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The Sound of Time Passing - Duccio Beverini plays Stockhausen's NATÜRLICHE DAUERN

The Sound Barrier : Blog

The latest edition of The Sound Barrier fell on the last two hours of Christmas Eve, at least in the Australian Eastern Daylight-savings Time-zone. It is a day that has so many different meanings and resonances for people, some of them happy, some of them very unhappy. It is a time of year when the messages about what matters most are as conflicted as are the relationships between those messages and the reality of people's lives.

But one thing that hits almost everyone during this time of year is the experience of time itself passing – not just in the sense of how quickly this time of year seems to come around, but also perhaps more profoundly in the awareness of how our lives are passing, how time moves and our lives move on, often without us even noticing how it happens. It's as if time has a life of its own, a life that it lives out behind the scenes, when we're not looking.

It was this notion of the passing of time that I sought to bring to you in the latest edition of the show, with a piece of music that invites us to contemplate the passing time through bringing to us a study in the duration of sound. NATÜRLICHE DAUERN (NATURAL DURATIONS) is a 24-part work by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 2005-2006, his final piece for solo piano.

It is the third part of his final cycle KLANG (SOUND), a planned set of 24 chamber pieces and electronic works, which represent the hours of the day, but which was left at hour 21 when Stockhausen died in December 2017.

NATÜRLICHE DAUERN explores the ways in which sounds endure and fade. Much of the timing of the piece is determined by the resonance and decay of sounds. Often its component pieces are slow and minimalist, as single notes hover alone in the air, fading to almost silence, before the next note or chord is played.

But of course, this is Stockhausen and so always this notion is explored and played with in different ways, and in each of the 24 pieces there are different things that the pianist is asked to listen to when making decisions about the durations and timings of the notes.

Much of this is explained by the pianist who played the various selections from NATÜRLICHE DAUERN that I brought to you on the show. Duccio Beverini, Italian-born pianist now living in Germany, has been working with the piece for over three years now and is one of the very few musicians who performs the entire work – over two hours of it – in live concerts.

Those three years have enabled Duccio to develop an intimate relationship with this extraordinarily original and creative way of forming music, of determining musical durations, and of contemplating the passing of time. His performances reflect how much this music has become a part of him and it is very easy, when you see or hear him play, to enter into its deeply contemplative, meditative, core.

In my interview with Duccio, which I recorded while I was in Kürten, Germany, over the past few weeks, he explained the different ways in which durations of sound are determined on a piano – by the register of the note, by how loudly it is played, and by whether or not the sustain-pedal is used. Stockhausen then works with these parameters and others, such as the breathing of the pianist, or the resonance of finger-bells or tuned metal bowls, in different combinations throughout the piece, so there is always something different not only for the pianist to work with but also for the audience to listen to. There is always a different way to notice the natural durations of sound, a different way to experience the passing of time.

However time passes for you – quickly, slowly, happily, sadly – it will pass. A piece like NATÜRLICHE DAUERN enables you to contemplate that passing, to listen to it, and to learn to have a kind of respect for it. It is a piece to listen to quietly, alone, focussed.

We are very much the richer that Stockhausen chose to bring this piece to us towards the end of his life – itself an unexpected surprise in Stockhausen's output because, as Duccio explains in the interview, he had announced some years before that he would no longer compose any works for solo piano. But he did, because he discovered this fascinating and beautiful way of listening to the passing of time.

We are similarly enriched because such a devoted and skilled pianist, and such a musically eloquent one, as Duccio Beverini is also devoting so much of his time and creative talents to realising the piece.

Most of the pieces from Duccio's performances of NATÜRLICHE DAUERN that I broadcast on the show were from a live performance of the complete work, which Duccio gave in Potenza, Italy, in November 2016. The only exception to this was NATÜRLICHE DAUERN 22, which Duccio performed live exclusively for The Sound Barrier in Kürten when I recorded our interview. My apologies that the sound quality on that piece is not so great – I was recording it on just a small hand-held recorder.

Whatever this time of year means or doesn't mean to you, both it and you (and everyone, really) will be led through it by time. You move along its passage. So much of our lives is spent trying to determine the pace at which that happens: to make the good things last longer, and the bad things pass more quickly. And much of our lives is spent regretting our inability to really do either. But a piece like NATÜRLICHE DAUERN invites us to take the journey a different way – to listen to time itself setting the pace. It is a quieter, humbler way to move, but an infinitely more surprising one.

My very deep thanks to Duccio Beverini for taking the time to talk with me about NATÜRLICHE DAUERN, and for sharing his performances of parts the piece with The Sound Barrier. It was regrettable that there just isn't enough time on the show to play the whole of the work, but a complete recording of it is available from The Stockhausen Foundation for Music at their online CD-store, where the performance is shared by pianists Frank Gutschmidt, Benjamin Kobler, and Antonio Pérez Abellán.

And, as always, the audio archive and playlist for the latest edition of The Sound Barrier is available here on the website for you to check out.

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