Friedrich Hölderlin: Turmgedichte (ECM New Series 2285)

2285 X

Friedrich Hölderlin

Read by Christian Reiner
Recorded January 2012, Garnison 7, Wien
Recording engineer: Martin Siewert
Mastering at MSM Studio, Munich
Engineer: Christoph Stickel
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Wolf Wondratschek
An ECM and Joint Galactical Company Production
Release date: November 9, 2012

Vienna-based artist Christian Reiner reads from the so-called Turmgedichte, or “Tower Poems,” of Friedrich Hölderlin. The German poet has, of course, long been lodged in ECM’s consciousness (see, for example, Scardanelli), though nowhere nearly as long as he was himself lodged in the selfsame tower, later known as the Hölderlinturm, in which he would spend the last 36 years of his life, until he fell like the pen from his hand in 1843. In his liner notes to this spoken word album, Peter Sloterdijk speaks of the tower as “an ur-scene of German culture,” and its looming presence and stonework are accordingly felt in every syllable crafted at Reiner’s lips.

Reiner, whose work encompasses radio plays, theater productions, and other forms of experimental speech art, possesses a genuinely penetrating voice, but in the context of Hölderlin’s poems it is the voice that possesses him. The first word he speaks is followed by a pause so pregnant that we are drawn into the moment as eternity. Reiner thus allows us to inhabit the spaces of the words as if they were as architecturally significant as Hölderlin’s tower. We can feel the night pulsing through sentences, the poet’s mind closing in. The voice, then, becomes another soul, spun filament by filament until it speaks of its own accord.

(Photo credit: Tibor Andreas Kiss)

Aside from the signposts of the seasons, the word Mensch(en) is a major semantic touchstone of these texts. Its very sound looks beyond any flesh-bound meaning toward a dialectical non-being. It is not the man but the construction of the man, of the body as an instrument of love and lore, a book of pages bound by the circumscription of years and autobiographical anomalies. Before long, we feel that Hölderlin’s cosmology has become fraught with the weight of its own invention, and that every word is an attempt to burrow through its infrastructure in hopes that it will be hollow enough to float away at the puff of just…one…more…word. We also have the signoff of Hölderlin’s alter ego, Scardanelli, as well as the dates preceding their signature, to lead the way beyond landscapes of flesh contracting from the chill. And if we listen closely enough, we might hear the distant cries of cities whose populations tread the streets like spiders, their match-heads filled with mortal fear of friction. But even they cannot help but bump into each other, unleashing fires that wipe out entire boroughs, so that all we are left with in the end are friendship and love wandering like wild animals in a forest.

Although I can’t imagine that Turmgedichte will be of appeal to anyone who doesn’t speak German, one may nonetheless link it to the readings of Heinz Holliger’s Scardanelli-Zyklus—only now we are exposed to the music of the language itself. In light of this, I would correct myself by distinguishing it from spoken word albums as instead an album of words that are spoken, for it is the act of their articulation that here matters most. The letters, of course, have organs, characteristics, and genetic idiosyncrasies, but in their sounding they are able to touch something grossly internal in all of us.

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