BATNU'N, 1985, for solo double-bass and orchestra
Commissioned by the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, 1985
Publisher: Ricordi, 1985 | Duration: 11'50 min.
“Batnu’n” takes its name from a novel by the well-known Chassidic author Y.L. Peretz. His central figure is a “klezmer”, one of the countless Jewish musicians who played on joyous occasions in the villages of Eastern Europe. Their music, also called klezmer, is also heard in the most intense moments of ecstatic Chassidic prayer. In classical klezmer, a musician would play either clarinet, violin or batnu’n (an ancient Hebrew name that refers to a large string instrument).
Although “Batnu’n” contains no actual quotations from klezmer, it is inspired by scales, modes, melismas and ornamentation of Jewish prayer. Olivero pursued no research into the subject; the material has been part of her entire life, and in any event much of it does not exist in written form. A detailed analysis would find a powerful, detailed relationship between her composition and the traditional melodies, but she has not attempted an “academic” presentation of that relationship. Olivero found especially intriguing the idea of making the batnu’n – that is the double-bass – a true soloist and exploring its expressive possibilities.
In “Batnu’n”, the double-bass, in a somewhat obsessive attempt to overcome the dullness and the limitations that normally distinguish it, manifests some of the more atypical sides of its character. In a symphonic situation one usually notices the double-bass only when it stops playing. Here, it is never in the background, it never stops, it is always the dominant instrument. Because the part of the double-bass is developed constantly as a soloist ‘par excellence’, it reaches a high level of intensity and expressiveness. The composition is not conceived as a concerto with classical give-and-take, or conflict and resolution between soloist and orchestra. The soloist, one can say, resembles a king in a solitary processional: the orchestra accompanies the double-bass the way a crowd accompanies the King, taking the musical material of the soloist and lauding it. To this end, the compass of the double-bass transcends its customary limits to the point that it is transformed into a strange viola and at times, even into the imprisoned voice of a violin.