Schwarz auf Weiß
Heiner Goebbels's Schwarz auf Weiss pays homage to the German writer Heiner Müller, who died in 1995. Yet a work more unlike a conventional requiem would be hard to imagine. In this experimental music-theatre piece, the instrumentalists - 18 members of the Ensemble Modern from Cologne - are the actors, and they discharge their theatrical duties with the same considerable eslan they bring to the music. At the outset, as the players straggle on stage, a solo bassoon is heard, soon to be joined by other instruments in good-natured cacophony. After a while; the musicians regroup, therebiy setting a pattern for a work consisting of short episodes, each with a musical and dramatic idea. In one, the players throw tennis balls at a bass drum and a sheet off metal, with good shots rewarded sonically. Most impressively, the versatile musicians rarely had printed notes before them. From time to time readings fron Müller, Edgar Allan Pce amd Maurice Blanchot blended into the wide-ranging sonorities. It was all engaging, but one wondered where it would lead. Happily Goebbels didn't run out of steam, and some of the best moments of the 70-minute work came toward the end. A woman serenely plucks out a melody on a koto (a Japanese instrument) whilie a battery of noisy brass players menacingly stalk her; gradually their music turns more amiable, thougth punctuated by saxophone utterances that rank among the most superbly wretched sounds I've ever heard from a musical instrument. Another woman repeatedlyr declaims John Webster's lines quoted in T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland: "That corpse you planted last year in the garden, / Has it begun to sprout?" in an ever more frantic crescendo. The close finds all the musicians witih violins, quietly bouncing the bows off the strings.
Financial Times (GB), 27 August 2003