López Im Innersten: János Bolyai stirbt, Op. 30
5.1 Radiophonic Composition
Broadcast via station ORF1 on Sunday 8th May 2022 [11.00pm]
by Richard Whitehouse
Radiophonic compositions are less often encountered nowadays than their heyday during the third quarter from last century, but the impact of a piece such as Xenakis’s La Légende d”Eer (which is being revived as part of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s programme to mark this composer’s centenary on May 29th) remains comparable to that achieved with any medium, and Austrian Radio’s recent broadcast of Im Innersten: János Bolyai stirbt by Jorge E. López confirms a necessary addition to this select though distinctive and influential genre.
Although he has utilized electronics in previous works, this work is López’s first specifically for the radiophonic medium. The source material stems largely from field recordings, made inside ice caves and glaciers of the Grosser Burgstall in Austria’s region of Carinthia during August 2021. López draws attention to the ‘‘decay and disintegration’’ that has affected this area; what was once pristine now abounds in the blackness of cliff-faces, earth and stones as testament to the effect of climate change. Not a little of this is conveyed by his composition.
With its duration of just under 17 minutes, the work unfolds a polyphonic and multi-layered trajectory in which these environs are firstly evoked before being explored and opened-out in increasingly graphic terms. Beginning with a gently percolating sound of water, the sonic outlook diversifies before intensifying considerably; notably around the seven-minute mark, when the hitherto accumulated textures assume an ominous and even threatening aura that doubtless reflects those physical conditions from which the initial recordings had emerged.
Near the 12-minute mark a likely climax, even catharsis, is reached with the declamation by male then female voices of words whose translation might be ‘‘Just one short line at the end, (there being) nothing else to say: Mr Captain is no more’’ and then ‘‘As I wrote this letter, he died, and therefore there is nothing more to say than: the Captain has left’’. After which, the composer can be heard reciting the closing paragraph from Zsolt Láng’s novel Bolyai before the music gradually retreats – as might the figure having apprehended this disturbing vision.
The broadcast was (to use the currently much abused term) an ‘immersive’ one, such as even those without access to 5.1 encoding could perceive with decent headphones. Absorbing on its own terms, this ‘‘symphonic etude’ should be no less so as the final interlude of the opera Bolyai – that recounts the last hours of the Hungarian mathematician and geometrist – López is currently planning. Note too that the composer has reached an agreement with the publisher Doblinger to disseminate his recent works, details of which will be announced in due course.