Enno Poppe – Prozession (2015/20)
for large ensemble
commissioned by Ensemble Musikfabrik, Bernd and Ute Bohmeier, Festival AFEKT and Kunststiftung NRW
Enno Poppe, conductor
Wolfgang Ellers, sound engineer
Robert Gummlich, Video Director
Video Production, Streaming Factory GmbH & Co. KG
recorded as part of the Ensemblefestival for Contemporary Music 2020, Leipzig
Kölner Philharmonie Nov. 22nd, 2020
© Ricordi & Co. Ltd
Enno Poppe had started the work five years ago but stopped Prozession around minute 8. The plan was to pick it up again at some point. The piece, Poppe thought, would be about 15 minutes. It turned out to be three times as long. When he put the score back on the desk in mid-March last year as everything came to a stop outside, the piece suddenly took on a life of its own, recalls Poppe: it kept expanding, kept unfolding. Although he had planted the seed for this development back in 2015 and had designed a growth structure with a concrete logic of proportions, the fact that this momentum would carry him so far was still a big surprise in the end.
Enno Poppe loves plans, but he loves music even more, and if the music outgrows or simply leaves his plans behind when he composes, “then that’s good, too.” That means concretely in this case: In the very first draft, Prozession was to consist of nine sections, each with nine subsections. The actual culmination of the final number 81 is, according to Poppe, due to the persistence of the material and not by the stubbornness of the composer.
The nine sections expose various instrumental duets and longer solos against the backdrop of a block-like shifting percussion line. In the first section, for example, the flute and violin correspond, with a viola added for background reinforcement. A common melodic line develops from the duo, which then leads into a chord at the end of this section, to then lead without interruption to the next section with the next duo, the next line, the next chord. The individual segments thereby become continuously longer, everything increasingly begins to flow. And it is precisely this fluidity that is the point, an energy that sweeps everything along with it, dissolving and turning it into pure movement, including the formal segmentation that dissolves into the soundscape.
The movement itself has no logic, but arises from a bodily feeling, is corporeal, not physiological: “The more I detach myself from the structure, the more I write myself free.” Freedom is also achieved by the idea of continuous elongation. By constantly lengthening the individual sections, they lose their intrinsic creative significance, not only enabling increasing leeway but even forcing its use.
This, then, is the process. But where is the procession?
Poppe’s silence about the meaning of his titles is legendary. Prozession, however, lays a comparatively tangible trail. For the process, only one thing – it goes on and on according to a specific plan. Processions, however, not only move forward but also lead in a very concrete direction and to a goal. The destination is precisely located geographically, but spiritually it is wide open. As a journey, the procession leads to a place; as an inner movement, it moves into infinity. And it has also drawn Poppe, as it were, into the infinite, to a previously unknown point in his compositional work: “Something has happened here that I have never written before.”
One may speculate about what this means and what this grand march of Prozession stands for. As listeners, we experience it as a movement in waves that grow higher and more powerful. Outwardly, an energetic climax of acceleration and dynamics is already reached by the sixth section, but instead of leveling off after that, the process-like intensification shifts inward, as it were. Contours disappear; our sense of scale does too. Rhythmically, the last remnants of a pulse are lost. Harmonically, we find no support in the extremely compressed microtonal chords, nothing to which we can relate them.
This total disorientation, however, is not a catastrophe but seems like a promise of boundless freedom and happiness: “At some point, everything feels right. There is nothing wrong anymore.”