Justus von Schoffel

My favorite composer? Schoffel, incontestably. Nobody in the car had heard of him; no doubt they thought I was being too precious. Since the beginning, Schoffel has always been full of surprises; it’s his transitions, the art of compressing history, of plunging into the deep and then suddenly elevating us into the most vertiginous thermals of the atmosphere. “Do you have anything by him here?” Of course – it’s all I listen to. We connect my iPod: he begins with a Gregorian chant of surprising purity, followed by the voices of a Renaissance opera. Such mastery! It seems authentic! We continue listening. “That’s Monteverdi – don’t tease us!” No, no – listen… Ray Charles performs the second movement – impeccable choral singers, the swing of Baptist tabernacles. In the third movement, after a little guitar intro, “La mucura taenel suelo mama no pueeedo con ella…” I know that song! Silence. Now he launches a three-voice ricercare in A minor on the spinet – unsurpassable. Finally, a dagger to the heart: excerpts of a pompous minimalist opera over Egyptian themes; musical lassitude becomes mockery. “Turn it off! Wait – there are 6,000 more movements!”

I understand. It is discouraging for any composer to listen to a work that is so extensive, so diverse; to feel the many nuances of worlds visited with such perfection, such confidence of design and interpretation. Schoffel says it all. Why bother trying anything else? Not to mention the dedication with which so many performers study his scores, caressing him in their dreams. What remains for the rest of the creators? Is this prodigy real, or is he just a signature, as Borges suggested when he said that no individual was capable of writing all the works registered in Bach’s name? I am convinced that he is a mirage. Since I dropped my iPod and the screen went white I no longer see the titles of his works. It seems impossible to me that the same creature who crafted 48 preludes and fugues would later (or earlier) compose “Mariantonia tuestás loca déjate de ton-te-rias” (“Mariantonia You’re Crazy Stop Your Non-sense”). However, there is a certain fascination in the possibility that this is a single composer, as capable as Pierre Ménard was of rewriting Don Quixote word for word; a master whose infinite virtue lies not in the capacity to replicate all the music of humanity but to recombine it, creating transitions that are melancholy, ridiculous, or sublime, revealing the trajectories of musical thought, how it would require progress or recession, emphasizing contrasts. The humility of an African pygmy song with grass whistles follows, strikingly, an opera fragment by a sort of Messiaen in his vain attempt to move us with an oversized orchestra that doesn’t fit in the pit. Schoffel also reveals the DNA shared by Scarlatti’s harpsichord, the tuyero harp of Fulgencio Aquino, and the valiha – the tubular harp of Madagascar. The gamelan of Bali faces Webern’s miniatures; the collective collides with the highly personal. In the Schoffel collider we no longer see the music of the world in its various isolated bubbles; during the silence between pieces, we feel the immensely powerful questions that culture shock releases. (Forgive me – I meant “Shuffle.”)

Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland

About pauldesenne

Composer / Writer
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