Wolfgang RIHM – Dionysos: a writing on inner spaces (to Georges

Wolfgang RIHM – Dionysos:
a writing on inner spaces
Ivanka Stoianova
Université de Paris 8
[email protected]
(to Georges Blœss)
The “opera fantasy” Dionysos: scenes and dithyrambs based on texts by
Friedrich Nietzsche for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra (Rihm, 2009-2010)–by
the German composer Wolfgang Rihm1 (1953-) made its world premiere on July
27, 2010 during the Salzburg Festival with Ingo Metzmacher as conductor, Pierre
Audi, scenic director, and Jonathan Meese, scenary. A capital piece within Rihm’s
enormous catalog of work, Dionysos follows Rihm’s two chamber operas Faust
und Yorick (1976), based on the text by J. Tardieu, and Jakob Lenz (1977-78),
based on a novella by G. Büchner of the same name; the «dance poem»
Tutuguri (1980-82), inspired by A. Artaud; and the works for an opera scene in
Oedipus (1986-87) with texts by Sophocles, Hölderlin, Nietzsche and H. Müller
and Die Eroberung von Mexiko (1987-91) with texts by A. Artaud, O. Paz and
ancient Mexican songs.
A non-narrative
Dionysos is not an opera in the traditional sense as it completely renounces the
narrative and the entire directional evolution of scenic events. It is an open nonnarrative piece, a music theater multi-fantasy in various dimensions that consists
Wolfgang Rihm was born in 1952 in Karlsruhe where he lives today. He studied composition with
K. Stockhausen, Kl. Huber, W. Fortner and H. Searle. An extremely prolific writer, W. Rihm has
composed dozens of instrumental and vocal-instrumental works for chamber groups, symphony
orchestra, and operas. Since 1985, he is a professor of composition at the University of Music in
Karlsruhe. His works are published by Universal Edition (Vienna).
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of “scenes and dithyrambs” in “four planes” or “places”2: A sea, On the
mountain, 1-3 Inner spaces, A place. They are open musical scenes that refer to
important moments of Nietzsche's life, but, above all, to the universal ideas of
his philosophy: the relationships of man-woman, masculine-feminine, ApollonianDionysian, divine-human, individual-masses, life-death, etc. Hence, there is
potential for impact on the entire public interested in contemporary musical
Rihm’s composing strategy for Dionysos is situated within his Abgesangszenen
(1979-1981) where we already observe the symphonic interaction between
orchestral works and song (as well as on Nietzsche’s texts): a type of mixed
genre where a symphonic Lied, an opera scene and a piece for symphonic
orchestra interact.3 The “scenes” in Dionysos correspond to the delimited
dramaturgical components of the musical theater show; while the “dithyrambs”
are moments of choral reflection with dense orchestral support. In ancient
Greece, the dithyramb was a genre of choral music performing hymns that
glorified the god Dionysus. Nietzsche's poems entitled Dionysos-Dithyramben
[Dionysus-Dithyrambs] have little to do with the ancient genre of hymn poetry
and only succinctly refer to the Greek god. Only the poem Die Klage der Ariadne
[Ariadne’s Lament] and a few thematic elements--the idea of the labyrinth and
the laceration (that Rihm associates with the characters of Apollo and Marsyas)-allude to myths linked to Dionysus. Dithyramben in this piece by Rihm are choral
commentaries whose function is comparable to that of Nietzche’s poems in his
philosophical writings.
The quite long, first scene, or more precisely the first frame -- A sea -- and the
short, fourth and final scene -- A place -- rest on explicit, yet very concise,
dramaturgical sequences which are organized in frames that are somewhat static
and fixed, yet powerfully active musical moments:
In the first episode, Ariadne begs her savior or her executor-god
Dionysus, alluding to Nietzsche’s "struggle" for Cosima (let us remember
that in Nietzsche’s late letters to Cosima Wagner, with whom he fell in
love, he called her "Ariadne" and signed it "Dionysus");
The word "mansion" was used in the Middle Ages to define a place in the theater where a scene
took place.
Cf. RIHM, W. “Einige Gedanken zur Karlsruher Uraufführung der Zweiten Abgesangsszene”. In
RIHM, W. Ausgesprochen, Schriften und Gespräche, Band 2, Winterhur: Amadeus, 1997, p. 316319.
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The last frame is the celebrated episode of Nietzsche's life, just before
his tragic mental collapse: in Turin in 1889 when he saw a coachman
cruelly whipping his horse, Nietzsche, moved, kneels before the animal,
tenderly wraps his arms around his neck and kisses him, crying,
overcome with untold compassion.
The second scene — On the Mountain — represents the complementary and
tormented relationship between N. — Nietzsche (but also Niemand / anyone or
no one) and Ein Gast [A guest], his double, who achieves success exactly where
N. fails.
The third scene is the most active and dense, providing a true, three-part
theatrical development of events which are:
The first, entitled Innenraum 1 [Inner Space 1] shows the meeting of two
characters — N. and A Guest -- wandering among men, both looking for love;
The second part — Innenraum 2 [Inner Space 2] — develops in a brothel: the
two men — N. and A Guest – clash in search of their own truth. At this point we
hear the Lied of the Wanderer [Wanderer], he that wanders over the world
without ever finding peace. N. ends up being tied to Ariadne, while A Guest is
dilacerated by the women, all called Esmeralda;
The third part — Innenraum 3 [Inner Space 3] — presents N. who withdraws
more and more into his inner life to the point that the god Apollo rips off his skin
as he had done on another occasion, according to legend, with his rival
Marsysas, the flutist who is far superior to him in the art of sound. Bruised and
skinned alive, N. knows he is the victim of envy and persists in his search for
Despite the fact that the first and last scenes explicitly refer to elements known
to Nietzsche's biography, all scenes — even the second, that "exposes" the two
main characters N. and Ein Gast, and, of course, the third scene with its three
sections — are first and foremost the sound and scenic representation of the
inner spaces of Nietzsche’s universe where everyone can be reunited. It is a
musical-theater representation in the form of frames or static moments, like in
the first, fourth and last scene; or a more theatrical scenic representation, in
dialogue, like scene two or even in the three “inner spaces” as in scene three. It
seems evident that the composer attributes much more importance not to
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exterior scenic events, but to emotional states and the movements of affection of
inner spaces that are transmuted into expressive musical theater4.
Rihm’s opera fantasy is actually a dense scenic-musical transcription of the
composer’s personal experience with Nietzsche’s philosophical and poetic works
and exceptional personality through key moments of his biography5. In his
Dionysos, Rihm composes his own walk with Nietzsche, his own journey to the
inner spaces awakened by his contact with the philosopher’s universe. Rihm’s
scenic development ignores all traditional narrative of opera libretto and linear
development in benefit of dreamed situations that are subject only to relatively
free dramaturgical logic of "opera fantasy"6.
The non-narrative or anti-narrative is constituted therefore by different "inner
spaces" that ignore typical opera teleology. These spaces emerge as areas of
free, pluridirectional association, subject only to dream logic, or, put another
way, to the erratic logic of the aimless Wanderer, that evolve into increasingly
expressive and captivating acoustic appearances. It is an avalanche of relatively
free or casual musical ideas of sonorous and scenic moments inspired by
Dionysos-Dithyramben, a collection of nine poems by Nietzsche written shortly
before his mental collapse. For over thirty years Rihm lived with the Dionysos
project, Greek mythology and Nietzsche’s philosophical and poetic work before
coming to his "opera fantasy" that brings to light the actual movement of his
thinking on Nietzsche without beginning or end. The composer himself is the
compositional process — Rihm simultaneously writes the music, text and scenic
frames -- is a continuous invention of musical language that ignores conventional
boundaries. It is not, therefore, a text set to music, or music to accompany a
We remember that as early as Rihm’s first string quartet entitled “Im Innersten” / “In the most
profound, inner, intimate” (1976).
Nietzsche is one or Rihm’s favorite authors. Many of his works lie on Nietzsche’s texts, among
which his Third Symphony (1976) for soprano, baritone, mixed choir and orchestra, his second
Abgesangsszene (1979) for voice and orchestra, his Fourth Abgesangsszene (1979-80) for mezzosoprano and orchestra, his Fifth Abgesangsszene (1979-83) for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and
orchestra, Klangbeschreibung 2 (1986-87) for 4 voices, 5 brass and 6 percussions.
The notion of fantasy in instrumental music during the classical and romantic periods always
refers to formal freedom -- remember Mozart’s Fantasies for Piano. The notion of "opera fantasy"
for Rihm is a neologism that seeks to define the specificity of the musical and scenic dramaturgy of
this work of "music theater".
Cf. SLOTERDIJK, P. Der Denker auf der Bühne / Nietzsches Materialismus, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
1353, Neue Folge, Band 353, 1986.
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scenic drama, but a permanent invention of multiple and multivalent languages
unfolding in space and time, validating, we could say, Freud’s definition "Under
the word language, one should not only understand the expression of thought in
words but also body language and all other types of expression of psychic
activity, such as script"8 -- musical writing in itself and more specifically that of
Rihm with his "inner spaces".
The relationship to the text
For his "Musik-Theater" works
, Rihm always composes "A musical piece
composed of words, actions, sounds, images, melodies, noises, and lights.
Everything that appears in this development is music" (Rihm, 2002, p.194). The
initial impulse that generally follows one or more texts is particularly important.
In Dionysos, Rihm uses fragments from Nietzsche’s Dionysos Dithyramben
(1888-89) (Nietzsche, 2010, p. 58-87) that he freely recomposes and organizes:
"My base is Nietzsche’s Dionysos Dithyramben, inside of which I read, as it were,
a text – from which I infer a text. I express it as follows: the libretto is mine, but
every word is Nietzsche’s" (Rihm, 2010a). "Every word sung is Nietzsche’s, and
yet the text is mine" (Rihm, 2010b, p. 20).
The nine poems Nietzsche prepared for publication at the end of 1888, which
would not be published by him because of the sudden worsening of his mental
illness, are made up of text fragments: some, already published in Also sprach
Zarathustra [Thus Spake Zarathustra] (1883-85), are transplanted here. New
texts are added. It is well known that Nietzsche had written poems since his
youth: poetic art is an essential aspect of his literary production and a
constitutive part of his philosophical writings. He included poems in his writings
The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, and Nietzsche against Wagner. His best
known work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, explicitly abolishes the boundaries
between philosophical language and poetic language. Nietzshe’s close bond and
organic fusion of poetry and philosophy exert an unsuspected influence on
Rihm’s thinking as a composer. A convincing example of this is the organic
interaction of the Lied for voice and piano Der Wanderer, written by Rihm a few
Cf. FREUD, S. “Das Interesse an der Psychoanalyse”, Gesammelte Werke, Band VIII, S. 390.
Rihm’s notion of "Musik-Theater" is not the same as "musical theater", which was not very
precise within the context of compositional research after the 1960s, that led to the instrumental
theater, happening, multimedia spectacles of all kinds, opera. Rihm’s idea insists on the multiplicity
of materials, released from all directional narration and all becoming music-theater.
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years later on the eponymous poem by Nietzsche, with the contextual framework
of the music-theater work Dionysos (3rd frame, Innenraum 2) (Rihm, 20092010, p. 234-241) and its complex orchestral texture.10.
"His text (Dionysos-Dithyramben - IS) is a compilation and I use it as a base, as
background."11 (Rihm, 2010b, p. 20-21) Indeed, we can understand the opera
fantasy Dionysos as a multiple rewriting, like a musical and scenic Übermalung12
of Nietzsche’s poetic fragments. Although at times the great poetic art of
Dithyrambs of Dionysos (like Nur Narr! Nurr Dichter! [Nothing but a buffoon!
Nothing but a poet!] or Zwischen Raubvögeln [Among the birds of prey] or Klage
der Ariadne [Ariadne’s Lament)13, are dubious in taste, they are considered by
Rihm as "perfectly appropriate for music-theater" (Rihm, 2010b, p. 21). Because
the fragmented text is by nature, open and invites one to play with the pieces.
The interaction of text fragments allows for a densening or on the contrary, a
rarefaction of levels of understanding that complements each other14 (Rihm).
And this game that remains open, but never abandoned to its fate, called music,
requires intervention with its specific capacity to produce meaning.
The composer uses relatively little text, particularly dense in general, and loaded
with meaning, which he repeats like in the first scene: "Mich willst Du?" [Am I
the one you want?] or "Ich bin dein Labyrinth" [I am your labyrinth]; or in the
fourth scene: "Gott als Schaff" [God as sheep], "lachen" [laugh], "Ich bin deine
... Wahrheit Wahrheit Wahrheit ..." [I'm your truth ... truth ... truth].
It is known that the immediate repetition of a word or fragment of a text is the
most widely used method of setting a text to music: it musically unveils the
sonority and meaning of the word, the aura of the text, but also a precise
situation with the sensitivity and emotion that goes beyond the precise linguistic
Let us remember that the same poem - Der Wanderer – at the time of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra,
is used in the last piece of a cycle by Schoenberg Acht Lieder für Gesang und Klavier Op. 6 [Eight
Lieder for Voice and Piano Op. 6] (1903-05). In 2001, Rihm writes his Sechs Gedichte von Fr.
Nietzsche [Six poems by Mr. Nietzsche for baritone and piano]: Der Einsamste, Der Herbst, Der
Wanderer (I), Der Wanderer (II), Der Wanderer und sein Schatten, and Venedig.
Grundierung – a layer of painting.
Übermalung – is a painting over another painting. Remember that the master of Übermalung,
the Austrian painter Arnulf Rainer, is one of W. Rihm’s favorite artists.
The text of Klage der Ariadne was already used by Rihm in his work Drei Frauen (2001-2009), a
music-theater piece in three monodramas and two interludes.
“It’s obvious I play with the texts that, as we say, complement themselves beautifully. It’s as if I
have thought about it.”
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meaning. This is the case in the first scene where Ariadne repeats several times
to N. "Sprich endlich! Sprich! Sprich!" [Speak finally! Speak! Speak!], but each
time using a different musical formula and type of expression: (flehend
[supplicant], kehlig [guttural], dolce [sweet], furioso [furious] (Rihm, 20092010, p. 13). Also in the first scene, repeating the textual fragments "Heisse
Hände! Hände! Hände!" [Warm hands! Hands! Hands!] creates a continuous,
highly expressive melodic line for Ariadne’s part (Rihm, p. 20) that partially
originates from a melody in N.’s part -- "Ich bin dein Labyrinth" [I am your
labyrinth] (Rihm, p. 44) but a downward version15.
In Ein Gast’s part in the
second scene the repetition of the text "Sechs Einsamkeiten kennt er schon,
Einsamkeiten" [Six solitudes he already knows, solitudes ..." generates at first a
quasi-Recitative, then syllabic melodic figure. Repeating the text "Meine Seele"
[My soul] through different melodic figures in the parts of N. and Ein Gast in the
third scene (Innenraum 2) musically expresses the diverse nuances of affection
(Rihm, 2009-1010, p. 213-214 / 216-217). An amplified, immediate repetition
may be used as a musical commentary constituting a body of resonance and
expansion in time that amplifies a situation or emotion. This is the case of the
music for the three dolphins (three female voices) in the first scene: they initially
sing vowels without words then continue with “lá – lá – lá” "beschwörend hin zu
Ariadne" [imploring Ariadne] to reach a word charged with meaning "Labyrinth"
that is repeated several times in expressive melodic forms (Rihm, p. 52-54). A
hoquetus-type16 repetition with crescendo and acceleration is used as a means to
increase tension, as in the confrontation between Ein Gast and N. in the second
scene with the text "Jetzt, jetzt, Selbstkenner, Selbsthenker" [Now, now, selfknower, self-murderer], "Sie sich geraten ausser - ein Höhenrausch?" [They are
beside themselves – the height of drunkenness] as Rihm writes in the markings
of the scene. The hoquetus-type repetition evolves into a song in ostinato /
obstinate figures where two measures are repeated several times increasingly
faster containing the same text "Selbstkenner, Selbsthenker" from Die Klage der
The procedure resembles Die glückliche Hand [The Hand of Luck] by Schoenberg, where the
man's leitmotiv is a rising melodic figure (cellos), while the woman's leitmotiv is a descendent
melody (solo violin).
Hoquetus is a rhythmic procedure of dividing among many voices the individual units of sound of
a single melodic line.
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Amplified repetition by temporal distance is an effective method of directing the
musical-scenic development of an emotional crescendo with a strong impact.
Thus: "Sprich!", "Sprich endlich!" [Speak! Speak at Last] in Ariadne’s part in the
first scene appears several times in temporally distant events, in very different
musical versions - almost screaming, sung syllable by syllable, speaking, sung
with large interval jumps etc. - which conveys to the scene growing tension and
Amplified repetition by great temporal distance creates considerable semantic
consequences, organizing the work as a whole. At the end of the third scene
(Innenraum 3), we hear N. in a musical-scenic context that is completely
different from Ariadne's words in the first scene: "Mein Unbekannter, mein
Henker, Gott" [My unknown, my murderer, god] "Schamloser Unbekannter du
Henker Gott" [Unknown shameless, thou, god murderer], "Wer warmt mich, wer
liebt mich?" [Who warms me, who love me?] in N.’s part, scene three and "Wer
mich warmt, wer liebt mich?" "Oh kommt zurück, mein Gott Unbekannter, mein
Schmerz, mein letztes Glück!" [Oh come back, my unknown god, my pain, my
ultimate joy!] in Ariadne’s part, scene one17.
The composer can also completely renounce words. Thus, in the first scene,
nonverbal vocalizations are sung in Ariadne’s part: “She desperately sings
towards N.” [Sie singt N. verzweifelt an], whereas "she continues to row and
remains 'absent', deep inside herself" [hält er im rudern inne und bleibt
'abwesend' in sich zusammengesunken]. N. remains silent for a long time, then
babbling painfully, makes several attempts to finally pronounce a statement by
Dionysus from the poem Klage der Ariadne, “Ich bin dein Labyrinth" [I am your
Vocal music without words is often used as a musical commentary or a spatial
unfolding of linguistic meaning: remember the nonverbal song of the three
dolphins (three female voices) addressed to Ariadne in the first scene. In the
third scene (Innenraum 3) where N. is mistreated by Apollo, we heard the
wordless plaintive singing of a chorus of nymphs or maenads (Rihm, 2009-2010,
p. 332-337). Finally, in the last six measures of the opera fantasy, we once again
Cf. RIHM, 2009-2010, Third scene – p. 324, 340-343 and First scene – p. 18-23, 58-59.
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hear nonverbal vocals of the two coloratura soprani as a distant, reminiscence of
the feminine.
It is precisely because of the fragmented text that a multidimensional musical,
scenic development becomes necessary. "These texts call for music. They are not
high poetry. The human traits of trade with its material are inherent. And there,
the music can once again come into play”18 (Rihm, 1997, p.319). What is more,
it is there a music theater work for opera fantasy can naturally come into play.
The characters
The characters of Rihm's work bear little resemblance to the usual opera
characters. If the scenes or frames are "recipients" (Rihm) of multiple musicalscenic developments, the characters are flexible spaces, moving, varying, and
performing multiple roles in constant transformation. The boundaries between
the characters become permeable and yet we still easily recognize the key roles
that preserve their integrity in all circumstances.
N. is obviously Nietzsche, but also Dionysus, the dionysian in Nietzsche and, in
general, the dionysian philosopher, artist, wanderer, Marsyas, the skin, Nescitur,
nobody and everybody, that is, you and me too.
Ein Gast, is N.’s double, his Apollonian side, Apollo himself, but also the man who
mistreats the horse.
N. and Ein Gast are actually two simultaneously opposite and complementary
aspects of the main character N. It is a musical-scenic double disclosure "Doppel-Belichtung" (Rihm, 2010c, p. 39) – of the role that has been dramatized
multiplied, spatialized, and translated into a work of music theater. The internal
monologue -- that is, the movement of thought, the course of the mental
process, although internalized, is always a matter of the body, as Nietzsche
always sought to prove in his philosophy -- is presented in the form of a dialogue
and thereby externalized, made audible and visible, put into play in the
character’s actions.
Ariadne -- the abandoned beloved -- is impossible love, unattainable to N., the
eternal feminine, the woman, the mother. She also appears in Innenraum 2 in
“Diese Texte lassen Musik zu. Sie sind nicht bereits Musik gewordene Lyrik. Die menschlichen
Spuren der Auseinandersetzung mit ihrem Stoff haften ihnen an. Daran kann wiederum Musik
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the brothel of the third scene, and again at the end of opera fantasy, after the
scenic picture of a very Christian Pietà where N. (or The Skin) falls into the arms
of Ariadne -- Mary, always seeking love.
The nymphs of the first scene transform into dolphins, then courtesans, all with
the same name Esmeralda, and finally into maenads -- mythic forms in the third
scene. They form a fluid, elusive, varying and unattainable character of a
woman, of femininity, of the feminine desperately in search of N. and Ein Gast.
Rihm’s perfectly depersonalized iconic characters act as protean spaces19 or
resonance bodies for multiple semantic content. The unfolding and multiplication
of characters create spatial, multidimensional and varying figures that are more
adapted to the associative flow of thought or dream than to individualized opera
roles of traditional opera with its teleological development. It is known that in the
euphoria of his mental illness, Nietzsche often changed masks, like his Dionysus
model: he saw him at times as Caesar, or Shakespeare, the King of Italy or
Richard Wagner. In his philosophical writings, the metamorphoses, changes, and
developments are not rare: let us remember Thus Spake Zarathustra, where we
observe the metamorphosis of the spirit as a camel, lion and child. Each of
Rihm’s scenes and every facet of his scenic figures belong simultaneously to
several levels of the multiple musical-scenic enunciation in Dionysos, this
"imaginary drama around N. who is a man, who is Dionysus, who is the
Crucified, who is Marsyas, who is the Artist, who is ..." as Rihm explains.
As an open aggregate of many semantic contents, each character, indeed every
scenic figure in Rihm is made according to the fundamental principles of the
temporal arts, "the principle of multiple and concentrated action" and the
principle of "interaction of functions"20: as to the first, an aesthetic goal is
achieved through multiple and varied means; and to the second, the same
medium is used to serve several purposes. The two principles contribute to
building a unified and coherent work, despite the diversity of its components.
Proteus is the god of the sea who inherits from his father Poseidon the gift of profecy and was
capable of assuming different forms according to his will.
The aesthetic theory that developed during 1940-70 these essential principles of theoretical
musicology, on the basis of the Western symphonic tradition and in the wake of cinematographic
theory of S. Eisenstein belong to the musicologist Lev. A. Mazel ' – Cf. MAZEL’, L. A. “Estetika i
analyz” / “Aesthetics and analysis” in Stat’i pó teorii i analizu muzyki / Essays in musical theory
and analysis, Moscou: Sovetskij kompozitor, 1982, p. 3-54.
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According to the first principle, different characters, looks, details, and facets
respond to the same unifying goal: thus N., Ein Gast, der Gott-Henker [Godmurderer], Dionysus, Marsyas, and The Skin are all present and brought
together in the figure, particularly important to Rihm, of the Wanderer who has
the advantage of being, for any spectator, a character more familiar than the
philosopher Nietzsche.
Pursuant to the second principle, specific expressive means are used to answer a
variety of artistic objectives: therefore, feminine voicing, women’s voices, and,
more precisely, the coloratura soprani characterize Ariadne, nymphs, dolphins,
the courtesans, the Esmeraldas, and the archaic mothers.
In the interaction of these two principles the work is built as a concentrated
"living organism" (Mazel, 1982, p. 24), charged with corporal, intellectual and
emotional energy. Rihm’s artistic discovery of Dionysos is precisely this
particularly effective interaction of these two lines of force of his compositional
strategy that give the work — it could be said, according to Nietzsche’s precepts
-- more energy, more movement, more life. They govern the make up of every
scene, as well as the development of all characters in this flux which is relatively
free of "thematization of the imagination"21 (Rihm, 2002b, p. 53) resulting in a
work of music theater.
A “vegetative” composition
Rihm often speaks of "vegetative composing" (Rihm, p. 57) and compares his
work of drafting musical material to the growth of ivy, plants, tangled foliage
(Gewächsen, Gewirr, Geweben)22. Regarding Nietzsche’s Ditirambos of Dionysus,
he explains: "After almost 40 years, these poems seem to accompany me, a kind
of grandiose and fathomless plant that emerge from obscurity of an anamnesis
sea." (Rihm, 2010c, p. 39).
Associations of organic or botanical nature in philosophy and aesthetics are not
new of course: let us remember "Urpflanze" [primordial plant] in Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe23, or "der vollkommene Organismus" [the perfect
“Thematisieren von Imagination”.
Plants, excrescences, tangles, tissues
Cf. GOETHE, J. W. v. Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen (1790) und Objekt und Methode der
Morphologie (1807).
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organism] in Arnold Schoenberg (Schoenberg, 1965, p. 74).24 Or, more near to
us, the rhizome in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Deleuze et Guattari, 1980,
p. 9-37) and the ivy in Rihm. We can take this metaphor further with the aerial
roots of the banyan fig tree, whose branches seem to live in direct and
permanent reciprocity with its roots. And this metaphor allows us to stress the
possibility of variability or interchangeability of functions of different parts of the
living organism. Rihm writes, "In art, multiplicity must be the first condition of
unification and new multiplications /.../ Art grows /.../ from the crown to the
trunk and from there to the roots. It evolves far from concreteness in laborious
depth." (Rihm, 2002b, p. 58).
The imagistic metaphors from the botanical domain that Rihm often employs
confirm his affiliation to the great Western tradition; always in search of organic
unity of the entire work. But his preferred metaphor of ivy in fact dissimulates
the essence of his formal discovery: multiplicity, precisely the materials used in
the musical-scenic enunciation and the novelty in formal procedures, allow you
to obtain, in conditions of open multiplicity, an ever organic composition in its
entirety. A child of the twentieth century, Rihm searches for the theoretically
unlimited multiplicity of music material, along with his references to Wagner,
Strauss, Bach, Schubert, to himself and the waltz, but always striving for
coherence and continuity of the musical-scenic events in a fully unified work. It is
not static citational references playing with stylistic contrasts, but the metabolic
interaction of the materials used, evoking more the fig tree, with its reversible,
interchangeable vital functions. The ivy metaphor, on the other hand, the plant
that uniformly propagates on all sides, completely undoes the multiplicity and
disparity of musical elements, essential to Rihm in Dionysos. In his "opera
fantasy", it is, above all, a continuous metabolism, a permanent reciprocity of
disparate materials, which defines the very nature of his musical thinking
founded on free associations. -- Let us also remember the Lied with piano
accompaniment Der Wanderer and the orchestral texture of Dionysos that "graft
themselves", also integrating the flute solo characterizing Marsyas (third scene,
Innenraum 2) (Rihm, 2009 -2010, pp 236-241.); or the waltz in scene 3,
Innenraum 2, where the four Esmeraldas dance with the doll -- Ein Gast (Rihm, p
We remember that Herzgewächse [Foliage of the heart], by Schoenberg was published for the
first time in the same almanac.
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248-254..); or the choir for mixed choir – Misterioso (in tempo di corale) -- with
Nietzsche’s text "Die Wüste wächst! Weh dem, der Wüsten birgt!" [The desert
grows: woe to him who harbors deserts!] at the end of Innenraum 2, scene 3
(Rihm, p. 281-287).
The Wanderer
The emblematic figure hidden behind N. and his double is undoubtedly that of
the Wanderer. Certainly, it is no coincidence that Rihm returns, in the context of
Dionysos, to his Lied Der Wanderer previously written on the eponymous poem
by Nietzsche from the time of Zarathustra (1883-1885). It is not by chance that
in 1997 he also writes a text under the programmatic title "Eine WandererPhantasie"25. In the same year, Rihm transcribed for voice and orchestra the
renowned Lied by Fr. Schubert Der Wanderer (Op. 4/1, D 489, 1816) on the text
by Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck. To him, the wandering traveler is the
personification of the inner journey, the "inner divagation"26 (Rihm, 2002c, p.
87), the behavior of the thinker/composer in regards to the scene of his work of
music theater. The opera fantasy is in fact made up of scenes and dithyrambs
thought of as musical-scenic representations of the inner spaces of these internal
ramblings, where we follow the associative movements of thought. The
Wanderer, as all the characters in Dionysos, is not a historical or psychological
character. He is "presence, incorporated movement of thought"27 (Rihm, p. 88),
"man of here and now. Totally non-teleological. In fact, he is intrinsically
(Rihm, p.
87) He is "the representative of the fantasy in his
journey"29 (Rihm, p. 90). And the music - especially Rihm’s – is always a path,
flux, the free flowing of events of the often impulsive movements of thought. The
Wanderer, like the philosopher, poet, madman and/or composer -- is "exposed
defenselessly to reality"30 (Rihm, p. 91). "The head of the wanderer is leaned
forward. He lets himself penetrate the image of the path; he eats the path with
This text is published in Offene Enden, 2002, pp. 87-91.
“Inneres Schweifen”.
“Gegenwart, inkorporierte Bewegung des Denkens”.
“Mensch des Hier und Jetzt. Gänzlich unteleologisch. Eigentlich ist er der genuin ziellose.”
“Er ist der Stellvertreter der Phantasie auf dem Weg.” “Weg, fluss, vergehendes Erignis.”.
“Ungeschützt der Wirklichkeit ausgesetzt”.
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his eyes."31 At the end of Rihm’s opera fantasy, all of the participants who took
N.’s path lean "very quietly toward" the public32 (Rihm, 2009-2010, p 369): they
are wandering travelers having already taken the path, as have we spectators in
the concert hall. The modest gesture of the body leaning forward is an emblem
of wandering and simultaneously, an invitation to new journeys: into the inner
spaces already presented in the opera fantasy that make rhizome, grafted with
Rihm’s Dionysos is a strong work that demonstrates the movement of thought by
means of music theater. A child of his time, inventing music after 12-tone music
and the vanguard serialism of the 50’s and 60’s of the twentieth century and a
contemporary of the spectral movement of 1970’s and 80’s and thereon, Rihm
always composed without a rigid system, using a single method – his own
intuition and will as a composer. "It's a La Palisse truth”33, but with many
consequences, if we think how much precious time was spent in the madness to
invent a method, nothing more than a method, and to compose through it!" –
Rihm declares indignantly (Rihm, 2002d, p. 97). In this sense, he is also
Nietzschean: remember Nietzsche: "I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them.
The will to a system is a lack of integrity.” (Nietzsche, 1980, v. 4, p. 376; 1974,
p. 15).34
Can we doubt that Nietzsche would have appreciated the assimilation of
Dionysus to the Crucified and the explicit reference to Christianity in the scenic
image of the Pietà in the fourth scene of Dionysos. True, The Skin (of Marsyas,
“Der Kopf des Wanderers bleibt geneigt. Er Lässt das Bild des Weges in sich ein, er isst den Weg
durch seinen Blick.”
The last stage marking on the score of Dionysos, reads: “Im rasch einbrechenden Dunkel sieht
man gerade noch, dass sich alle auf der Bühne versammelten Figuren und Gestalten sehrt ruhig
zum Publikum hin verneigen.”.
Translator’s note: “A La Palisse truth”, “de la Palice”, or “lapalissade” is something that is so
obvious it becomes ridiculous (a truism). Jacques de la Palisse (1470-1525) was one of France’s
most brilliant marshals of all times. A popular song sung in his honor read: “Un quart d’heure avant
sa mort il était encore en vie”. This extremely naive truth, was then unjustly attributed to La
Palisse himself, giving orign to the expression. (“La Palisse”, Dictionnaire universel des noms
propres Le Petit Robert 2, Paris, 1990).
Translator’s note: The reader may find the public domain Friedrich Nietzsche's texts at
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N.) falls from the knees of the Virgin (in Pietà position) to the ground)35 (Rihm,
2009-2010, p. 368). It is true that several times we heard at the end of the third
scene: "God as sheep … tear to pieces god in man and laugh, laugh …"36 (Rihm,
p 352-354). But the image of the Pietà is too strong and full of meaning to be
called into question. Rihm remains Christian. Recall that Nietzsche ended Ecce
Homo with the phrases: "Did they understand me? – Dionysus against the
Crucified..."37 (Nietzsche, 1977/2012, p. 358-369; 1980, v. 1, p 196). Yet again:
The blindness of Christianity is the crime par excellence - the crime alive
(...) The Christ has been the "moral being", an unparalleled Curiosum and, as a "moral being" the most absurd, mendacious, vain, frivolous,
harmful to himself than even the greatest despiser of humanity could
have allowed himself to dream 38 (Nietzsche, 1977/2012, p. 348-351;
1980, v. 1, p. 194).
Blindness in regard to Christianity is the supreme crime—for it is the
crime against life. (…) Hitherto the Christian has been the "moral being”
a curiosity without equal and — as "a moral being”, more absurd, more
vain, more thoughtless and of a greater harm to himself; than the
greatest despiser of humanity could have deemed possible.
The Crucified, according to Nietzsche, generates grief and melancholy, tears and
suffering, while Dionysus brings an explosion of joy, dance and laughter. "The
unmasking of Christian morality is an event which is unequalled in history, it is a
real catastrophe",39 wrote Nietzsche (1977/2012, p 354-355; 1980, v.1, p. 195).
After more than two millennia of Christianity, Rihm strives to reconcile Dionysus
and Christ, and has neither the intention nor the possibility in his art to continue
discussions on Christian morality. Rihm seems to forget Nietzsche's purpose
"Dionysus against the Crucified", but he certainly appropriated many important
ideas from the philosopher: the idea of freedom, spontaneous corporal creativity
without the paralyzing power of organizing systems, the idea of movements of
unlimited thought in constant affirmation. Nietzsche wanted a free man,
…a man to whom nothing is forbidden. Such a freed spirit stands in the
center of the universe with a cheerful and confident fatalism, with the
In the end “fällt Die Haut aus der Pietà-Position herab auf den Boden”.
“Gott als Schaff... den Gott zerreissen im Menschen und lachen, lachen…”.
“Hat man mich verstanden? – Dionysos gegen den Gekreuzigten…”.
“Die Blindheit vor dem Christentum ist das Verbrechen par excellence – das Verbrechen am
Leben… / Der Christ war bisher das “moralische Wesen”, ein Curiosum ohne gleichen – und, als
“moralisches Wesen”, absurder, verlogner, eitler, leichtfertiger, sich selber nachteiliger, als auch
der grösste Verächter der Menschheit es sich träumen lassen könnte.”
“Die Entdeckung der christlichen Moral ist ein Ereignis, das nicht seinesgleichen hat, eine
wirkliche Katastrophe.”
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profound belief, that only what is individual is reprehensible, that in the
whole everything is redeemed and affirmed — he no longer negates (…)
But such a belief is the highest of all possible beliefs: I have baptized it
in the name of Dionysus 40 (Nietzsche, 1974, p. 94; 1980, v. 4, p. 424).
Herein lies also the title of Rihm’s opera fantasy.
The multiple language in Rihm's work reflects the behavior of the human psyche
that people can explore individually, according to their own sensibility and
culture. The spectator finds himself located in the artist's brain, the "thinker on
the stage"41
/ the "thinker in music theater” within the meanders of their
fantasy, their varying internal spaces, that are all, we reiterate, a language of
the body. Rihm’s work in scenes and dithyrambs demand of the spectator a new,
attentive listening: it rests on complete openness to the wanderings of thought
and on the constant active reflection of varying characters and fluctuating
situations. “I think the understanding of music is an infinite openness”, writes
Rihm. “We understand music as we open more and more, even to the possibility
of disappearance”42 (Rihm, 2010b, p. 20). Rihm’s opera fantasy Dionysos invites
us to this new experience with the work of art: the experience of the wanderer in
multiple, fickle inner spaces in search of his/her and our truth.
“…ein Mensch, für den es nichts verbotenes mehr gibt. Ein solcher freigewordener Geist steht mit
einem freudigen und vertrauenden Fatalismus mitten im All, im Glauben, dass nur das einzelne
verwerflich ist, dass im ganzen sich alles erlöst und bejaht – er verneint nicht mehr. /…/ Ein
solcher Glaube ist der höchste aller möglichen Glauben: ich habe ihn auf den Namen des Dionysos
Cf. SLOTERDIJK , P. Der Denker auf der Buhne / Nietzsches Materialismus, Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, 1986.
“Ich glaube, dass das Verstehen von Musik ein unabschliessbares Öffnen ist. Wir verstehen
Musik, indem wir uns immer weiter öffnen, bis zur Möglichkeit des Verschwindens.”
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