Jeux d’esprit FR | DE | EN

The Festival Sine Nomine 2009, the theme of which is spiritual music, brings together works of very different outlook, character, and spirit, in an attempt to investigate the immensely different meanings of the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirit’. In French, the terms mot d’esprit (witty remark), jeu d’esprit (a humorous or playful composition of some kind), les esprits qui nous hantent (the ghosts that haunt us), and musique spirituelle (sacred or religious music) all contain variations of these very words. But what do these very different things have in common with sacred or religious music? The Festival Sine Nomine 2009 seeks to investigate these relationships through the medium of music a challenging and truly fascinating undertaking. That being said, the religious character of a number of the works in the programme does not make this festival a festival of sacred music: many of the œuvres d’esprit (works of the mind) that will be performed at the festival constitute great pieces of chamber music in their own right and do not necessarily conform to the definition of sacred music …

Included in the programme are two astonishing works that are considered to be the pinnacle of twentieth-century chamber music and are, at the same time, examples of religious music: André Caplet’s magnificent and deeply Catholic cycle entitled Le Miroir de Jésus, which is rarely performed, and the emblematic Quatuor pour la fin du temps by his spiritual heir,Olivier Messiaen, which was composed in the extreme conditions of a prison camp in 1941 and was inspired by the Book of Revelation.

The Festival Sine Nomine 2009 also marks the bicentenaries of two great composers by affording them a central place in the programme: Felix Mendelssohn (b.1809) and Joseph Haydn (d.1809).

Mendelssohn was not only a spiritual musician if indeed there is such a thing but also a master of the musical evocation of the world of fairies and elves, and the man responsible for the renaissance of the music of Bach. Haydn, the father of string quartets, also plays a major role in this festival. A child of the Enlightenment and a composer of music that affords both the musicians that play it and those that hear it the most immediate of spiritual pleasures, he too was inspired in his composition by a deep faith. With the Seven Last Words of Christ the only string quartet with an eminently sacred theme and comprising a succession of eight slow movements; an incredible challenge for a composer! Haydn created a pivotal work that gave a hint of the magnificent string quartet adagios that were yet to come and marks the start of the transfer of a certain kind of spiritual content, which had previously been found in Church music, to the extensive repertoire of chamber music.

The programme will also include major works by the Austro-German romantics Brahms, Bruckner, and Mendelssohn, culminating in choral works inspired by the Lutheran or Catholic faith. The highly audacious form and harmony of the central movement in Beethoven’s quartet Op. 132, The Hymn of Praise, for example, is a moving testimony to personal faith.

Is it necessary to be a believer to compose a piece of music like the Goldberg Variations? The question arises because at first glance, nothing would seem to link this quintessential jeu d’esprit to religious faith. Nevertheless, these variations are the musical legacy of the greatest of all composers of sacred music: Johann Sebastian Bach.