Intervista a Maurice Verheul

Enantiosemie contiene la prima registrazione assoluta di Obtuser air dell’olandese Maurice Verheul. Si tratta di uno dei due lavori per clarinetto basso e chitarra (l’altro si intitola Rid road chameleon) scritti dal vulcanico compositore, che vanta un catalogo di ragguardevoli dimensioni e che ha dedicato particolare attenzione al clarinetto basso. Lo abbiamo intervistato a gennaio 2018.

You are currently engaged in a huge project focusing on the bass clarinet. What’s the reason of your interest in this instrument? Which works have you written for and with bass clarinet?

Thats “simple”. I am a composer who’s always hearing music in his head and I am always looking for a challenge to compose something. I started the bass clarinet project (Obtuser Air is a part of it) when  Harry Sparnaay called for a studybook for the bass clarinet. I saw a chance for me to do something which I never thought was possible, i.e. to compose in extreme large numbers for this one instrument. I did this for the piano, but the piano world is, in contrast to the Bass clarinet world, extreme conservative. They choose for their performances always these composers who sell tickets at the concert halls: Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart and if you are very, very lucky Poulenc, Messiaen and some other “new” or “modern” composers like Carter or Cage… But for them to play Verheul, well that’s a “no go area” for them because, “God forbit” you sell one ticket less. I think there’s another reason, but I hope to be wrong: Bass clarinet players love new technical challenges and it looks like that the late or new generation of pianists hates challenges and go for the more comfortable pieces. Pianists like to forget thats their masters once studied music which was contemporary at their time…..

Would you spend a couple of words on your professional relationship with the great Harry Spaarnay?

I never saw Harry, to my regret, in real life but I had my converstions on Facebook-messenger or by videochat, and we talked about the difficulties, the dos and dont’s, of the Bass clarinet but also about life and death, about his ilness, about loosing someone you love, about the hope of to overcome his cancer, we talked about everything. This last message, and I want to say it verry clear because Harry and I where thinking strongly the same about this: Everything about your instrument is possible: if you want it to be possible it is possible! Left or right!

You used the classical guitar several times in your works. Could you resume the works you have written for and with guitar?

Writting for the guitar is in intention the same as writing for every other instrument. Sure it helps when you are a master of performance in the instrument you are writing for …but let us not forget that the suprises always lurk in these corners you would not expect them. A composer can’t be a trumpet-player, cello-player, pianist, percusionist, choir or orchestra etc: You do your best to unsterstand them or it, imagine what they are doing and try to think like them, read about it, listen to it and in sometimes just throw a pair of dices… but not like Cage did, I mean it figuratively. You only find or experience difficulties in composing for instruments when you write for musicians who in intention are not willing to play your work… but I think this is an open door. I composed more than 18 works for and with Guitar; music for childeren to a Guitar-concerto.

When and why did you choose to write “Obtuser Air” for bass clarinet and guitar?

I wanted to compose a Bossa nova, it can not be simpler than this… but a Bossa nova like I want it to be… and when you say Bossa nova you say Antonio Jobim and you hear at once his Guitar playing a Bossa nova. The bass clarinet is actually the voice of Astrud Gilberto and Sauro Berti plays her part… so we have Berti instead of gil-Berto. Obtuser Air is an anagram of Sauro Berti. When I use anagrams for titles its to honeur the one I am composing for, a dedication.

You define your poetry as “New colorfield romantic”, indeed it deals much with tonality and consonance, a quite unusual choice for a period of time (ours) which has emancipated dissonances in every possible way. How could you resume your style? Could you point out which influences are at the base of your way of writing?

1-I am a art lover. In my studies about art I found a love for Mark Rothko who paints in fields of color and this movenent is called “Colorfield”. I must say, when I compose I feel more like a painter than a composer, especially when the works are complicated. When I hear my music inside of me or see in it my mind I always see a three dimensional image, a picture, of what I want to compose: Always the layers in front of each other, not on top of each other. Just imagine this:

  • A:You compose your work on glass Windows;
  • B: Put the glass windows in front of one and other and watch through them;
  • C: You see now the layers in front of each other and all the music bars are on exact the same hight but the notes are all on different hights, lows and places.
  • D:A score is a 2d presentation of what I mean is a 3d experience;
  • E: Maybe a 3D printer is necessary in the future to make my scores more visible or to explain better that what I mean.

2– I have a weakness for rhythm, colour and counterpoint and these three factors can be linked to composers as Messiaen, Strawinsky and Bach.

3– The use of dissonance and consonance; I do not conform myself to the spirit of times and the use of “shocking” sounds just because other composers do so. I must like it first of all. What I am doing if a phrase,  melody, line, motif or call it as you want it to contain: loud sounds, soft sounds, dissonants or consonants; it’s up to me to decide.  What I am doing with it is not the one I am composing for to decide or the listener. To continue the “story”, on certain places the piece decides what is going to happen. Of course I have my preferences for certain sounds, I love Fifth-chords and layers, Love Seventh-chords and Sixth-chords… and, it’s sounds silly, sometimes it’s just the form of the day.

What about your incoming projects?

I am now working with Sauro Berti to edit all the works of the Bass clarinet project. Sauro has taken over the work of Harry. There are around 290 Bass clarinet works waiting to come out in volumes or as stand-alone works. Harry and I wanted that the Bass clarinet repertoire was as complete as possible from Solo to concerti, to concerto, to grande concerto and everything in between. I want that to; The Bass clarinet deserves and earned a place next to Piano or a Soprano or …you understand it. Further on I  am working with Jason Alder for studies for the Contrabass clarinet and I finished a work for 6 voices (choir) and 6 Contrabass clarinets; a sonata for Contrabass clarinet and piano is coming… and we have to find a record company to relase the recordings of the Bass clarinet trios, whose recordings lies in the very capable hands of Sauro Berti. Finding a proper company is quite a challenge… Because who wants to burn their fingers on something scary as the Bass clarinet? Its all fear of cold water and we all want to stick to the old… isn’t it?