Bartolo Musil

"Like a desire": The erotic entanglement of words and music in fin-de-siècle song repertoire.

The apparently easy coexistence of words and music in traditional vocal art music is in fact a precarious act of balance. It has been described as a symbiosis, as mere coexistence, as conflict and dilemma, as a battle for hegemony, as a process of absorption and assimilation.

I prefer to picture the interaction of speech and music as a love story. A love relationship is not a symbiosis: It is born from the tension between the desire for fusion and the inevitability of difference. The singer’s body is the place where these lovers meet: His or her vocal apparatus produces both speech and music; through the act of singing, the singer becomes both orator and musical instrument. Therefore, this topic is of the utmost importance for the practice of singing – from the basic technical level up to almost philosophical considerations of interpretation and performance.

In the German lied and French mélodie of the fin de siècle a particularly tight interconnection of verbal and musical narratives makes especially high demands on the singer. In my dissertation I developed a classification of vocal delivery techniques between the poles everyday speech and vocalise on a mental and a physiological axis:

Obviously, the vocality of art song strays in the area around recitative, speechoriented and music-oriented singing. While many singers make a point of caring more about the words at the expense of pure vocal beauty (whatever that may mean) – or
the other way round –, Roland Barthes proposes two notions: the articulation (the exaggerated rendition of the phonetic details of the language at the expense of the musical line, but also of its meaning), and the prononciation (the sensual production of the words in line with its greater meaning and with the musical phrase).

Isn’t it the most important point to understand the very nature of the words-musicamalgam in each composition, and to modify one’s approach accordingly? In my presentation I will give examples, raise questions, and try to establish a discourse between verbalized theoretical knowledge and the implicit, non-verbal knowledge of vocal practice, to provide an insight into the singer’s (often intuitive) strategies of “translation” and appropriation.

I have been working as a composer and a singer since my childhood.

I always thought of this double activity (even if it was often interpreted as indecisiveness) as a potential gift of wealth in which both professions can enrich and fertilize one another.

After having been given the opportunity to do important composition work already in my early 20s (large commission works for Musikverein and Konzerthaus Vienna and others, productions for the radio and on CD), I changed focus, starting a relatively intense activity as a concert and opera singer (Musikverein and Konzerthaus Vienna, the opera houses of Frankfurt and Magdeburg, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Antikenfestspiele Trier, the Chigiana Festival in Siena, and some other leading European venues).

In both fields I have won international prizes and grants, and I expanded my spectrum even further by occupying myself as a teacher, coach, cabaret artist, translator of poetry, and chansonnier.

Additionally, I had the privilege to get to know the exciting continent of Artistic Research on a journey through theory and practice, through artistic production and reproduction. Only quite recently I completed an artistic doctorate at the University of the Arts in Graz/Austria. Another important activity is my work as a vocal teacher and coach which I have been performing quite happily for many years. In 2015 I was appointed as a University Professor by the University Mozarteum in Salzburg.

A revised version of my dissertation “Like a desire” will be published by a large German publishing house in 2018.