Notes and Editorial Reviews
“Raging order” – The music of Thomas Blomenkamp
“My premise is: no ideology, dogmas or cut-and-dried aesthetics of any kind. My goal is to produce music that exists for its own sake – and yet is capable of moving, attracting and/or disturbing an attentive audience, or at least not leave them indifferent.” That is how Thomas Blomenkamp describes his art. The great success that invariably accompanies performances of his works resides in this studious avoidance of ideology and the direct, almost visceral impact his music has on the listener. Yet, at the same time, his musical language has high recognition value and an unmistakable sonic profile; his works are frequently built from minuscule motivic cells. Lastly, Blomenkamp is
opposed to composing “from the gut”: his music strikes a precisely calibrated balance between emotion and intellect. There is good reason why the wall of his study bears a quote from the French dramatist Antonin Artaud: “Everything must be put into a raging order with absolute precision”.
Blomenkamp’s most extensive orchestral work to date, Fünf Stücke für großes Orchester (Five Pieces for Large Orchestra), owes its existence to a commission from the Düsseldorf Tonhalle and was premiered by John Fiore and the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker in January 2008. Fiore did not make any special requests regarding the instrumentation: “Do whatever you want”, he told the delighted composer. Blomenkamp decided to write a work that would put the orchestra and its resources “through their paces”. The five movements are laid out in an arch form of fast–slow–fast–slow–fast. The introductory “Preludio” is a written-out accelerando on the one hand and, on the other, a contest between dynamic and static elements, as so often in Blomenkamp’s music. “Canto” features an expansive melody from the rarely used heckelphone, a baritone oboe. The music of “Scherzo”, with its phalanx of brass, sometimes sounds like a giant trying to dance a waltz. Yet its palpable aggressiveness is meliorated by a characteristic lilt. The predominant vehicle of “Notturno” is the cello section, playing one to a part. But the placid night-time scene is frequently disturbed by rude thumps from the bass and snare drums – an imperilled idyll. The final movement contains reminiscences of its predecessors while channelling the music toward its boisterous conclusion with an irresistible momentum.
Occasionally, as Blomenkamp informs us, he is overcome by an “appetite for small forms” between his large-scale works. It was just such a need that gave rise to Sept Desserts Rythmiques for wind quintet (2006). The title, to quote the composer, is “a nod to Erik Satie”. The element of “faire plaisir” that makes up a large part of French music also plays a major role in these brief, sharp-edged, rhythmically trenchant pieces. Here we find a gentle humour rarely encountered in contemporary music, least of all in its German strain. The expression mark of the final movement, “Con delicatezza”, might serve as a motto for the entire cycle.
The opening bars of Toccata, Tombeau and Torso for piano quartet seem like a nod to the grand tradition of chamber music. It was written in 2009 for the Rivinius KlavierQuartett, which gave the work its premiere in January 2011. “Everything I write is also a reflection of what I have internalised from the musical tradition”, Blomenkamp confides. As material for “Tombeau” he used the Christian name of a deceased boyhood friend, translated into notes. The dynamic element of the introductory “Toccata” and the introversion of the middle movement are combined in the concluding “Torso”, whose title, rather than indicating something fragmentary, alludes to thematic snippets compressed into a dense texture.
Blomenkamp calls his piano pieces Barkarole and Nocturne “two sides of the same coin”: “Both are monolithic and ‘self-contained’; each pursues its own sound-path and refuses to wander off into other regions”. Yet the two works could hardly be more different in character. Barkarole, composed in 1988, has little to do with the gently rocking boat implied by its title. On the contrary, Blomenkamp’s boat is adrift in treacherous waters from the very outset. The consistently two-part texture generates centrifugal forces and releases energies that threaten to engulf listener and performer alike. “I actually had to practice it quite a lot”, the pianist Stefan Irmer confessed to Blomenkamp a few days before making the recording for this CD, “and sometimes I didn’t known whether a place should be reserved for you in heaven or hell”. In contrast, Nocturne (1998) is tranquil, static, introverted. The slow ostinato chords seem to keep the music rooted to the ground while dynamic outbursts erupt into the sunlight. To quote the composer, this is “music of unspoken thoughts, whispered words, silent gestures, weary steps, fragile conditions”.
Like Five Orchestral Pieces, Musik für Violine, Violoncello, Klavier und Orchester (Music for Violin, Violoncello, Piano and Orchestra) of 2003 outlines an arch form, but this time in a single movement. The music emerges from silence and recedes again into silence at the end. A sharply defined “tone pool” is evident in the very opening bars, whose melismas faintly recall the music of the Far East. The entire piece evolves from this tone pool: Blomenkamp calls it “an attempt to produce maximum expansion from tiny motivic germ-calls”. Rather than evoking a contest between soloists and orchestra, the two sonic levels complement and emerge from each other. The largely quiet, oscillating character of the music is offset by the colourful orchestration, whose percussion section sports such instruments as glockenspiel, vibraphone and glass harp. A glance at the movement headings of Suite for Violoncello solo (Prelude, Double, Courante, Air, Gigue) betrays its source of inspiration: baroque instrumental music, and primarily, of course, the cello suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. This compact yet extremely demanding work was written for Blomenkamp’s friend Nikolaus Trieb, the solo cellist of the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, who gave the work its premiere in June 2010.
The most recent piece on this CD portrait is Animato, Adagio and Agitato for piano quintet, whose scoring and title already establish close ties to its companion for piano quartet, Toccata, Tombeau and Torso. Here, too, the middle movement is a musical memorial to a deceased friend. The sonic universe of the “Adagio” is poised between a dirge and a funeral march. We seem to recognise symbols of a sort that often characterise music of a memento character (halting rhythms, low sustained notes in the piano), but without any discernible similarities to the language of other composers. At most, perhaps, there is a similarity across the centuries, namely to Franz Schubert, a master Blomenkamp especially reveres. And doesn’t Schubert’s melancholy seem to reverberate precisely in this Adagio, transported into the present by Blomenkamp’s musical language?
Translation: J. Bradford Robinson
Works on This Recording
Stücke (5) for Large Orchestra by Thomas Blomenkamp
Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra
Desserts rythmiques (7) for Wind Quintet by Thomas Blomenkamp
Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra Wind Quintet
Toccata, Tombeau and Torso for Piano Quartet by Thomas Blomenkamp
Rivinius Piano Quartet
Barkarole for Piano by Thomas Blomenkamp
Stefan Irmer (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Nocturne for Piano by Thomas Blomenkamp
Stefan Irmer (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Music for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra by Thomas Blomenkamp
Northwest German Philharmonic Orchestra,
Opus 8 Trio
Suite for Cello solo by Thomas Blomenkamp
Nikolaus Trieb (Cello)
Animato, Adagio and Agitato for Piano Quintet by Thomas Blomenkamp
Lambertus Piano Quintet
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