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Thoughts from a Musician's Heart

ET LUX by David Danel

January 2022 Thoughts From a Musician’s Heart is reprinted from Crescendo Internationals’ Tune-in No. 356. Thank you to David Danel and Crescendo.

The Czech violinist David Danel recently performed ET LUX by Wolfgang Rihm. We asked to describe what effect this work had on him.

When as a performer you encounter such beautiful, beautiful music with clearly perceptible perceived depth, such as ET LUX by the contemporary German composer Wolfgang Rihm, you feel intensely as if you would like to cut yourself off from the world, become a monk for a month or a week at least, contemplate, meditate, walk alone, practice solo, discuss the work with other musicians, in this way creating some kind of a fellowship of musical, artistic monks...

But usually, as an average adult of “this age“, you don't have that privilege, you are like every other human: you are there in a state between "the flesh" and "soil of this earth", between one duty and those many other errands, between grocery store and post office, battling beaurocracy, organizing logistics for kids' school trips & family gatherings, filling up washer & dishwasher, hanging up laundry, walking out your dog a few times a day, changing diapers for your baby, honestly trying to be actively and lovingly with your wife and children, wishing you could give them more of your time, more of yourself... and of course, on top of it all, there's that European football championship which happens only once in four years, so checking on this one here & there is tempting, too... A classic "adult-husband-father-worker-citizen-also-an artist" thing.

But somehow... in the midst of it all, somewhere in the back of your head, with your mind's eye & ear you keep hearing those tunes, sounds & words of Rihm's ET LUX returning to you, emerging, disappearing, sneaking in, shouting all of a sudden, whispering in any next moment… It feels like brief echoes of memories of eternity, glimpses of transcendence you are longing for in your early mornings and late nights. Sum – ego – domine – et lux perpetua… In obscurum – de ore leonis – ne absorbeat eas – homo reus… ne cadat in obscurum – libera me – Jerusalem – ad te – libera – domine - et lux – exaudi orationem meam… And the melodies and harmonies seem floating above you and inside you and they accompany the metro guide-man’s voice reading the names of the stations you pass, the beeping of the cash counters, the blinking of the traffic lights…

And these tones and the collections of them forming phrases, they seem so familiar, even though they are not quoting any historical reference actually. They shift between almost tonal and atonal, they pause for a consonance, but they refuse to give you a fake or false or final consolation.

And so are the words: their sound resembles a sacred ritual, rather observed from afar. The order of broken sentences loses direction, moves and goes in circles, not even circles, never complete circles. They are loaded with meaning, they temporarily make alliances of heavenly signs, of powerful symbols (together with music, of course, a musician would add). But you could not play this piece in liturgy. It was not composed for liturgical purposes. It is a rather a very private prayer-cry. A weeping for hope moment. An absolute honest confused confession of one’s brokenness and a plea for redemption.

So many times I feel my life resembles this “Et lux music and lyrics” almost perfectly. I live in a cloud cluster of well meant plans, quick human encounters, tired daddy moments, postponed dreams, desires of a moment, intense longings for a rest and peace, a true peace. I find myself wandering in a wilderness of temptations and gestures of resistance against them.Between things, objects, human beings and even pets craving for my attention. On the wings of quickly conceived prayers, intercessions, blessings, desperate daily ‘maranathas’ as well as true expressions of joy, gratefulness, amazed at every given moment, sound, meeting… And so I weave my steps, thoughts and heartbeats, consciously or not, around, and I am woven by:

..."Lord, you have the words of everlasting life"...

..."to whom would we go?"...

..."when I lack words, do you intercede for me, Holy Spirit?"...

..."in Him we move and breathe and have our being"...

..."follow me"...

..."You are the Way"...

..."Libera me”...

ET LUX by Wolfgang Rihm:


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