14 Jul 2023

Lux Aeterna

Ouverture Spirituelle

In moving works from the renaissance to the present, the Ouverture spirituelle explores light, that divine, life-giving brightness.

“Lux aeterna luceat eis – may eternal light shine upon them”: thus the introduction to the mass for the dead. The souls of the departed should not fall into eternal night. There is a reason the creation myth of the Bible also begins with the end of darkness: “Let there be light!” Brightness, warmth and comfort, direction and goals, but also reason and enlightenment are associated with light – as is divine luminescence. Once again, the 2023 Ouverture spirituelle weaves an interrelated musical tapestry of compositions through the ages – performed by renowned artists.

Olivier Messiaen was already over 80 years old when he drew the sum of his musical spirituality in all its colours. He was unable to hear his Éclairs sur l’Au-delà with mortal ears, however, as he died just months before the world premiere in 1992. This “Lightning over the Beyond” illustrates what Messiaen believed and loved. However, even without any religious reference, it is possible to enjoy the musical beauty in which Messiaen clothed his convictions, hopes and premonitions. Ingo Metzmacher leads the performance of the SWR Symphony Orchestra.

“Let there be light!” is a command also heard in Joseph Haydn’s Creation. Haydn is said to have distributed the parts containing the corresponding music only just before the first performance – to incredible effect: the music simply took the audience’s breath away. Is it a resounding big bang, or the flash of reason, the illumination of enlightenment? Jordi Savall and his ensembles will make the oratorio sparkle in all its facets.

Many further works from the past and present also strive towards the light, be it real or spiritual. Sofia Gubaidulina’s Sonnengesang, for example, in which the composer, now 91 years old, set the famous prayer by St. Francis of Assisi in 1997. Together with Heinrich Schütz’ Musikalische Exequien, Gubaidulina’s work will be performed by Julia Hagen, cello, Christoph Sietzen, Bogdan Bacanu (percussion) and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, in a staging by Peter Sellars.

The wisdom of its programmatic dramaturgy, transcending styles and epochs with poetic power, constitutes the special attraction of the Ouverture spirituelle, and this is acknowledged by a faithful congregation of fans at the beginning of each Festival summer, often at the Kollegienkirche. The offerings range from the renaissance – with works for funeral rites and Holy Week – to modern times, with music that celebrates the light or transforms darkness into sound: for example Salvatore Sciarrino’s Infinito nero, or Gérard Grisey’s last work, Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil.

We need illumination most in our darkest moments, faced with death – and without darkness, light is unimaginable. This is expressed in Claude Vivier’s Wo bist du Licht! with the Klangforum Wien and in the film Blue, made by Derek Jarman when he was already mortally ill. As it is in the concert by the Huelgas Ensemble under Paul Van Nevel, offering a selection from Orlando di Lasso’s Prophetiae Sibyllarum, flanked by ET LUX for vocal and string quartet (Minguet Quartet) by Wolfgang Rihm: a kind of Requiem setting amalgamating remembered text fragments of the Latin mass for the dead in a new stream of sound. No wonder light makes another appearance in the title here.

Walter Weidringer
Translation: Alexa Nieschlag

Generously supported by Prof. Dr. h. c. mult. Reinhold Würth and the Würth Group

First published in the Festival insert of Salzburger Nachrichten