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Mikel UrquizaAlfabet (2018-19)
for soprano, trumpet, clarinet and percussion

Sarah Maria Sun, soprano
Carl Rosman, clarinet
Marco Blaauw, trumpet
Dirk Rothbrust, percussion

Hendrik Manook, recording producer/editing

video by WARPED TYPE Andreas Huck, Roland Nebe

Alfabet is an astonishing poetry collection by Inger Christensen, published in 1981 and later translated and appreciated worldwide. It is, obviously, a volume about the alphabet — each poem focuses on words starting with the same letter — but, more precisely, it is a volume about the alphabet’s creative power: giving a name is also giving existence. This generative approach is stressed by formal choices (the first poems are a list of existing things), vocabulary (plants, animals, chemical elements), and the use of Fibonacci sequence (where every element is equal to the sum of the two previous ones: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13…) to determine the length of each poem.

In order to show the evolution of Christensen’s writing, I have chosen separate texts: the first three poems, that illustrate clearly the alphabetical and the arithmetical approach; the sixth, that relates elements to their environment; and the fourteenth, which introduces nouns and metaphors. The instrumentation follows the idea of accumulation present in Alfabet: abrikostræerne findes is written for solo voice; bregnerne findes for voice and trumpet; cikaderne findes for voice, trumpet, and percussion; fiskehejren findes for voice and clarinet (this is an exception in the growing logic); navnene findes is a tutti. The last movement, Barentshaven, is a list of place names arranged as a duo for voice and percussion.

I got to know Alfabet through a bilingual (Danish/French) edition. It was marvellously translated in French but, due to the alphabetical features of the text, I spent most of the time reading the unknown Danish words, as it was more satisfying to see them all begin with the same letter. This mysterious northern language (in which I could hear the long winter nights, rabbits hiding under ferns, wild strawberries), made me want to say the words out loud, to unravel the world they hid. One can only try; like in any other language, the essence of a word remains unspeakable, its domain unending, and its secret untouched.

Mikel Urquiza