“…in gleicher Weise umher”

1988, 1989
for soprano, speaking violinist, speaking guitarist, and ensemble


[ score ]

This piece unfolds in episodes and fragments wound around a long melodic line and texts excerpted from some of the earliest written narratives about Tristan and Iseult: the late 12th-century Old French Tristan et Iseût by Thomas de Bretagne (also known as Thomas d’Angleterre) and its first German-language derivate, Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan (circa 1210). The title plays on the double meaning of the German word “Weise”; I imagined its intended sense of “adrift in the same manner…” as extended to “adrift in the same melody.” The isolated phrases and lines of the Old French, concentrated mostly in the parts spoken by the violinist and guitarist, appear only phonetically. They act as semantically obscure but emotionally familiar signs of another place and time. The German text is a single, coherent passage that appears only in modernized form, emerging clearly in its entirety toward the end of the piece. The text and its approximate English translation follow:

Auch sind die beiden, Schiff ohne Anker und Sinn,
gut miteinander zu vergleichen. Sie sind beide fast
nie in einem festen Hafen, so oft an einem
unsicheren Halteplatz, beide auf und ab
schwankend, von den Wellen umhergeschlagen. 
So treibt das ungelenkte Verlangen, der ungewisse
Wunsch zu lieben, genau wie das Schiff ohne
Anker in gleicher Weise umher.

Gottfried von Strassburg, from Tristan (c. 1210)

A ship without an anchor and the senses
can well be compared. Both are hardly ever
safe in port, so often insecurely moored, both pitching up and down, battered to and fro by
the waves. So it is that the uncontrolled
yearning, the uncertain desire to love, casts
one adrift just like the ship without an anchor.

(Translation J.L.)

This work was commissioned by Pro Helvetia/Swiss Council for the Arts for the Basel Ensemble der IGNM and their music director, Jürg Wyttenbach—my first new-music mentor—to whom it is gratefully dedicated.