Benedict Mason (1954)

The Hinterstoisser Traverse (1986)

for ensemble

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1986
    • Duration: 12 mn 30 s
    • Publisher: Chester Music, Londres
Detailed formation
  • 1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 horn, 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, 1 percussionist, 1 piano, 1 violin, 1 viola, 1 cello

Premiere information

  • Date: 7 October 1989

    Allemagne, Cologne


    l'Ensemble Modern, direction : Richard Pittman.


Lauréat du prix de composition de la Westdeutschen Rundfunks 1989.

Program note

The Hinterstoisser Traverse is a key section of the first route up the Eiger Nordwand whose discovery in ironic and tragic circumstances led the way for subsequent successful conquests of that side of the mountain. This piece is not an exercise: it is intended as a full-blown piece of concert music to be listened to as such. If it is a study of anything then it is in one of perception; but more the piece is about the following:

Surface - abrasiveness and relief - not so much traditional ideas of texture and klangfarbenmelodie, more depth, distance, space and speed (apparent motion); and the effect of all these in their context - for example the juxtaposition of changing blocks which are not variations.

Aspects of an (imaginary) ‘traverse’ - not the literal one of the title - sometimes progressing very fast, sometimes slowly, sometimes through tunnels, sometimes through a wide three or even more dimensional perspective or ‘landscape’ and sometimes only in two dimensions - a ‘wall’ to make a connection with the title. The journey along this ‘traverse’ is always asymptotic - you cannot be teleological with one note - there is only an illusion of going and the dream in which one never gets there. (Hinterstoisser’s party didn’t get to the top and achieve their goal.) At once static and motionful, with one note there is no development or modulation.

These imaginary landscapes can be built more objectively with only one note - you are not cluttered by pitch associations which close the landscape into something more suggestive or well-known. The piece connects with the multiple decision making of mountaineering, not least in the basic decisions to be strictly limited to one single pitch in all instruments and to be more radical in this way and to achieve greater ‘alpine’ purity.

The problem of listening to this piece would not be one of a boredom threshold so much as one where the listener is forced to listen to other aspects erasing all the well-known musical distraction that comes about through differing pitches and their contours. One is forced into another listening mode, as if using a microscope to look at the things one doesn’t normally see.

The particular note chosen was deliberate, forcing each instrument into extremely contrasted, relatively loud or soft registers and thus providing much more of a challenge (the mountaineering connection again). It is much more interesting in this way, scored for one of each instrument, than simply as a rhythmic piece for percussion. Added to all this is the implied multi-faceted real and ‘secret’ ritual and theatre that runs throughout.

Benedict Mason.