Apocalipsis cum Figuris


Tape (4 tracks, produced at the Institute of Sonology, Royal Conservatoire, The Hague, with the voices of Dagmar Krause and Phil Minton), 4 percussionists, 2 pianos, 3 pop(!) singers, conductor

first performance: 20 October 1984, Donaueschinger Musiktage, by Slagwerkgroep Den Haag with Gunilde Cramer and Yukiko Sugawara (piano), Jan Hendriks, Ernst Jansz and Henny Vrienten (voices), conducted by Konrad Boehmer.

CD: Acousmatrix 5, Konrad Boehmer Electronic Works. BVHAAST 9011 (1990) Slagwerkgroep Den Haag with Geoffrey Madge and Frederic Rzewski (piano), Jan Hendriks, Ernst Jansz and Henny Vrienten (voices), conducted by Konrad Boehmer. Awarded the Edison Prize in 1990.

Apocalipsis cum figuris was commissioned by the Dutch National Radio (NOS) and composed in 1983/84. Boehmer started the work immediately after the completion of his music drama Doctor Faustus. Apocalipsis too is inspired by a Faust figure: the composer Adrian Leverkühn, the principal character of Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus.

In this novel two of the most important compositions of this fictitious composer are comprehensively described. One of them is an Apocalipsis cum figuris which turns all established aesthetic norms on their head. Everything considered ‘beautiful’ in traditional music stands in Leverkühn’s composition for the ‘ugly’ and ‘banal’, whereas all manifestations of modern music – screaming, roaring glissandi, sharp dissonances – stand for the ‘beautiful’.

Boehmer decided to put into music Thomas Mann’s description of that nonexistent piece. Three pop singers, two pianos and four percussionists act against a wall of organized noise on a 4-track tape. The material on the tape consists entirely of vocal sounds and quotations from texts by the ‘apocalyptic’ apostle John, Karl Marx, the Marquis de Sade, Pierre Louÿs, Giacomo Leopardi and others. 

The three singers yell and scream like devils (who should not be omitted from a good apocalypse!) – after producing isolated sounds, they gradually introduce more continuous textual passages, before finally singing a tasteless, Elton-John-like hymn in C major. These texts are based upon a verbal outburst by the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, who now and again believed that he was God. 

Since its premiere on 20 October 1984 at the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the piece has been performed and broadcast in many European countries as well in the USA.

NEUE ZÜRICHER ZEITUNG 27.3.96: … sein vielleicht extremstes Stück: die “Apocalipsis cum figuris”, die seinerzeit in Donaueschingen (1984) einigen Protest hervorgerufen hat. Eine dichte Tonbandmontage von Texten, vokalen Gerräuschen, elektronischen Transformationen und Elektronik wird zugespielt, drei Schlagzeuger, zwei Pianisten und drei Popsänger werden live beschäftigt. Entstanden ist ein fast vierzigminütiges Pandämonium von einer Radikalität, die gewiss über das hinausgeht, was Thomas Mann seinem Adrian Leverkühn im “Doktor Faustus” andichtete. Boehmer jedenfalls hat sich von Mann zu einem seiner interessantesten Stücke inspirieren lassen. (Alfred Zimmerlin)

Download the score here: Apocalipsis.pdf