De Materie, Louis Andriessen, directed by Heiner Goebbels and
August 15, Kraftzentrale, Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. Repeat .:
22, 23, 24/8.
Review by Frits van der Waa (published in Dutch in De Volkskrant, Monday, 18 August)
De Materie, Part II Hadewijch, Photo (c) Wonge Bergmann
What have zeppelins to do with the seventeenth-century naval
industry, or a flock of sheep with a sonnet by the Dutch poet Willem Kloos?
Nothing at all. Nevertheless, the intuitive choices director Heiner Goebbels has
made in his staging of Louis Andriessen’s De Materie Copper are
convincing. Goebbels, himself a composer, in a way adopts the approach of
Andriessen himself, who in 1989 in this four-part piece of music theatre
succeeded in connecting the most diverse musical, literary and philosophical
elements in a balanced way.
On the first day of the Ruhtriennale, the six-week festival
that is led by Goebbels, he treated his audience to a memorable performance.
Apart from the first series of performances directed by Robert Wilson at the
Dutch Opera De Materie never has been performed in staged form again, up
to now. Especially in musical terms, a lot of water has passed under the bridge
in those years: the performance by the Ensemble Modern Orchestra and solo and
choral singers, conducted by Peter Rundel and enhanced by an excellent sound
projection, transcends the already respectable level of previous performances in
its rhythmic precision, homogeneity and especially in the blending of the sound
colors. In addition, the Duisburg Kraftzentrale with its oversized dimensions
turns out to be prove a perfect venue for the "terrible symphony orchestra" that
Andriessen had in mind when creeating this work.
De Materie can be seen as an opera in which ideas
rather than characters occupy the stage, as a symphony with singing protagonists
or as an essay on the relationship between exact thinking, artistic intuition
and human emotion: there is no doubt, though, that this work, with its vast
architecture, extended arcs, and a musical substance encompassing minimal and
maxinmal idioms, requires a form of dramatization, even though it holds its own
as 'pure' music as well. It is remarkable that Wilson's visualization
twenty-five years ago, mainly made us of a frontal plane, like a shadow play,
whereas Goebbels literally goes in-depth. Astounding is the moment in the third
part, De Stijl, where in the distance at the back of the hall, two
dancers appear, looking so small that they,for a moment, seem little puppets.
And in the very part where Wilson introduced a solo piano, moving from left to
right across the stage, Goebbels, at first unnoticably, manages to shift the
complete orchestra gradually to the rear and back - a technical achievement
thatis almost as inexplicable as the invisible guiding hand that herds the sheep
across the plaing field.
With the exception of that swinging third part, in which
three luminous discs, decked in Mondrian colors, provide a lively visual play,
circling in the air, Goebbels' staging, albeit spectacular, shows marked
restraint. In the second part, with the mystic Hadewych as the centralfigure,
the minute variations in imagery are almost static. Evgeniya Sotnikova sings the
Middle Dutch very convincingly, and tenor Robin Trischler is just as proficient
in his delivery of the old-fashioned wordings of the early atomic theorist
Gorlaeus. The eight singers of ChorWerk Ruhr are a perfect fit for Andriessens
From the relentless hammering in the first part to the serene
bell sounds in the fourth, that burgeon to a grand crescendo, Goebels’s staging
emphasizes that De Materie is a work of international scope and
substance, a magnum opus that Andriessen actually has not surpassed in the
intervening years, especially where it comes to the balance between rigor and
playfulness, between form and content - a balance that, incidentally, just as
twenty-five years ago, is disrupted by the recited monologue by Madame Curie
that makes the impression of an an uncomfortable vacuum after all that went
before. Inexplicable that a composer who knows so much about the power of music
eventually gave primacy to the infinitely weaker force of the spoken word.
Splendour of holding each other in a fiery embrace,
Blessedness released in wordless compassion,
Blessedness itself in the lifting of all pain.
O, desire! The billow break over me,
By the dark spray of the thrilled waves,
To see how life perishes around me.
But not Love, while staring
At the quiet glow of your open face,
United with you, journeying with you to eternity ....!
Madame Curie (spoken):
... Pierre, my Pierre. There you lie, like a wounded
man with bandaged head resting in sleep.
... Your lips that I once called greedy are pale and
discoloured. Your little beard is turning gray.
... We placed you in your coffin on Saturday morning,
and I supported your head as they carried you. We kissed your cold face for the
last time. Then l placed some branches of periwinkle from the garden in the
coffin, together with the little portrait of me that you called “the diligent
student,” and that you loved.
... Your coffin is closed and I will never see you
again. I forbid them to cover it with the terrible black drapes. I cover it
with flowers and sit near it.
The importance of radium for the point of view of
theories in general has been decisive. The history of the discovery and
isolation of the substance has delivered the proof for the hypothesis that I
formulated, according to which ... The chemical work needed to isolate the radium
in the form of a pure salt, and to characterize it as a new element was above
all my work ... And the substances which l have termed radioactive ... l have
used ... l have accomplished ... l have determined ... l have obtained ....
This work (…) is very closely related to the work that
we performed together. I therefore believe that I correctly interpret the
action of the Academy of Sciences when I conclude that the great distinction
that they have bestowed upon me has been motivated by this collaborative work,
and is therefore also an homage to the memory of Pierre Curie.
My dearest Pierre, you are never for one moment out of
my thoughts, my head bursts, and my thoughts are muddled. I cannot comprehend
that I must continue to live without seeing you, without smiling as the dear
partner of my life. My Pierre, I arose after sleeping quite well, relatively
calm. It is scarcely a quarter of an hour later, and I wish to shout like a
... The whole world is talking. But I see Pierre on
My little Pierre, I would like to be able to tell you
that the golden ram is flowering, that the wisteria and the hawthorn and the
irises are in bloom—you would have loved that. I would also like to tell you
that I have been appointed to your chair, and that there were even some imbeciles
who congratulated me.
I spend all my time in the laboratory. I do not think
that there is anything that I will be able to enjoy apart from perhaps
scientific work—and no, not even that. For should I succeed, I could not bear
it if you were not aware of it.
Kloos, Verzen (Verses), 1894/1948
kept by Marie Curie after the death of her husband in 1906
Curie’s acceptance speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1911, as recorded
in Françoise Giroud, Une femme honorable
(Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1981)
The line of a perfect circle is not perfection of the
first order. The line of a perfect circle is perfect as a line. But it is not perfect without limitations, it is not
perfect as an unending line, it is
not perfection of the first order, it
is not the perfect line.
The perfect straight line is the perfect line. Why? Because it is the only perfection of the
first order. Likewise its ray, the perfect eternal ray, is perfection of the
first order. The perfect eternal ray is also the perfect ray. For only it is as
ray a perfection of the first order.
The figure which objectifies the concept of this pair
of perfections of the first order is the figure of the perfect
right-angledness, or, in other words, the cross-figure. This is the figure that
represents a ray-and-line reduced to perfection of the first order. It
characterizes the relationship between perfections of the first order as a
perfect right-angled relationship, a “cross” relationship. This figure is
In those days, Piet Mondrian sent a message that he
was in Holland and that he could not return to Paris. Mrs. Hannaert invited him
to stay, and when one afternoon I arrived, he was sitting with her at the
table. He made a curious impression upon me, because of his hesitating way of
speaking and the nervous motions of his mouth. During the summer of 1915 he
stayed in Laren and rented a small atelier in the Noolse Street. In the
evenings we would go to Hamdorf, because Piet loved dancing. Whenever he made a
date (preferably with a very young girl), he was noticeably good-humoured. He
danced with a straight back, looking upwards as he made his “stylized” dance
steps. The artists in Laren soon began to call him the “Dancing Madonna”!
‘29 I was with him one afternoon in Paris and met the Hoyacks in his atelier.
After a while, without saying anything, he put on a small gramophone (which
stood as a black spot on a small white table under a painting of which it
seemed to be the extension) and began quietly and stiffly, with Madame Hoyack,
to step around the atelier. I invited him to dine with me as we used to do in
the old days. Walking on the Boulevard Raspail, suddenly I had the feeling that
he had shrunk. It was a strange sensation. In the metro we said goodbye; when
we heard the whistle, he placed his hand on my arm and embraced me. I saw him slowly
walking to the exit, his head slightly to one side, lost in himself, solitary,
and alone. That was our last meeting.
A “cross” relationship.
This figure is really “open.”
We can prolong it on any side as long as we wish
without changing its essential character, and however far we prolong this figure,
it never attains a perimeter. It never becomes “closed” thereby; it is thereby
totally and utterly boundless: it excludes all boundaries. Because this figure
is born from itself in our conception, it characterizes the concept of perfect
opposites of the first order, as a concept of the essential “open,” the actual
and real “unbounded.”
H. J. Schoenmaekers, Beginselen der
beeldende wiskunde (‘Principles of Visual Mathematics’) (1916)
Van Domselaer-Middelkoop, Herinneringen
aan Piet Mondriaan (‘Memories of Piet Mondrian’) (1959/1960)
The text is one of the visions of Hadewijch, a 13th-century Dutch mystic poetess, and expresses her passionate vision, both spiritual and erotic, of union with Him. The composition is organised to mirror the architectural plan of the cathedral of Reims in France. The intervals of time between the chords of the pianos, tuned percussion and guitars, which ring through the canvas at set points, have the same proportional relationship as the distance in space between the cathedral’s pillars.
thereupon, I was hopelessly thrown upon my own poor resources.
One early morning at Pentecost, attending matins sung
in church, I received a vision. My heart, my veins, and all my body shook and
trembled with desire. As so often before, I felt intensely and frightfully
touched, and I was afraid that I would not satisfy my Love, but my Love did not
allow me to die, to die grieving. Gradually, my passion became so terrible and
painful that all my bones seemed to break one by one, and my blood flowed more
swiftly than ever. My desire is inexpressible, both words and people fail, and
what I could tell about it would be absurd to anyone who never learned Love’s
effect and who was by Love neglected. This at least I can say: I longed to
enjoy my Love to the fullest; to know and taste Him through and through; His human
nature united with mine, and mine received in His. I did hope I would have the
strength to let myself fall into completeness, so as to prove in turn to be
inexhaustible for Him, pure; I alone would be satisfactorily virtuous in all
virtues. Therefore, I wished deep inside that He, with His divinity, would
elevate me into a unity of our minds, without withholding anything from me. For
this gift I prefer above all other gifts I ever chose: to satisfy in unending
submission. For this is the most perfect thing: to grow enough to become God
with God—because it is endurance and pain, misery and unprecedented sorrow, and
one has to let all this come and go without succumbing, and without feeling
anything but marvellous love, embraces, and kisses. Thus I wished God would be
for me, as I for Him.
While it became unbearable to me, I saw a giant eagle flying toward me from the
altar, and he said to me: “If you desire to be one with God, prepare yourself.”
I knelt, and my heart beat in my throat, worshipping His greatness. I know very
well that I was not ready for this, and God knows it too, always to my grief
and sorrow. The eagle flew back to the altar, saying: “Righteous and almighty
Lord, now prove your power in the unity with You, in Your heavenly bliss.” Then
he came back and told me: “He who came will return, but places where He never
came, He will not come.”
Then He came from the altar, showing Himself in the
form of a child, such as He looked in the first three years of His life. He
turned to me, and out of the ciborium He took His body with His right hand, and
with His left He took a goblet that seemed to come from the altar, but I do not
know that for certain. Then He came to me, now in the clothes and in the form
of the man He was the day when He first gave us His body, enchanting and beautiful,
with a ravishing face, and with the humble attitude of someone who already belongs
to another. Then He gave Himself to me in the form of the Sacrament, and afterwards
He gave me to drink from the goblet: it seemed and tasted as usual. Then He came
very close to me, took me in His arms, and pressed me to His chest. All my
limbs felt His, to their total satisfaction, as my heart and my humanness
longed. I felt truly satisfied and saturated. I had just the power to bear this
for a while, but soon I lost sight of this handsome man, and I saw Him fading
and melting away, until I could no longer feel Him next to me, or perceive Him
within myself. At that very moment, I felt that we were one together, without
any difference. All this was real and tangible—as one really tastes and feels
the Sacrament, or the way lovers, taking pleasure in seeing and hearing each
other, can get lost. After this, I stayed one with my Love, melting with Him,
until nothing was left of me. I was beside myself in exaltation, and in my mind
I was raised up to a place where many different hours were shown to me.
Excerpts from Hadewijch, Book of Visions (13th century)