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Where the Bees Fly

15 MAY 2012

published in: Drama

Händl Klaus (Photo: Ruedi Häusermann)
On Meine Bienen. Eine Schneise, a piece that transcends all genres, by Händl Klaus with Musicbanda Franui

On a sunny summer day, just as a funeral was taking place in Innervillgraten in Eastern Tyrol, the beekeeper’s son Andreas Schett let a swarm of bees escape. The bees, which the boy had been supposed to watch, did not leave their hive for a nearby stone-pine or spruce, but set off in the direction of the parking lot, where the local company of marksmen was just paying homage to the dear departed. It was hot. Sweat was running down the faces and into the collars of the marksmen, buttoned tightly into their uniforms.

Bees are peaceful creatures, as long as they are not attacked or disturbed. The industrious, hypersociable creatures feel disturbed by intruders who search their hives for honey, but also by folks who emit a memorable odor, and the sweat of an East Tyrolean company of marksmen falls into this category. Thus, the approaching swarm of bees, whose buzzing was suddenly clearly audible, gave the knowledgeable among the marksmen cause for worry, but not panic. An old marksman, a beekeeper himself, called out to Schett Andreas that he should run home quickly, fetch two metal pot-lids and return immediately.

Andreas hopped to it. Now, said the beekeeper, as the buzzing of the bees began to sound threatening, you crash the two lids together, keeping a nice rhythm, and walk home slowly. The bees will follow you.

Schett Andreas beat the two lids against each other and walked home, and the bees followed him, returning home to their hive. The marksmen fired a salute, and the boy’s memory was etched with an image that was to accompany him until it finally returned as an idea, an inspiration for the musician Andreas Schett had become in the meantime – a motif for a stage work, a drama with music, an image that demanded a new frame.

At an office in Vienna’s Heiligenkreuzerhof, the composing studio of Franui, a space which had long been home to a luthier’s workshop, four men and a woman sit at a long table, talking. Two of them are musicians, one is a writer, one is a stage director, and the only woman translates what everybody needs to know at any given point into French, because the director Nicolas Liautard is from Marseille and needs semantic support approaching the first fragments from which the piece Meine Bienen. Eine Schneise is materializing – written by the Tyrolean author Händl Klaus, it is a mysterious, enchanted webbing of dialogues and atmosphere, for which Andreas Schett and Markus Kraler – the two leaders of the East Tyrolean Musicbanda Franui, which has long won its place in the world by playing in the space between all genres – are composing the music.

Today, at the first meeting of all the protagonists for the last Festival premiere of the 2012 season, the main point is to grasp the atmosphere which the piece is to exude, to take its temperature, to guess its outlines.

Therefore, Schett once again tells the story of the funeral in Innervillgraten and how later, in high school, he encountered the tale in Greek mythology in which the earth goddess Rhea sits in front of a hole in the ground holding two bronze lids, beating a rhythm, in order to show the bee swarms inhabiting the hole the right way.

“That,” says Schett, “just blew me away.” He recognized the line of traditional knowledge which connected ancient Greece through the millennia directly with Innervillgraten. In hindsight, Schett names this very moment as the origin of the project of bringing a piece about bees into the world.

Musicbanda Franui takes its name from a mountain pasture near Innervillgraten, where the young Schett made music with some of his friends and was involved in such a variety of cultural activities that some blockheads in the valley felt offended – in any case, the cultural center went up in flames one night. Thereupon, Schett left Innervillgraten for Innsbruck, but he took along his concept of contemporary music, which oscillates between folk, marching bands and every facet of virtuosic mastery of the classical repertoire, and which Schett and his colleagues and friends in Franui have purposefully refined and developed further constantly. While the band started out by playing funerary marches for nights on end, it gradually assimilated the world of classical art songs, appropriating Schubert’s melodies in order to give them sound and a reference of their own devising; entering into a heartfelt dialogue with Brahms; even distilling the emotional essence of opulent Mahler – and, having become a permanent fixture on the most elegant stages in Austria and Germany, the band found itself faced with the question of where the journey was going next.

This was the moment when Schett was reminded of the bees. Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the Salzburg Festival’s Director of Drama and a friend of Franui’s after many shared performances, suggested that Franui’s head should create something for the Festival together with author Händl Klaus. This took what had been a platonic friendship between Händl and Franui to the level of red alert: the production process.

Händl Klaus – as Tyrolean as Schett and a longtime acquaintance of his – had long become an original, multiple-award-winning and, most importantly, musical voice in contemporary German-language drama. He immediately liked the topic of the bees. Together with Schett, he researched the subject, became infected by Schett’s enthusiasm, started to write – and came up with something totally different from anything anyone would have expected. He wrote the story of a forest fire which has cut a swath through the forest and destroyed the beekeeper’s swarms. As soon as the curtain goes up, Händl Klaus says, there must be a burnt smell in the air…

The conversation eddying around the table at Heiligenkreuzerhof seems wild and works without discernible order, but the topic – the visible, audible, perceptible basic motif of Meine Bienen – is rendered ever more precisely by all those involved. The stage director has a preliminary formal idea, a central wall of glass in whose colors and mirrorings the tensions of the piece will be reflected. Händl Klaus has completed the libretto – late, of course – and is reading from it, falling into the rhythm of his language head-first; Kraler and Schott play fragments of the music they have notated at the computer; everybody observes everybody else out of the corner of their eye – their reactions, the piece, the long shot.

“Wait,” says Schett. He wants to play one of Alban Berg’s earliest songs from his late-romantic period, which Arnold Schoenberg condemned as a forgivable sin, if anything. Jessye Norman sings, “earnest is spring, its dreams are sad,” and things become very quiet around the table – clear, intensive music, heartbeat music. “Exactly what we were looking for,” Schett says. Berg’s little-known youthful songs will seep into the bee music, will be quoted, will radiate, make for moments of powerful clarity when in the forest aisle feelings and thoughts have started to whir and vibrate, longingly and searching for what is hidden behind the words, but what can be guessed from the colors of the stage and the music.

A metallic sound, like the lid of a pot, resounds in the sketch of the music coming from the computer – it repeats, gains speed, the rhythm that the earth goddess Rhea intones, the rhythm with which Franui attracts the bees in the forest aisle – they hear the call; they are on their way.

Christian Seiler

Translation: Alexa Nieschlag