«MUSICOLOGICA OLOMUCENSIA VII Univerzita Palackého v Olomouci Olomouc 2005 The present volume was submitted to print on 6 April 2005. Dieser Band ...»
Albrecht Dürer divides his cycle into several thematic parts (each picture ﬁnds his reply in the text of the New Testament, but does not precisely copy the succession of the whole story in the principal; it is an original artwork.) The title Sheet (Figure) – The Martyrdom of St. John – is not directly connected with the text of Apocalypses. In Figure I “what looked like a human being” John is sent to reveal his testimony to the seven churches in Asia.13 The drama of Apocalypse alone, full of fantastic images of terror, does not begin until the Figure II, where the Father sits at the center of the open heaven, holding a book with seven seals in his hands. Next to him stands the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes who is the only one worthy of taking the book from the Father’s hands and open the seals.
Behind the whole scene a calm landscape appears with a water fortress in which we do not ﬁnd even the smallest hint of the terrible stories that will follow.
Figures III to VI depict the horrible events that happened after the breaking of the seven seals (the four riders of Apocalypse after the breaking of the fourth seal, hot rain falling onto everyone’s head after the breaking of the ﬁfth seal, the stigmatization of God’s servants after the breaking of the sixth seal and the “silence in heavens” after the breaking of the last, seventh seal.) In Figure IV, the seven angels accept seven horns from the hands of God, and their voice announces the next seven disasters. In the frame of this ﬁgure there are also disasters that happened after the sounding of the four angels (hail and ﬁre mixed with blood, the third part of the sea is turned into blood, the fallen star Wormwood, which poisoned the third part of the waters and overshadowed one third of the stars, the Moon and the Sun). Dürer leaves out the events after the sounding of the ﬁfth angel (the star fallen from Dürer marked his graphic sheets with the word Figure. Dürer in fact marked the second graphic with a number one. The ﬁrst introductory woodcut of the whole cycle, picturing the Martyrdom of St. John–the supposed author of the ﬁrst Greek text Revelation–has a special position in the whole text, and it does not directly connect to the text of Apocalypse.
the sky which opens the abyss from which smoke and a solar eclipse proceed), similarly as the blowing of the seventh angel. Dürer depicts the events after the sounding of the sixth angel in Figure VII (four angels accompanied by twenty thousand riders of heaven slaughter the last third of the humans).
Figure VII shows the situation when John accepts a book from the right hand of a strong angel whose legs are like “columns of ﬁre” and who commands John to eat this book and to keep on prophesying to “many nations, races, languages, and kings.” Figures IX-XIII describe the ﬁght of four angels whose leader is the archangel Michael with the devil, who is cast down from heavens to Earth (Figure X – this image is one of Dürer’s best woodcuts). He is unsuccessfully pursuing a pregnant woman who would become the mother of the Messiah here (Figure IX – the events of one chapter. Dürer divides into two Figures the event preceding this Figure, that is, the ﬁght with the devil and his fall from heaven to Earth is a theme of the following Figure). Figure XI describes the reign of Antichrist on Earth. In Figure XII, John is in the crowd of 144,000 chosen people and looks at the Lamb “because a day of reckoning is here.” Figure XII depicts the rise and the fall of the power of Antichrist on the Earth (the harlot of Babylon, the false prophets, the destruction of Babylon).
Figure XIV summarizes the events from the twentieth and twenty-ﬁrst chapters of Revelations. Satan is bound. “The angel threw him into the abyss, locked it, and sealed it, so that he could not deceive the nations any more.” And the angels show John New Jerusalem, where there will be sorrow and death no more and God will remain with the people.
It is very interesting to observe, on a background sketched in this way, the appearance of particular motives (a1, a2, b) in the frame of Fišer’s composition. Totally unchanged is motive a (instrumentally, dynamically, and spatially) which is present in both bookends– Sheets I and XV (with the exception of Sheet XII, where it is imitated in the group of woodwinds).
Motive a2 does not appear in the third Sheet for the ﬁrst time. Similarly, it is in Dürer’s Figure II (as has been said, it is the third graphic Sheet in a row) that the whole drama of Apocalypse begins. The motive continues to appear in the Sheets V and VI. Just in the interval of Figures II–V of Dürer’s cycle, the terrors that occurred after the breaking of the six seals are pictured.
After the breaking of the seventh seal “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (see Figure VI) and seven angels were given seven horns that would announce further disasters. In the seventh sheet of Fišer’s composition, all the instruments of the orchestra are tacit and a solo ﬂute plays motive b for the ﬁrst time (I discuss this below).
In Figures VI and VII, Dürer summarizes the events after the blowing of the angels.
Fišer’s motive sounds after Sheet VII and also in the following Sheet VIII as an ostinato ﬁgure in the viola.
After the terrors of the seven seals and the seven announcements of the angels, John is appealed to in Figure VIII by the strong angel to eat the book he gives him and to go on prophesying. In Fišer’s Sheet IX a new element appears – the kettledrum variation of the motive a2 at a weak dynamic level.
In Figures IX and X, a monster with seven heads pursuing a pregnant woman and the ﬁght of four angels with Satan, with archangel Michael in the front, is pictured. In Fišer’s Sheet X, there is a signiﬁcant expressive change in motive b (rullato with the sound of trombones).
In Sheet XI, in contrast to the kettledrum variation of the motive a (at a very strong dynamic), motive b appears in the strings, and in a diﬀerent rhythm of ostinato ﬁgures of particular instruments. The result is an unsettling aleatory murmur.
The peak of gradation of Fišer’s compositions are connected in Sheets XII and XIII.
A similar peak of gradation we can ﬁnd also in Dürer’s cycle (and also in the text of the New Testament) where the reign of Antichrist on the Earth is described in the Figures XI and XII.
The kettledrum variation of motive a2, which has sounded for the ﬁrst time in the Sheet IX, appears for the last time as an ostinato kettledrum ﬁguration in Sheet XIV. In contrast to this ostinato kettledrum ﬁguration, a group of trumpets and trombones plays motive a2 (three times repeated) for the last time.
In Figure VIII (the ninth in a row) after the end of the terrors of the seven seals and the seven announcements of angels, the angel commands John to eat the book he is giving him and to keep prophesying. This picture presents the third series of terrors and that is the reign of Antichrist on the Earth. The reign cumulates in the Figure XIII (the harlot of Babylon, the false prophet, the destruction of Babylon) – similarly in Fišer’s XIV. The Sheet accumulates the more urgent (thanks to increasing dynamics) ostinato kettledrum ﬁguration of the exposition of this variation of motive a2. The kettledrum varies a2 as if were closing the third series of terrors here (the reign of Antichrist). The last appearance of motive a2, which appeared in Fišer’s Sheet III in the brass, sounds as if were closing the whole drama of the Apocalypse which had begun in Dürer’s Figure II (the third in a row).
The use of the harpsichord’s motive a1 with the sound of claves in the ﬁrst and the last Sheet shows strange connections with Dürer’s cycle, maybe even with the conception of the work. The total engagement of all the instruments of the orchestra in the Sheet XV in two short verticals is unsettling. The action from the ﬁrst Sheet repeats. Into the sound of claves the harpsichord begins playing the descending ascending motive a1 again in the tenth second. This is a situation similar to Dürer’s last Figure: Archangel Michael chains the devils with whom the ﬁght has just ﬁnished. Above this scene the angel shows John New Jerusalem. But instead of this town that is described in Revelations, we see just a town of Dürer’s time (similar to the one appearing at the very end of Apocalypse in Figure II), which does not shine with diamonds and gold at all, as John saw it. One of the walls of the town is even ruined, as if everything could have begun again. As in Fišer’s Sheet XV, we do not hear anything that would remind us of the beauty of New Jerusalem.
Everything has been said and we are waiting for it to be said. We are in the beginning and we feel the time again, which slowly drops with every new strike of claves. Time is something that none of the walls of Dürer’s New Jerusalem can resist.
The end of Fifteen Sheets According to Dürer’s Apocalypse, “fading away to nothing,” paradoxically creates the impression of non-closure and the possibility of repetition or return. However, the dramatic impression of the work that would “rather ask questions and oﬀer testimonies than give answers and claims”14 is aﬀected by this.
Like the New Testament text of Revelations, Dürer’s graphic cycle works with number symbolism very intensively – mostly with the numbers seven and twelve. For example, the book in the right hand of God sealed by seven seals; the Lamb that accepts this book has seven eyes and seven horns in Figure II; seven horns of seven angels in Figure VI;
the dragon has seven heads in Figures IX, XI, and XII; twelve old men sit on thrones around the throne of Father in Figure II; there are twelve times twelve thousand servants of God who would be spared in Figure V; there are twelve gates with the names of twelve generations of Israel guarded by twelve angels in Figure XIV.
An analogue to this symbolism can be found also in Fišer’s work. The sixth Figure of Dürer’s cycle (the seventh in a row) pictures events that happened after the opening of the seventh seal. “When the Lamb broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and they were given seven trumpets.”15 Four angels had already announced four disasters. In the center of the picture therer is an eagle ﬂying directly downwards and calling out: “Alas! Alas! Alas!” In this way he announces the terrors which will aﬀect the Earth after the following three angel’s pronouncements.
In Sheet VII we can notice an expressive calming. All of the instruments are calm here, the hexachord otherwise present in all other Sheets (silence on the Earth) stops and the solo ﬂute in a deep register presents the very ﬁrst projection of the motive b (it consists of seven notes – see ex. 9) moving against all the preceding motives in the frame of just one trichord: B–C–C-sharp (to be even more speculative – could it be a symbol of the three angel’s pronouncements? It would be sounder to not seek to ﬁnd numerical symbolism at all costs. The semitone material of the trichord enables Fišer’s mostly melodic guidance of the motive).
Every time when one of the motives of Fišer’s work is quoted, that motive is repeated twice to three times (once in Sheet VI, the six tones of the three groups of violins are repeated three times).
These repetitions in the frame of one composition appear regularly and create parts which altogether ﬁll the space of the twelve Sheets (after Sheets I and II and before Sheet XV – see ex. 11).
Changes in the expression of the motives directly musically depicts the action of Dürer’s Apocalypse. The melancholy and depressive motive b in Fišer’s Sheet VII provided See Jarmila Doubravová, Čas struktury a struktura času, 142.
The Holy Bible. Revelations VIII, verses 1, 2, 6.
in a deep register and at a weak dynamic of the solo ﬂute as if was evoking the dense atmosphere of the anticipated three angel’s trumpeting.
Motive b changes by the sound of the trombones (rullato) further in Sheet X. Jarmila Doubravová has characterized this change as an expression of the “grotesque robustness of caricature distortion.”16 Dürer’s Figure IX (the tenth in a row) depicts a summary of several events which link to each other in the text. A pregnant woman appears here who will give life to the Messiah: “Then a great and mysterious sight appeared in the sky.
There was a woman, whose dress was the sun and who had the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was soon to give birth, and the pains and suﬀering of childbirth made her cry out.”17 Opposite this woman, Satan, appearing as a monster with seven heads, walks out of an abyss. “Another mysterious sight appeared in the sky. There was a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and a crown on each of his heads. With his tail he dragged a third of the stars out of the sky and threw them down to the earth. He stood in front of the woman, in order to eat her child as soon as it was born.”18 The child and the mother ﬁnally, thanks to the angels, escaped from the dragon. The way Dürer in the Figure pictured the monster with seven heads (the big and awkward body of the dragon evokes a strange mixture of terror and fun) is a very close to that “grotesque robustness of the caricature distortion” of Fišer’s motive as it sounds in Sheet X.
Motive b becomes a part of diﬀerently rhythmicized ﬁgurations in the strings (at a very strong dynamic) in Sheet XI. The result is a strange aleatory murmur that sounds very unsettling and urgent. Against this unquiet course the kettledrum variation a2 sounds three times (also at a very strong dynamic).