Spleen (1994) by Olga Neuwirth
for clarinet

by Charles Baudelaire

Pluviôse, irrité contre la ville entière,
De son urne à grands flots verse un froid ténébreux
Aux páles habitants du voisin cimetière
Et la mortalitéé sur les faubourgs brumeux.
Mon chat sur le carreau cherchant une litière
Agite sans repos son corps maigre et galeux;
L'âme d'un vieux poète erre dans la gouttière
Avec la triste voix d'un fantôme frileux.
Le bourdon se lamente, et la bûche enfumée
Accompagne en fausset la pendule enrhumée
Cependant qu'en un jeu plein de sales parfums,
Héritage fatal d'une vieille hydropique,
Le beau valet de coeur et la dame de pique
Causent sinistrement de leurs amours défunts.

Excess and the grotesque have always formed the very foundation of Olga Neuwirth's musical reservoir. Down here, nothing is spared — not the composing individual, not the listener, not even the performer. The musical moments of oversubscription demand drastic extremes in all aspects. It is the very same artistic self-relinquishing first felt in all of its selfdestructive intensity by French lyricists such as Baudelaire or Rimbaud. The first Spleen-poem from Charles Baudelaire's collection Les fleurs du mal begins with the lines:

Pluvius, irritated with the entire city,
Pours from his urn in great waves a dismal cold
Over the pale inhabitants of the neighboring cemetery
And mortality over the foggy outskirts.

This very picture drills itself into the brain and consciousness. These are garish colors which are mortally threatened by asphyxia and become pale. This must indeed be a piece for a just one wind instrument — let alone, ready for any extreme of sound... perplexed, struggling for breath and voice.

Thus composes Olga Neuwirth in this piece, which was published in 1994 and first premiered in Schwaz. The colorful richness of the bass clarinet is astounding — pushed into hair-splitting ranges which should in fact not even belong to such an instrument. In these heights, the sounds are stripped and lay bare — they vie for self-expression, for nearness, for some semblance of warmth — stilted, lamenting, struggling for air and tone. Sounding, they search for their own place, and in these existential outskirts blooms something resembling the suggestion of a new beauty — like a forgotten wallflower. Olga Neuwirth, asked about Spleen, replied: "Nothing is to be said. I simply wish to say nothing about it."

— Reinhard Schulz    

[from program for June 1, 2011 concert]