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The Eternal Recurrence

author of text
translator of text

Give Gerald Barry a text and you are unlikely to get a sympathetic setting. Illustration is not Barry’s style. His unique brand of musical defiance thrives on the rebellious and the unexpected—rather like Beethoven himself. The ninth symphony and The Eternal Recurrence form a natural pairing, the former drawing upon Friedrich Schiller’s poem about universal brotherhood and the idea of heaven upon earth, the latter taking excerpts from Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel Also sprach Zarathustra, which focuses on themes of joy, eternity and the power of mankind.

There are musical parallels between the two as well. Where Beethoven sets Schiller’s text with a certain jingoistic sarcasm, Barry defies the norms of text-setting too, rejecting the natural stresses and expression of the text in favour of a style that is deliberately undermining. For the soprano soloist, this means an almost impossible string of top Cs and a breathless parlando delivery, the text falling away in feverish fragments as though spontaneously created. It is a style that Barry would pursue in his 2005 opera The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and which, perhaps counter-intuitively, is designed to mimic a more natural form of vocal delivery. ‘The music isn’t illustrative in the conventional way,’ Barry admits, ‘but it mirrors the complex way people speak. For instance, the two of us could be talking now but we might be thinking about all sorts of other things; there could be a whole kaleidoscope of emotion running through our heads.’

This quasi-improvisatory, rapid-fire approach lends the work a frenetic energy, as though we are taken on an endless voyage of discovery, with a new idea around every corner. While the sense of pacing (or lack thereof) may not mirror the more measured rhythm of Nietzsche’s writing, it reflects the abundance of Nietzsche’s ideas, and his seemingly endless list of joy’s desires. It is a feature that is encapsulated by the work’s title, too. In Also sprach Zarathustra, ‘eternal recurrence’ is the idea that—given enough time—life, and all the events within it, will recur again and again ad infinitum. ‘This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever’, Nietzsche writes. It is a startling concept—that joy and the very spark of life is to be found in the everyday. ‘Rather like the familiar objects in still lifes’, Barry explains, ‘the music uses everyday musical gestures to produce something feverish and brilliant.’

from notes by Jo Kirkbride © 2021


Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 7, 8 & 9
Studio Master: SIGCD659Download only NEWStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Track 5 on SIGCD659 CD2 [11'41] Download only NEW

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD659 disc 2 track 5

Recording date
26 May 2019
Recording venue
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Ian Watson
Recording engineer
Neil Hutchinson
Hyperion usage
  1. Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 7, 8 & 9 (SIGCD659)
    Disc 2 Track 5
    Release date: April 2021
    Download only NEW
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