Interview with Hans-Jürgen Gerung (July 2018)
Hello Hans-Jürgen – the last time we had a talk together it was on the occasion of my book “Visionary Guitars”, I think it’s time to have another chat together. You have finally released your last cd “Gesualdo & Gerung”, why did you decide to mix together your music with Gesualdo da Venosa?
Hello Andrea, it’s a great pleasure to talk to you again and I’m glad that you’d like to focuse my last recording Gesualdo & Gerung at your blog.
Well, the actual lute-adaptations of the two instrumental works, written by Carlo Gesualdo, were created in 2014 on the occasion of the concerts of the 9th international festival forum of contemporary music – oberstdorf (2014). The title of that festival was: Dante – or the Avantgarde of Renaissance Music and one concert was particularly dedicated to the chamber music of the largely unknown American-Italian composer Maria Antonietta Guccione (1918-2009) – notably to the unfinished cycle la divina commedia (written for countertenor, renaissance lute and audio tapes). This work, interpreted by the outstanding German countertenor Daniel Gloger, was combined with vocal and instrumental works by Sigismondo d’India (1582-1629) and Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613) – and very soon conceptual similarities were found as far as musical processing of the lyrics, melody, tune and theme is concerned. And amazing parallels in the musical aesthetic approaches between the old masters and the late 2009 composer Maria Guccione were found. Neither then nor nowadays was an “anything goes” or even a work without concepts to prove. The departure into new soundscapes arose rather through meticulous and systematic search for new sound aesthetics.
For example both, Gesualdo and Guccione created their own musical language, inter alia, by cultivating compositional techniques that were considered inapplicable in their time. Both were not dependent on the pleasures of their art and both artists felt close to Dante and Tasso’s literature all their lives
Anyway, my arrangements of Gesualdo’s only two instrumental works is by no means a work in the field of musicology, but two attempts to approach the instrumental estate of Gesualdo on the lute. This adventure seems legitimate because Gesualdo has been proven to be an accomplished lutenist, and therefore may be presumed to have first developed the concepts of his vocal works on the lute – and of course the idea to transcribe Gesualdo’s oeuvre for the lute was not that new. Girolamo Kapsberger has intlavolated a madrigal from the I ° libro di Gesualdo (1594) for Tiorba.
To my knowledge, the two instrumental compositions Gagliarda del Principe and Canzon francese del Principe have not been transferred and recorded yet. While Gesualdo’s authorship seems assured for the Gagliarda, his authorship in the Canzon is not undisputed, and a transfer to the lute also required some unconventional technique.
In the Gagliarda, completely new paths were taken in the repetitions and his own figurations were inserted, which mimic Gesualdo’s penchant for chromatic twists. A realization of the two instrumental works on the lute must consistently contrast with the tonal language of the numerous, virtuoso harpsichord recordings – the lute calls for a completely different approach, especially in the Canzon. All tempi were chosen to be much slower (both in the ornamentation and in the polyphonic parts), so that the instrument could unfold its very own sound aesthetics and sound world. Thus, a completely different psychogram of Carlo Gesualdo arose in a wonderful way – it is not the sketch of one as crazy, psychopathic, called as failed in life, but the music of a genius who draws his injured soul with delicate fingers on a fragile instrument …
And between these two renaissance works there is tapping two – a new guitar work that was designed in its original form (tapping one) for electric guitar. The work was commissioned by the extraordinary Italian guitarist and composer Sergio Sorrentino and it creates, in constant relation to the life of Carlo Gesualdo, a melancholic-dark and surreal soundscape that guides the listener through the dilapidated rooms of the Prince’s Castle.
When I wrote tapping one for Sergio Sorrentino, I did not lose sight of the meticulous working method, which I mentioned above about finding a new tonal language, based on treaded means. At first it seemed necessary to remove everything clichéd from the instrument of the electric guitar. A radical change in tone-production, material, texture, and tuning seemed to be necessary, to wrest the instrument out from its cultural context of Rock and Blues, etc. Gradually, the idea arose, to create a musical building sketch of Castle Gesualdo – dilapidated and neglected rooms under scorching sun that still exhale, after 500 years, the spirit of a never before heard music. I imagine, how the electric guitar, under the fingers of Sorrentino would aroused the Gesualdo-instrumentals to other and new lives – virtually tapped out (or sometimes even ripped out) from a modern instrument in abandoned, sad and fallen rooms.
This delicate image is juxtaposed with my tender, introverted recording of the three compositions – it illuminates the inner life of Don Carlo Gesualdo; the filigree fragility if the renounced Renaissance-artist. How powerful would be a simultaneous interpretation of both variants in concert, first the performance with Renaissance-lute and acoustic guitar, than the version of the works on the electric-guitar … maybe this could happen one day.
You released this record with your new personal label Gerung-Arts & Music, why did you decide to create your own label?
Although I believe that the combination of concert and CD sales can still be very profitable and even for the professional instrumentalist an indispensable must be tool for disseminating his art – so in the last two or three years, the importance of streaming platforms increased immensely. With all the necessary and well-known criticism of this business model, streaming also offers enormous advantages. By founding an independent label, today it is possible for almost every music maker to place his music in the market – and to put it up for discussion! … in combination with appropriate and necessary studio equipment of course. I consider this to be a fundamental enrichment of the musical landscape. That’s exactly why I’ve installed my label. I would like to offer a platform on which to discover extraordinary chamber and solo music, mainly from my pen, but also from other authors. Since I am neither economically nor socially dependent on the success of this label-project, I can afford the luxury of not compromising on the choice of music that I publish. The following compilations have been released so far:
– La Commedia dell’arte (1993)
contemporary music for 10-string guitar
– 88-97 (1997)
contemporary music for guitar and voice
– Musik für den liuto forte (1999)
contemporary music for modern lute (in mi or re)
– Nell’Eden non andro’ (2001)
Lyrics by Alessandra Bonoli
contemporary music for 10-string guitar and voice
– the tree (2001 – 2002)
contemporary music for modern lute, and variuous guitars
– Tombeau für Heinz Schubert (2001/2003)
Hans-Jürgen Gerung / Johann Sebastian Bach
contemporary music for 10-string guitar
– Syria (2015)
contemporary music for arabian short-neck-lute
– Eight Tablets (2017/18)
contemporary music for prepared piano
– Gesualdo & Gerung (2018)
Hans-Jürgen Gerung / Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa
contemporary and ancient music for Renaissance-lute and guitar
– Bach & Luther – Projekt (2017)
Martin Luther / Johann Sebastian Bach / Vipo from Burgund
« Music and Lyrics – Reformation 2017 »
ancient music for Renaissance-lute, moern lute, 10-string guitar and voice
– Cinderella (2016/17)
Music by Hans-Jürgen Gerung
contemporary for children:
Speaker, piano, harpsichord, church-organ and violin
Text: Brothers Grimm
– The Shoemaker and the Devil (1999 / 2005)
Music by Hans-Jürgen Gerung
contemporary music for children:
Speaker, 10-string guitar, Renaissance-lute, modern lute, church-organ and accordion
Text: Anton Tschechow, translated by Ada Knipper and Gerhard Dick
Anton Tschechow. Die Steppe. Meistererzählungen. Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1965
Aufbau Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin 1965, 2008
– Rumpelstiltskin (1999 / 2005)
Music by Hans-Jürgen Gerung
contemporary music for children:
Speaker, 10-string-guitar, Renaissance-lute, percussion
Text: Brothers Grimm
Your piece “tapping one” was commissioned by the Italian guitar player Sergio Sorrentino, how did you meet Sergio and what are the characteristics of this piece? Why did you decide to record it for classical guitar?
I got in touch with Sergio Sorrentino because I read about his latest CD with the whole guitar work of Maestro Bussotti. I asked him to send me a CD and so a stimulating correspondence was written about the guitar music of the Maestro in general but also about contemporary guitars (and electric guitar music) in particular. Mr. Sorrentino asked me if I did not want to write a piece for him and of course I gladly agreed. The development of concept and work structure, I have already explained something in your first question. The complexity of the work sometimes required a notation to three (or if you include the music graphics in the 4th movement) even on four levels. I’ve attached two sample pages – so it may be clearer. The composition traces the dark (interiors) of a dilapidated building with filigree sound and sound changes. A building gradually rose, not without poetry and full of echoes of better days … but also demonic in its aura. As a template I chose, despite the avant-garde cut, the three-movement sonata form … I have a penchant for three-part forms – but this three-part structure is also reflected in the texture of the work and even on the artwork for the bundle cover. While the first movement begins in its tonal language very concretely and only decomposes toward its end, the second part of the composition does not want to merge. There remains the speechlessness of an ever recurring chord motif … the unanswered question? The third movement gradually forms an ever more threatening perpetual motion from the particles that are lying on the ground, and it stands for the unconditionally, dissipating time that robs our hands of everything. The third movement unites (or should I say reconciled?) at the same time the broken material particles of sentences I and II, and can thus ultimately be understood as a great closing fugue which helps the work to reach a peaceful conclusion.
Of course, when I wrote tapping one used an electric guitar – but later, during a break in the studio and busy with quite different work, I scanned the score again … and had the classical guitar in my hand. I was amazed how well the composition worked on this instrument. The sombre, dry sound of exclusively tapped notes in connection with the corpushall of the instrument and the resulting bitones fascinated me. And so I decided to create an adaptation for classical guitar and to rehearse the work for myself once. Especially in connection with Gesualdo, whose work has been dealing with me for decades (and also during my years with Bussotti), tapping seemed immediately effective. I tried to connect the three works Gagliarda – tapping I-II-III – Canzon in large cellar rooms and I was sure that it would sound like that, if I would play the works at Castle Gesualdo. That’s why I‘ve recorded the works in the studio.
What do you think are the similarities between your and Gesualdo’s music?
Like him, I love vocal music above all else, and it certainly makes up most of my oeuvre. Just like Gesualdo, I develop the sketches for larger works first on the guitar (or the lute) and not so often on the piano – and like Gesualdo I like to work on texts from the Italian love poetry. And just like Gesualdo in his Holy Weeks, I have created a great Holy Week cycle with the three choral works o vos omnes – Conductus – Resurrezione. In the musical language itself, I enjoy with micro tonality that freedom for which he paved the way 500 years ago.
In the last years you have been very busy composing and organizing the international festival forum of contemporary music – oberstdorf in Germany, what can you tell us about these activities?
The international festival forum of contemporary music in Oberstdorf, presented this year a much expanded program which also made a detour to Kempten. It dedicates itself with concerts and lectures to two countries: Finland and Azerbaijan. Each concert was (as usual) designed by a soloist. Finnish guitarist Patrik Kleemola interprets contemporary music from his homeland, accordionist Valentin Metzger, born in Oberstdorf, has launched a work by the Azerbaijani composer Rufat Kalilov: a paraphrase on the Finnish folk song I heard a voice. In the musical staple of the concerts there was guitar-premiere: a composition which I wrote for Patrik Kleemola. The piece is called Last Frost and uses three different melancholic Finnish love songs. The sentences are designed so that they gradually lead from rhythm fragments and melody fragments to the main theme. The melody of the song sounds completely at the end of the sentence. But I’ve designed the work so that it could be performed on the guitar as well as on the accordion – and of course the piece changes its character through the respective cast. Blend it tenderly on the guitar, so it will make the accordion powerful and relentless, like the Nordic nature. At the festival in Oberstdorf 2018, Last Frost was performed in both versions (Valentin Metzger presented the accordion-version)
1.) guitar version:
2.) accordion version:
I founded the festival in 2006 and since then it has been held annually. In the time lapse of a week, the event is completely dedicated to an artist or a composer. Sometimes students from local schools are included in the realization of commissioned works, (for example, in 2009 in the project musica da vedere with the Italian composer Luigi Esposito, or in 2014, during the implementation of the score of Maria Antonietta Guccione). As for the other projects of the festival so I will go into your final question in more detail.
3.) Luigi Esposito – Tono e RaRa (2009)
You have studied a lot with Sylvano Bussotti, when will you release a record with his music? Ermafrodito was dedicated to you, isn’t it?
Yes, that’s right, Ermafrodito was written for me in 1999 and I even got the exclusive performing-rights of Maestro Bussotti for 10 years. Only recently, in consultation with the choreographer Luca Veggetti, I put the video of the world premiere of the work in the Teatro Carignano in Turin online. I was also a soloist in Radio France’s Maison de la Radio Paris recording of the work Nuovo Scenario di Lorenzaccio under Arturo Tamayo, with Sara Leonhard and the Orchester Philharmonique du Luxembourg. I played concerts with the works of Sylvano Bussotti all over Italy, from Merano to the Center Alain Daniélou nearby Rome to Palermo. It is currently on my computer a newly cutted Ermafrodito and my interpretation of Ultima Rara (with this recording work, incidentally, I introduced myself at the time with Maestro Bussotti and asked him to teach me) is actually ready for the upload. In the next few months I will release a EP, called Gerung plays Gerung & Bussotti
Ermafrodito – World-Premiere at Turin 2002
When will we see you playing in Italy?
As you mentioned above, the composition is meanwhile my main task and I play only occasionally a recital. But I am sure that I will come to Italy for the world premiere of tapping one by Maestro Sergio Sorrentino – and who knows, maybe there will be a concert series with works by Sylvano Bussotti, Luigi Esposito, Sergio Sorrentino … and myself. It would please me.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
I am in preparation for several compositions. First a cycle for two violoncellos and speaker (for Pavel Serbin and Dmitri Dichtiar) on texts by Dr. Melanie Barbato – Title: Bahubali
World premiere 2019 in March. I also write a string quartet in preparation for the Hölderlin-year 2020; the composition will be premiered by the Minguet Quartet in spring 2020 and the largest work in progress is a chamber opera on texts by the Swiss writer Roland Merk, in conjunction with a Tunisian filmmaker. The theme is the broken earth and I’m really looking forward to this challenge.
Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries” Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important than talent, obviously.” I think all of you have a great talent, but … what is your personal vision?
That seems to me the hardest question of all you have asked me. I believe in the idea that courageous art can really change the world. But I do not know if that is a realizable vision, it’s at least an idea to which I subscribe. And the belief in this idea has always forbidden me to compromise badly in my work …