Rebecca Saunders – Blaauw (2004) for double bell trumpet solo with piano resonances
Maroc Blaauw, double bell trumpet
Janet Sinica, video
Hendrik Manook, sound design
Rebecca Saunders on Blaauw:
Blaauw (2004) for double bell trumpet
blaauw=blauw; Dutch for “blue”
“As it deepens towards black… (blue) becomes like an infinite self-absorption which has, and can have, no end. The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.”
Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911-12
“We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.”
“Blue transcends the solemn geography of human limits.
The blood of sensibility. An infinite possibility Becoming tangible.
Pray to be released from image.
To be an astronaut of the void.
Blue is darkness made visible. The darkness comes in with the tide.”
Derek Jarman, excerpts from Chroma – A book of colour, 1994, Vintage
Marco Blaauw on Blaauw:
In her program notes, 3 descriptions of the color blue, Rebecca Saunders wants to guide her listeners into a 10-minute deep listening experience. (The piece always appears shorter to me). She writes 18 gestures, composed out of 2 or 3 breaths, consisting of a constant slow color change, separated by silences. Or perhaps better said, almost silences. The gestures are played into the strings of a grand piano with the pedal held down, the decaying resonance of the strings leading the listener into silences that are charged with anticipation.
The resonance reflects the diverse, unheard, almost electronic sounds coming from the trumpet, which can put the listener in a state of wonder. The silence that follows suspends time, it becomes measureless, a void.
Maybe this void inspired her to the title Blue? Or perhaps it was the colors she composed by the blending of the two bells, notated by a simple graphic line? Or maybe the pitches? In the score, D and Eb dominate, sometimes visiting neighboring pitches, sometimes jumping to A and Ab.
When she finished the score in November 2004, she wrote me an email announcing that the title would be “Blue.”
I had to answer with skepticism: I already had a piece by Richard Ayres called “blue,” and I was planning a solo CD with both solo works on the program, wouldn’t it be strange to have 2 pieces called “blue”?
Her answer came prompt, her solution was simple, to use the old Dutch version instead of the English.
The development of this piece had been slow and careful. In 2002 we had started to work with the double bell trumpet while she was composing her score for “Insideout,” music for a choreographic installation, a collaboration with the Sasha Waltz Dance Company. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAZ2yHKVmbc
This evening-long piece was constructed out of modules of different instrumentations. After the production, it seemed an obvious step to combine all the melodic fragments on the trumpet into one melody. She gave me a score that I tried out in several performances. Every time we managed to get together for rehearsals, she took the chance to polish all the gestures. “Can you play this louder? Can you play this longer? What about this mute? Can you use tremolo with flutter tongue?” She asked me to play the phrases many times, always weighing the silences after every gesture and trying different timings.
Long after I had performed the final version of the score during the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2004, she admitted that this piece might have been the first complete melody she had composed since arriving in Germany in 1991 to study with Wolfgang Rihm.
I have played many performances since then. Every performance is different, a unique balance between the precision of Rebecca’s notation and the freedom she gives to the performer.