Three Situations

Three Situations
for string orchestra
Number of performers
Streicher: 14, 12, 10, 8, 6
Composition year(s)
World premiere
Musikverein Wien, Wien Modern: ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Duncan Ward (Dir.)
Comment of the composer on the work

The pieces were written in 2014; the full score was finished up to the middle of the third piece that same year. Then the work was left alone and was not finished until early 2016.


After the orchestra pieces Nacht [“Night”] and Eine blassblaue Vision [“A Pale Blue Vision”], my imagination avoided the harsh sonic opposites between discrete orchestral sections. I again became more interested in fine differentiations within a single homogeneous group, and thus these three pieces for 50 strings came into being.


In the first piece, they are divided by desks, yielding 25 parts. Sustained chords initially separated by silence predominate in various sonic formations. They are repeatedly disturbed by attacks in short note values, at first in single piano hits and then dense fortissimo concentrations of motion - as it were the incursion of harsh reality into the meditative basic events - until the antagonistic play regains the calm of the outset. The title: Verstörte Meditation [“Disturbed Meditation”]. The 50 strings are scored one to a part in the second and third pieces.


I initially notated the second piece on large paper graphically, but with exact indications of the pitches in the envelopes. I also painted a picture at the same time, Irrender Vogelschwarm [“Errant Flock of Birds”]; as a child, I had been fascinated watching the flight of swarms of starlings in the autumn as they descended on the vineyards.


My interest was intensified by subsequent film sequences; when a swarm flies from the observer’s viewpoint from left to right or vice-versa, small sections of the sky appear between the beating wings, creating a sort of black latticework against the background. If the flock turns toward the observer, the birds seem to overlap, a shimmering narrow patch, before new change restores the initial impression.


Beyond the optical events, I was also impressed by the complete absorption of the individual in the group, the precise maintenance of distance and the total solidarity in even the slightest of course alteration in flight. At the same time, I felt aware of the complete de-individualisation in the group in human societies – everything I hated and never wanted. The image of the birds’ flight merged with those of military parades, political marches and mass gymnastic exercises under National Socialism and Communism, group formations in systems which brooked no dissent, retaliating with banishment and death … as a child, I did not know that the starlings falling upon the vineyards also destroyed them.


The third piece represents a single yet sonically diverse motion from below to above. Deeply rooted in us are darkness, impenetrableness, Hades, Hell and death; above, there is brightness, clarity, the sky, and also iciness – as opposed to the warmth of the living. And we see an ascent in the change, in a development to maturity and breadth of mentality. In my music, “attempt at an ascent” [Versuch eines Aufstiegs] means a gradual upward motion from the uniformity of a deep, dark mass toward the icy flageolet of the high strings – naturally via sonically diverse, seamlessly merging positions.


Friedrich Cerha

Universal Edition