Sunday, 1 November 2009

Wolfgang Rihm's Grave

On the 4th July 2005 Thomas Kakuska, a bratschist with the Alban Berg Quartett died after a long illness. The composer Wolfgang Rihm was working with students in Metz when the news reached him. Nevertheless he immediately agreed to G√ľnter Pichler's request to compose a Requiem for Tommy.
Rihm produced a moving atonal piece to be performed by 2 violins, a viola and a cello. The requiem, titled Grave, begins with a period of silence and ends after the faint sound of a distant funeral bell is heard. It was first performed in the Vienna Konzerthaus on 28th January 2007 by the Alban Berg Quartett.
Last night, Hallowe'en, it was performed at the same venue by the Arditti Quartet - Irvine Arditti (violin), Ashot Sarkissjan (violin), Ralf Ehlers (viola) and Lucas Fels (violoncello).

Wolfgang Rihm's Grave

in memoriam Thomas Kakuska
for string quartet
12 minutes

In the balcony the acoustic is good
and I look across to the source
of the disturbance
the blue-rinsed perm
the smile
the ice-blue eyes
the operation of the hinged chatterbox
and I sense more than hear
the groans
of her neighbours
for it has already begun
and they are missing the beginning
for it begins with silence
a chromatic silence
which tonight wasn't there
in the balcony at least

but the acoustic is brilliant up here ...

you listen to spasmodic modulation
of phlegmatic debris
moving in the bronchial tubes
of damaged organs
whenever irritation builds up
and you listen to the long note
prior to the sneeze
of winter's chill
and to the paper-hankies
to be gently unfolded
and the crinkly sweet wrappers
begging to be noisily unfolded
and refolded
and the hard clunks
of the boiled cough-sweets
on ill-fitting dentures
and the zippered mouths of handbags
to be opened and closed
at periodic intervals

you even hear
the gentle ticking
of the second
hand on your neighbour's wrist
when it's quiet

and all the while
your ears cry
for eternity in the atonal
and the Arditti Quartet
and the clinical nurse patrolling the wards of your ears
folds Rihm's Requiem
into a place
already too full of noise
and so it was

Kakuska was buried



  1. Ah - there is some consolation in being slightly deaf, methinks. The only thing worse than a sweet being unwrapped in the theatre is someone trying to do it surreptitiously - they usually make more sound.

  2. Love this. So much about listening in this poem. I often think that I might have to invite the sweet wrapper people on stage to join us at some gig in the future, and their friend with the rustly bag.

  3. Annie, I'm pleased you enjoyed my musical poems - I had a feeling you would.


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