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Werner Blau
GFA 25 – an acoustic collage (world premiere)

When we arrived in Dublin in 1983, Ireland – and a lot of the international press at the time

didn’t distinguish between the Republic and Northern Ireland – had had bad press for many years to such a degree that many of our family and friends asked us if it wasn’t dangerous living here with all the bombs going up around us, right, left, and centre… While life certainly felt safe, we did come across
the ‘Troubles’ occasionally while travelling to the North and when several friends and colleagues
were negatively affected. Hence, the political deal known as the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) also
meant a lot for us, as it was designed to bring an end to 30 years of violent conflict in Northern
Ireland. Having been signed on 10 April 1998 and approved by public votes in Northern Ireland and
the Republic of Ireland shortly afterwards, the year 2023 now marks the 25th anniversary of the GFA
and is therefore a significant milestone which should be appropriately marked, in my case with a
brand-new musical creation.
During my student days in the 1970s, I was fortunate to attend several composition workshops in
Darmstadt, Donaueschingen and Kassel, where I could experience several famous avantgarde
composers in person, most notably Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel, Dieter Schnebel, Iannis
Xenakis, and György Ligeti. While not always in agreement with their musical approaches, I agreed
that one of the most important developments in 20th century classical music was the effective
dissolving of tonality. However, not only had the tonal system vanished in avantgarde compositions,
but the familiar and expected timbres and notations that would traditionally be associated with
music were altered to a point, in some cases, of being unrecognizable.
An important additional dimension of my musical development at the time was the participation in a
group of young artists ‘Künstlerkollektiv Eckiger Kreis’ (1971–1981), which included poets, visual
artists, and composers, all working and organising events together.
GFA 25 for me now effectively represents a reflected return to these days. While clearly a choral
composition, it contains graphic notation and some sections of a peace poem by Seamus Heaney.
For this reason, I have called it an acoustic collage, ‘a technique of art creation, primarily used in the
visual arts, but in music too, by which art results from an assemblage of different forms, thus
creating a new whole’.
GFA 25 contains two scholas that both represent different historical and cultural traditions.
The piece starts and ends with the Gregorian chant ‘Da pacem Domine in diebus nostris’ (Give peace
in our time, O Lord) that is a 6th or 7th-century hymn based on biblical verses. It was composed at
the time when Irish monasteries initiated an extraordinary missionary movement that is credited
with bringing faith and culture back to the Europe of the dark ages. After the collapse of the Roman
Empire, and the ravages of war inflicted by invading barbarians, the continent was devastated. Thus,
these missionaries were among the people who laid the seed bed of modern Europe.
The other schola sings parts of a hymn based on the tune WINCHESTER NEW which appeared first in
Hamburg in 1690. The melody was used by John and Charles Wesley for their texts and was
reworked by William J. Havergal in his Old Church Psalmody (1864). Named for the ancient English
city in Hampshire noted for its cathedral, the tune gained much popularity because of its extended
use. The 2012 text used here is by US-based hymn writer Carolyn Winfrey written for the Season of
Peace to support the work of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. The fact that the hymn is sung
in two parts is symbolic for the different traditions of reformed churches.
The main choir represents an emotional population response, with all parts being graphically
notated. As everyone’s reaction to the events of the Troubles and the GFA was and is different, so
each singer can choose their own pitch and no two tunes should be the same. Graphic notation is
the representation of music by visual symbols outside the realm of traditional music notation. Since
the 1950s, graphic notation is influenced by contemporary visual art trends in its conception,
bringing stylistic components from modern art into music.
At the very end of the piece, both scholas come together and finish together on the line nisi tu deus
noster ([Because no one else can fight for us] but only you, our God), in the hope that the
exceptional commitment of the ancient Christian missionaries will ultimately unite and peace will
prevail, not only in Northern Ireland, but in all the other conflict hotspots worldwide.

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