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Hercules - the concept of a stage oratorio

Vladimír Franz

Hercules: The concept of a stage oratorio

(This lecture was given by VF at Prague Quadrennial OISTAT Scenofest Sound, June 16, 2003)

Musical examples used during the lecture are not available here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last autumn I tried to answer the question how to celebrate my hundredth work for a theatre without turning it into a pretentious event. Having had my music performed in almost all Czech theatres, I decided to return humbly to the origins of my work on the field of stage music and to compose a piece of music for a small experimental company, if possible not from Prague. Soon afterwards I began to collaborate with Miroslav Bambušek. This young Czech playwright, who succesfully finished French and Greek studies at Charles University, became a founder and also a director of a small experimental theatre group called Multiprostor (Multispace). The ensemble works in a Czech town Louny. Together, we decided to amplify the ideas contained in the myth of Hercules. There were two main sources for us - the works of Sophocles and Euripides and our attitude towards so called Balkan conflict. Our work resulted in a performance named Hérakles, a performance that has a shape of a stage oratorio.

How can we describe the concept of a stage oratorio? As opposed to the musical oratorio (the best examples of which are G.F.Haendel´s works), the stage oratorio is a scenic and dramatic form, where the emphasis is put on a mutual proportionality and a ballance between the dramatic component of the performance (this consists of the dramatic text and the dramatic action) and the musical component. These two components can act individually, even relatively independently. They don´t act as just a background to each other, they don´t influence each other towards creating just a play with a musical accompaniment. It´s rather about expressing one´s attitude towards a certain matter by two different ways. By bringing these ways closer and further from each other and by their mutual interaction and correlation a kind of inner tension is created, where difference and at the same time unity can coexist, similarly to the black and white colours in the jin-jang symbol.

The stage oratorio is made of huge blocks, vast segments of self-standing music and self-standing dramatic action. In a stage oratorio, the importance of the dramatic time increases when the fluency of the stage time is somehow sensibly disturbed. Tension is cumulated around the segments like the tense water surrounds big stones in the river. The distances between each segments create the temporythm of the stage oratorio and thanks to the high level of stylization and monumentalism the feeling of a ceremony is evoked which leads into the reviving of one of the theatre archetypes- a mystery.

What is the music like? Certainly, there is absence of subjectivity. The attitude could be characterized as "new baroque". The methods which are used are mixed choir and organ.

And the libretto we have used? Euripides in the original version and Mr.Bambušek´s texts. Some parts of the music anticipate or complete the spoken word. This way of working is analogous to A.Honnegger´s oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake. The other parts are more independent, with a tendency towards generalization. The principle of an ancient choir is actualized there, as we know that the ancient choir wasn´t used only as a source of information during the time of the Ancients. At the same time, the music assume the role of god´s voices, as it results from its vertical movement. Hermes, Zeus, Athena, Lysa and Hesperides are integrally connected with the music.

It was impossible for such a small experimental ensemble to implement the music technically without further help. However, there was no need for that. The roles were divided between the playback of Ars Brunensis Chorus choir and live declamation of the actors. Therefore the world of gods and the world of humans are clearly defined.

What is the topic of the stage oratorio Hérakles? There is a still modern problem of an outstanding individual who performs glorious deeds during the war and excellently playing his social role he is considered a pillar of society. However, when the peace time arrives he changes into a disconcerted and unpredictable monster that destroys everything. Hérakles eats the fruit of immortality but he refuses to follow the path of gods and doesn´t accept the responsibility for his divinity. He later becomes insane, defiles his dead wife and sets the palace into fire. When he wakes up he again refuses to take on responsibility for this horrible deed. Finally, having been urged by the crowd, he makes the sacrifice. He, alone, just with the body of his wife, enters the sacrificial stake to burn not only himself and his wife´s body but also the spark of divinity within himself.

And what remins? Just us and the empty heaven without any gods. And death. And our freedom which we can sometimes grasp for a while before we are destroyed by it.

Alleluiah can be heard as a conclusion of Hérakles. A word which seemingly doesn´t belong to the world of Greek mythology. However, the main idea is generally human - what is pointed up is the pillar of the Euro-American civilization: Christianity. From time to time there were individuals who found they had been touched by a spark of divinity, though the light of the spark had been gone out before the heaven could arrive on the Earth. Therefore people are left here with one of their deepest desires pronounced in our stage oratorio Hérakles: to be born again and never to die.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.

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