Beat Furrer – Violetter Schnee / Score for Download

On 13 January at the Staatsoper Berlin the curtain will rise for Beat Furrer"s opera Violetter Schnee (Violet Snow). The project was started in 2010 when the russian writer Vladimir Sorokin sketched the scenario together with Beat Furrer. The german version of the libretto was written by the Austrian Händl Klaus who has worked before with Beat Furrer.

Music theatre builds the focus of Beat Furrers's composing. „Violetter Schnee“ is his seventh opera. He was awarded Ernst von Siemens Music prize in 2018. His compositions are published by Bärenreiter since 1996. „Violetter Schnee“ will be staged by Claus Guth, the Musical Director is Matthias Pintscher. With Anna Prohaska, Martina Gedeck, Georg Nigl and Otto Katzameier some of the most prominent

Score for Download


Beat Furrer: Violetter Schnee. Opera. Text by Händl Klaus based on a work by Vladimir Sorokin translated by Dorothea Trottenberg. Commissioned by the Staatsoper Unter den Linden

World premiere: 13.1.2019 Berlin (Staatsoper Unter den Linden), conductor: Matthias Pintscher, director: Claus Guth, with Anna Prohaska, Elsa Dreisig, Gyula Orendt, Georg Nigl, Otto Katzameier, Martina Gedeck. Further performances: 16, 24 and 31.1.2019

Scoring: 2 sopranos, 1 high baritone, baritone, bass-baritone, mixed chorus (24 voices) – Orchestra: 3 (3 doubling picc + b.fl), 2, 3 (2 doubling and (3 doubling and, sax (soprano + baritone), 3 (3 doubling c.bsn) – 3, 4, 4, 1 – perc (3) – pf, acc – str (12, 12, 8, 6, 4)

Publisher: Bärenreiter, BA 11165, performance material available on hire

About Violetter Schnee

A closed group: five people in a house, surrounded only by snow. They are cut off, thrown back simply on their existence. Something has happened, but they have no language for it. Their hell is the uncertainty. Without being able to talk about what has happened, what will become of them, they find themselves in freefall into the unknown. Their conversations display an absurd triviality, which overwhelms all the threatening scenarios with chatter. The only certain thing is the snow outside which becomes a fantastic projection surface. And there is a sixth person, Tanja, who only describes what she sees. Or is she a phantasmagoria, the memory of a deceased person?

A painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder illustrates both an idyll and threat at the same time: “The Hunters in the Snow” was painted in 1565, when the temperatures sunk throughout central Europe in what is called the Little Ice Age, and winter meant an existential fight for survival. Shortly before that a thinker at the beginning of the modern period wrote about the light of reason. Bruegel depicts winter in many small episodes, depicts the life-threatening cold: at the centre is a bird trap into which the small creatures are lured with bait so they can be killed, or he portrays hunters who have just caught a fox, or the house with a chimney on fire which must be extinguished in order to save the protective shelter. Bruegel paints the bird’s eye perspective, the pursuits in the bitter winter in their perfect ambiguity, the pleasure of skating, of curling, the feeling of lightness.

The libretto of “Violetter Schnee” by Händl Klaus after Vladimir Sorokin is about a fantastic plunge into the unknown. Beat Furrer’s composition powerfully draws the listener into this scenario: into an event of total transformation, into the confused experiences of five people whose world turns into an all-enveloping strangeness. Their behaviour meanders between euphoria and fearful visions, between banality and isolation. At the end a strange light, a moon, the snow glows violet: promise, redemption, decline?

Silvia, Natascha, Jan, Peter and Jacques could be components in the painting. Trapped in a house, surrounded by infinite expanses of snowdrifts, they talk around their actual situation, recounting mostly dreams which reflect their threat. The motifs of their tales recur repeatedly: Peter, for example, who dreams how he has to experience powerlessly that he will be rescued from the ice, but that his frozen body will be warmed too quickly, Silvia, in whose viola a hornet grows during a concert which makes the instrument hum, then causes it to burst. Or a contemplation by Jacques about “dark matter”, floating almost humorously like a drunken vision. “The listener reacts like the observer of Bruegel’s painting, which is a place of theatre. It offers him a situation in which the whole divides into individual episodes, and yet things sit together like a story. Jacques’ aria about dark matter, for example, comes softly out this and intensifies dramatically, but there too, there is no apocalyptic scenario. But it is about the whole, in this aria too, it could be interpreted as drunkenness, but of course there is more to it than that, it is always ambiguous.” (Furrer) It begins to hover between what is real, and what is a vision. Jacques encounters Tanja and sees his dead wife in her. Her story remains obscure, is suggestive, can be put together in the head of the listener. His language changes in its musical setting, the sound approaches speaking, in the lowest dynamic range, microtonal steps emerge. “He must sing like you speak to a bird”, the instructions say.

“The music narrates the disintegration of what people have known, have loved. It corresponds to something on another level, to what happens to the strange sun, with the light. It is the trusted which has become strange and puts us existentially in question”, according to Beat Furrer. Musically, a tendency to an ever more splintered sonority takes place, to increasingly abrupt contrasts, the continuities burst, fall apart. What is still a continuous harmonic-tonal development in the prologue is increasingly mixed with collaged, cut-up structures. 

From the beginning of the prologue an exuberant mobile totality of sound draws through with force into this cosmos of the uncertain. Everything develops out of two musical motifs: the first is the continual modulation and glissandi of the harmonies which later leads to a constant colouring of the parts. The second are the cuts in which disparate elements crash into each other. In the last ensemble before the “violette Vision” there are only scraps of conversation “fallen stürzen gehen …” [to fall to plunge to go].

Furrer: “I believe it is important that an apocalyptic tone does not dominate here, scored in a clicheed way and associated with very particular images. Here we find ourselves in a freefall which demands to be portrayed. In this uninhabited situation, humanity is released into the cosmic cold, it is important that people really freeze, it is truly cold. It is about the passage into an unknown terrain where no-one knows what comes next.”

Marie Luise Maintz
(from [t]akte 2/2018) – translation: Elizabeth Robinson)