Stufen - (2006)
for bass or bass baritone and piano
Günther Groissböck gewidmet
This text remains under copyright and is therefore not fully reproduced
Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend
dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe,
blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muß das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe....
[ 7 pages, 6' 00" ]
(1877-1962) was a German novelist, poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1946. His themes speak of man breaking away from established
modes of civilization towards the essence and spirit of each individual. His
dislike of school regimentation caused him to leave the Maulbronn seminary,
and work at various jobs while working as a writer. This his 1906 novel,
Unterm Rad, speaks of the overly diligent student who becomes
self-destructive. His first novel from 1904, Peter Camenzind, tells
of a failed writer, and his theme of the search for the creative self
continues in Gertrud (1910) and Rosshalde (1914). The
well-known Siddhartha (1922) became a cult classic, telling of the
early life of Buddha in fictional form. Throughout World War I, Hesse lived
in Switzerland and denounced militarism and nationalism, becoming a
permanent resident in 1919, and then a citizen in 1923. His own sense of
crisis brought him into psychoanalysis, and further works deal with this.
Steppenwolf (1927) tells of the dissonance between bourgeois acceptance
and self-realization in a middle-aged man, and Narziss und Goldmund
(1930) contrasts an ascetic and religious intellectual with a sensualist
pursuing other paths of realization. His last and longest novel, Das
Glasperlenspiel (1943), contrasts the contemplative life with the active
in the character of a gifted intellectual.
As every blossom wilts and every youth yield to age
blooms every step of
life, and every wisdom and every virtue
in its time and shall not last.
At every step in life must the heart
be prepared for loss and new
with courage and without sorrow
in others, to offer new
And in every beginning there is a magic,
protects us and helps us to live.
We should cheerfully stride from place
without attachment to any one or nation.
The world's spirit
shall not make us captive,
but will lift us from step to step, onwards.
Scarcely as we are come into life
and are finally at home, then threatens
loss of vigor.
Only those who are ready to depart and travel,
comfortable with this.
It will perhaps that the hour of our death
show us yet new possibilities.
Life's call shall not end.
my heart, grasp both the farewell and with it be well.
As with the stages -- stair treads in Hesse's image -- of life, the climb
from our beginning to our end is a progression. And so, the setting of this
text begins as a climbing, the half-diminished seven chord being again and
again respelled into a rising gesture with the assist of some passing tones
to accompany the vocal line. As with the reality of life, the foreground
changes but the harmonic background holds all together into one barely
changing underlying structure. As with the stages of life, the gesture
begins anew again and again.
As the half diminished seven chord is decorated by passing tones of B-flat
through the the opening gesture and its repetitions, "taking heart" in
Hesse's understanding of life alters that into a B natural, as triplets and
a faster tempo propel the text forward. The appearance of Hesse's image of
the "Weltgeist" further accelerates the setting, just as later years in life
seem to speed ahead with an awareness of how much time has already passed.
As the final statement of the text, Hesse counsels us to "take heart," and
so the opening gesture is again repeated, the setting fading in dynamic and
tempo at its end, in parallel to the expected ending of life itself.
While working with this young bass baritone in Torino, I complimented Günther on his fine musical gifts and suggested composing a "Lied" for him.
His choice was this text of Hermann Hesse, from 1941, which he had often
listened to in an audio book form. In looking, I have found the full text of
this poem at a number of sites on line, as the text itself has apparently
many with its sense and meaning.
The score for Stufen is available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer and the Hesse estate. Click on the
graphic below for this piano-vocal score.