Berlin (as he himself had done years ago with many American composers in his astonishing collection of interviews entitled Desert Plants), and we met at Barcello’s Salon Sucré, which is one part bakery and one part hair salon, by his home on the Görlitzerstraße. Not long after this inspiring and supportive encounter, I resolved to play Walter’s second (and even more obscure) percussion solo Glockenspiel.
This piece, which comes from the composer’s cycle Sternwanderung (“Star Wandering”) lasts about 20 minutes, and is in five parts. The texts come from Jean Paul’s Des Luftschiffers Giannozzo Seebuch, which is effectively the imaginary travel log of an air balloon captain named Giannozzo. Jean Paul was writing at a time when the hot air balloon was practically a brand new invention: this was the first time man had been able to see the Earth with such a sense of distance. Here, Zimmermann evokes the oscillating desires of Schopenhauer’s porcupines (who on a winter’s night wish to be neither too close nor too far from each other): when one is too permanently bound to the soil, one envies of the freedom of birds and flying kites. When one has spent too much time soaring amongst the stars, one longs to touch the stone.
Jonathan Hepfer, 2014
(from Des Luftschiffers Giannozzo Seebuch) – Jean Paul (1763-1825)
I did not know which land grew verdant beneath me;
it was quiet for a long time – sometimes a carillon would ring out,
from some city hidden below me – then it was cool (...)
but between heaven and earth I was at my loneliest (...)
I was suddenly lifted up into blue heights.
How the sun shone in her silent sky,
so calm and cold above the sweltering earthly hell (...)
I was tired of the inhabited country
and so thirsty for the empty, pure sea.