Johannes Maria Staud (1974)

Incipit (2000)

for alto trombone and five instruments

  • General information
    • Composition date: 2000
    • Duration: 11 mn
    • Publisher: Universal Edition
    • Commission: Ensemble Modern
Detailed formation
  • soloist: 1 alto trombone
  • 1 flute (also 1 alto flute), 1 oboe (also 1 English horn), 1 horn, 1 percussionist, 1 cello

Premiere information

  • Date: 10 February 2001

    France, Paris, Maison de Radio France


    Uwe Dierksen et l’Ensemble Modern, direction : Franck Ollu.

Program note

The Latin term Incipit ("it begins") was used as the initial word of old manuscripts and printed works, and even today it still indicates the first sentences of a book, the immediate beginning.

In the novel, Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, Turin 1979 (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller) by Italo Calvino (1923 – 1985), the author Silas Flannery, who is agonizing over a piece of his own writing, formulates the following thoughts:

"… The epic fascination, which appears in its pure form in the initial sentences of so many novels, gives way very quickly to the actual development of the story: it is the promise of a period of reading, stretching out in front of us, potentially holding in store all manner of possible further developments. I wish I could write a book that was just one big incipit, a book that preserves the potentiality of the beginning over its whole length: an expectation, as yet without an object. But how could such a book be structured? Would it break off after the first paragraph? Would it endlessly prolong the preliminaries? Would it intertwine all kinds of beginnings, like Arabian Nights?…"

I hoped to let this idea influence my music, and set about composing this piece with an eye to the "preservation of the potentiality of the beginning". But it soon became apparent to me that the concept – followed consistently to its logical conclusion – would mean the negation of the work’s formal unity. I wanted neither to give up using a specific type of harmony for the entire piece, nor did I want to give up continuities in the organization of the material over many sections. The idea of a never-ending incipit, I thought, could better be approached through employing a large number of musical characters, breaks and moments of surprise. But here there arose the question as to what new information is needed for a passage to be perceived as a surprise, and whether too much of the unexpected might not itself become routine.

Johannes Maria Staud.