Unending Rose (2017–2019) for string quartet
The Kairos Quartett
Stefan Häussler, violin 1
Wolfgang Bender, violin 2
Simone Heilgendorff, viola
Claudius von Wrochem, cello
Live recording from the world premiere, Oct 3, 2020, Berlin, Germany
“So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb. And the marvelous rose became crimson, like the rose of the eastern sky. Crimson was the girdle of petals, and crimson as a ruby was the heart.
… Then she gave one last burst of music. The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky. The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air. Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams. It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea.”
Oscar Wilde, “The Nightingale and the rose,” in The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888).
Unending Rose is my modest prayer, gift and homage à Saint Mary, my own version of the Holy Rosary: a musical rose, made up with pure, pristine, and unprecedented sounds. For this I devised a program which explores unknown consonance scales and harmonies from different tuning systems. Here the word ‘consonance’ hews closer to its original meaning in counterpoint —the harmonious ratios between voices (punctus contra punctum), but expanded and developed with the help of technology. To create an artwork with this otherworldly quality, for the first movement, “Quaerendo Invenietis,” I imagined a parallel world in which music is unlike our Western art music (à la Ligeti’s imaginary childhood world, Kylwiria), and established a short musicological history of an epic age: the birth of scale, melody, harmony, and musical drama. The second movement, “The Thorn of the Sung Rose” (from To the Nightingale), is a poetic musical sculpture of concise shapes, in which the musical materials are more celestial (even higher ratios between 16 to 32) and pure (deviation values within 3 cents, 3/100 of a half step from pure ratios), since the thorn denotes not only the agony of crucifixion, but also a pathway towards love and infinity (e.g. the symbolism of Nigredo, or the love-death theme of the Nightingale in the Philomela myth, Persian fairytale, and Oscar Wilde's short story). The third, fourth, and fifth movements, “3–1. Ricercar,” “3–2. Cavatina: that the Lord will show to my dead eyes,” and “3–3. Coda: Masks, Agonies, Resurrections” respectively, form the second part of work and are completed in November 2019. The title is from Borges’s poem cycle, The Unending Rose, which gave me ceaseless inspiration. The entire piece runs about 45 minutes.