Unverhofftes Wiedersehen/Unexpected Reunion
William Anderson's musical treatment of the story by Johann Peter Hebel
adapted by the composer from the translation by John Hibberd
------"The most wonderful story in the world"--Franz Kafka----
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It was audacious of Hermann Hesse to say of Hebel that he was, "...more confident and purer and mightier in effect than Goethe." Goethe was so taken with Hebel’s work in Alemannic that he tried to compose some poems in that dialect.
Hebel’s most famous story, *Unexpected Reunion*, was expanded into a longer story by ETA Hoffman (The Mines at Falun). Richard Wagner prepared a prose sketch based on the same story, envisioning an opera. Franz Kafka called *Unexpected Reunion, ”the most wonderful story in the world."
A miner is lost in the mine on his wedding day. 50 years later his body is found by miners, perfectly preserved in iron vitriol. His bride is alive, sees him and recognizes him. She accompanies his body to the churchyard "as if it were her wedding day". Throughout those 50 years were many deaths--public deaths, natural catastrophes, the Lisbon earthquake, assassinations, matters of historical record. Finally, the ending of the story looks forward to a final death—the death of the bride. Composer William Anderson recasts the action during our own lifetimes, in baby boomer Pennsylvania, ending his list of events with the Obama inauguration.
Why were Wagner and Kafka so interested in this story?
Walter Benjamin spoke of this story, "death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death." Hebel hit upon Wagnerian Eros & Thanatos, many decades before Wagner. Deaths and a marriage mark time on diverse *time-scales*. The personal timeframe of the bride and bridegroom are measured against the historical deaths and calamities that took place while the miner was lost below the earth. There is a conflation of time measured by historical events and time measured by the alchemical goings-on beneath the earth.
Hebel was an accidental Symboliste. He stumbled upon something that would dominate poetry for a century. We might think of Hebel as a folk symboliste. In telling this story, Hebel hits sqarely upon the main pillars of Wagner's Symbolist principles, where the Tristan chord and the Dominant 7 chord become the West's aural yin/yang symbol, the West's authentic conterpart to China's visual symbol-->
m3, m3, M3--M3, m3, m3
Hebel should also be recognized for his philosemitism. In Hebel's Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreundes, the collection of stories and vignettes in which Unexpected Reunion appears, is an important and very sympathetic report on the Grand Sanhedrin of Paris.
21st Century Sound: "Reconcile sounds that modernists exclude with sounds that minimalists exclude, as well as sounds that both exclude; on the technical plane, divorce a technique from the sound world of the technique's first use. These are, broadly, the principles that keep my music from falling into any currently entrenched circle." This is also why I have an up hill battle.
America vs. Europe: The USA is still the wild wild west, an improvisation, with an uproarius din of trashy ephemera ever intruding. What echoes strongly and cuts through that?-- Emerson, Whitman, Dewey, Edmund Wilson, Wallace Stevens. This line hits us with great force: Maimonides/Averroes/Aquinas--Spinoza--Goethe--Emerson. In music, America inherited displaced European giants--Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Krenek, Hindemith. It's not too late to prevent the traditions sown by these from dying on the vine. Pay attention to the descendants of these composers and the remarkable profusion of compositional techniques that emerged from them in the 20th C. I come from that, but I am also, by temperament, an Ivesian.
How to be an American comoser? I am critical of Babbitt's early adoption of a German abstract expressionist poet, August Stramm. Babbitt soon got over that and adopted the Emersonian John Hollander.
Truths, values, concepts, from far flung places and times hit us, and we can then work to set those in motion here. Like Ives, I often use found musical objects as a way to be here, in the wild wild west, trusting that my sensibiltiy, particualrly my modernist background, will meet that object in a musically authentic way. Without simple, publicly traded musical coin of the realm, I'd be in danger of being as rarefied and irrelevant as those famously rarefied and irrelevant modernist heroes from the 20th C.
My musical treatment of Johann Peter Hebel's short, short story Unferhofftes Wiedersehen/Unexpected Reunion brings its proto-Wagnerian Eros & Thanatos to these American shores by re-casting the story in baby-boomer era USA, and by launching the piece with 3 bars of a bluegrass guitar solo by Tony Rice. This bluegrass thing echoes throughout the piece. It is the musical counterpart to Hebel's Alemannic dialect, but also to his ironic flourishes-- "for miners always wear their death garb", etc. I call this kind of adaptation "onshoring", a counterpart of the *updating*. A memorable example of onshoring is the legend of Joseph of Arimathea being physically present on the British Isles. That legend helped Christianity take root there. Unferhofftes Wiedersehen/Unexpected Reunion is German/American music, by a Kentner (who is also a Grau).
Here, I learn that the Kentners are from Baden-Wurttemberg, and Hebel from Baden--->
David Wellbery on Unverhofften Wiedersehen My Kentners were part of that exodus from Baden after 1848.
Djuna Barnes is an authentic American Expressionist, and in that sense she is absolutely unique in American poetry. I suspect she picked it up from her boyfried, Ernst Hanfstaengle, who became Hitler's pianist, but fell out with Hitler, was almost dropped to his death from an airplane. We don't need to import an August Stramm. In my Djuna Barnes Settings my point of contact with vernacular music is indie rock and a nursery rhyme.
--William Kentner Anderson