It was after reading E T A Hoffman’s unfinished novel, Murr the Tom-Cat’s Philosophy of Life, together with a Fragmentary Biography of Kappellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Odd Sheets of Waste Paper (1820-22), that I had the idea for Palimpseste. The cat belonging to the musician Kreisler decides to write his memoirs but, as he has no paper to write on, he uses the pages from an already existing book. The book that these pages belong to is a biography of Kreisler. Hoffman’s novel oscillates between the two texts about the same person.
Palimpseste (a word which describes the method of writing on used parchment but where the original text has been erased) is built upon a work by Gesualdo (16th century): the 11th madrigal from the 6th book Beltà, poiche t’assenti. The two pieces superimpose themselves upon each other and transform each other.
The two spaces occupied by the strings and the wind instruments inPalimpseste represent the two texts in Hoffman’s novel. And just as the ‘life of Kreisler’ is derived from Hoffman’s earlier Kreisleriana which would later inspire Robert Schumann, so the Gesualdo madrigal has inspired another work: the third movement of Stravinsky’s Monumentum.
…a beautifully crafted and performed exploration of timbre for piano, strings and, in the gallery, flute and clarinet. These two players’ movement around the auditorium drew the listener into the heart of the work, amplifying the inviting warmth generated by a constantly evolving sequence of note cascades, trill motifs, glissandi and pulsing resonances, laced with flitting references to a Gesualdo madrigal.
The Birmingham Post
First performed by BCMG conducted by Susanna Mälkki at CBSO Centre, Birmingham on 3 May 2002.