• Poul Ruders
  • Kafkapriccio (2008)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 1(pic.afl).1(ca).1(bcl). str
  • 1(pic.afl).1(ca).1(bcl).1/ str
  • 19 min
    • 1st October 2020, Hannover, Germany
    • 3rd October 2020, Hannover, Germany
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Programme Note

Five Paraphrases on the opera Kafka’s Trial

For large ensemble (sinfonietta)


Kafkapriccio, which was commissioned by Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen, is a
distillation for fourteen instruments from the massive forces of my opera Kafka’s Trial, premiered by The Royal Danish Opera at the newly inaugurated Opera House on the Copenhagen waterfront in February 2005.

The five movements paraphrase the tunes, harmony, rhythm and see-sawing mood swings of the original music, and needless to say, when you whittle the complex activity of 90-odd musicians plus 11 soloists and chorus down to only a handful of solo players, the end result comes out significantly different and far more transparent than the broadly speckled canvas of the operatic score.

In the libretto by British Paul Bentley, two plots run parallel throughout the opera: Franz Kafka´s private struggle – in particular with one woman, Felice Baur, whom he cannot make up his mind to marry (or not marry), and the fictitious story of the hapless Josef K, the victimized (and rather obnoxious) protagonist of Kafka´s famous, unfinished novel The Trial.

It was obvious to me, when deciding what to do with a miniaturized version of the opera, that I had to focus on the actual personae dramatis in this “double story”. Franz Kafka was hugely interested in klezmer, the folkloristic music of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe around the beginning of the 20th century. So, the first movement, Kafka, is a breathtakingly fast, klezmer-inspired opening, depicting the tortured soul of that most mythologized of authors.

In the second movement, Felice, I dim the light, so to speak, composing a tranquil music mirroring the thoughts and sorrows of a woman being held hostage, emotionally, by a man who cannot make up his mind.

In the third movement, Leni, we are all of a sudden thrown head first into the middle of the the novel proper. The main character, Josef K, has been arrested and accused of a crime that he, and nobody else, seems to know what is. Accompanied by his Uncle Albert, Josef seeks out a dodgy (and mortally ill) lawyer, Dr. Huld, for legal assistance. Dr. Huld employs an uncommonly horny and sluttish female factotum, Leni, who succeeds in seducing Josef. The music should leave nobody in doubt as to the success of her endeavour…

Josef K. works as a clerk in a bank. After being arrested, he is allowed to go to work and carry on as usual, but the dreary daily routine at the bank has changed. The term surreal does not even begin to describe it. In a broom closet Josef finds the two warders who arrested him, they are being flogged by a mysterious official, the flogger, because they helped themselves to Josef´s breakfast during the arrest. The fourth movement, Josef, juggles the music from these relevant scenes in the opera.

Those who have read The Trial will remember that in the last chapter, Josef K. is being executed in a stone quarry by two sinister characters wearing bowler hats. Even at this stage of the story, Josef does not know why all this happens, but nevertheless he is finally convinced that he actually deserves to die. Which he does – depicted in the music of the fifth and last movement. The Execution.

- Poul Ruders

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