Canon Fodder: Thomalla's Albumblatt

Hans Thomalla: Albumblatt (2010) -

Hans Thomalla was born in Bonn, Germany in 1975, he currently lives in Evanston, IL and teaches at Northwestern University.

First performance: 7/22/10.  Written for the Arditti Quartet, commissioned by the Ernst von Siemens Foundation.

If you're looking for more, check out this video of Hans' opera, Fremd.

The lights turn on abruptly at the start of Hans Thomalla's Albumblatt. You are standing in an empty white room. Whether or not there is a floor is unimportant. You are not grounded by gravity or time. Strands of sound, shape and thought move past you, or is it the remnants of light swirling on the inside of your eyelids?

These strands float and whiz past, each with its own density and following its own arc. Occasionally, they coalesce into a fragment of a memory, the faded photograph of a past life. Memory, charged with the nostalgic beauty, but still fleeting.

I hope to offer you those few thoughts as a way of setting a mood for contemplative listening to this truly arresting piece. Hans has said the rest better than I ever could:

We know albums – or Poesiealbum, as they are called in German – from our childhood: the collection of entries from friends or family as an attempt to hold onto something ephemeral: seemingly inseparable friendship, a notable experience, a song or a poem that should not be forgotten; all of those stand next to leaves that have dried long ago, and whose decomposition lets us experience vanity rather than durability.

My composition Albumblatt is a study about these tries to get a hold of such unsteady phenomena: the players’ fingers slide in almost uninterrupted glissando across the fingerboard at the beginning of the piece, while bow-pressure and bow-tempo swell constantly. A restless sonorous flow, continuously changing its direction, and in which chords shine through only in passing – just long enough to be perceived before the notes drift on: short moments of orientation, memory, meaning.

A steady decrease in bow- as well as in glissando-tempo (up to their eventual halt) attempts to grip these chords, to literally hold on to them. But instead of a stable and fixated harmony a different type of sonorous world emerges, one that follows its own flow and eventually its own elusiveness. The grasp for the chords, the attempt to get a hold of those gestures, becomes a fleeting gesture itself.

Albumblatt is dedicated to the Arditti Quartet

Hans Thomalla, 2011