Voorvelt's Petit Air/Friedrich’s Tagebuch and Frederick’s Doctor

Jennifer Waring explores the Dutch composer’s theatrical works

Ignoring many of the conventions of practice and role, self-taught composer Martijn Voorvelt engages in music making across genres and disciplines, extending into other realms, particularly theatre and literature. Often subtley subverting ritual aspects of a musical performance, Voorvelt’s music has been described as being both experimental and accessible, both “wacky” and “balanced”.   Born in 1967, he began as a rock guitarist and lead singer, received a PhD in musicology (focusing in his master’s thesis on the work of Canadian composer Barry Truax before researching British post-punk experimental pop for his PhD), was chosen for the ISCM World Music Days 2002, has been featured at Gaudeamus Music Week, writes music for the theatre, writes articles, and writes programme notes for the Concertgebouw Orkest.  He is currently guitarist and singer in several bands and ensembles, including his own Ruddy Shelduck and the recently resurrected new wave band The Tapes.  He is also a professional birder.  Working largely outside the formidable new music establishment in the Netherlands, he has nevertheless had success there, and much success abroad.

Of Petit Air/Friedrich’s Tagebuch (PA/FT) and Frederick’s Doctor (FD), Martijn writes [and Jennifer edits]:

“After composing Petit Air/Friedrich’s Tagebuch, I felt a desire to extend it into an opera or music theatre piece … The most recent idea is that PA/FT should be one of several overlapping monodramas. Thus it will be integrated into a larger form, not an opera in the traditional sense, but a constellation of music-theatrical compositions centering on isolated human figures attempting to communicate through the barriers between life and death. The throat, that narrow channel, that small pipe, forms the central motif connecting all the texts, sounds and visuals. The throat as a worm-hole from ‘this side’ to ‘the other side’ and back.”

[Petit Air/Friedrich’s Tagebuch and Frederick’s Doctor are the first two elements of this constellation.] 

“The new work FD will overlap with PA/FT.” [This is a technique that Martijn has explored in many works, to unpredictable yet astonishingly coherent effect.]  “The montage, the linking of the 1998 piece to the 2012 piece, is done in a musically and scenographically logical way.”

Both PA/FT and FD are compositions in which the musicians do not simply read from a traditional linear score. Several methods are employed in order to make the musicians actively communicate, sometimes using cues, sometimes using visual and musical codes. Such means of arriving at a musical structure through interaction (a direct result of the miscommunication-theme running through both works) … are at times comic.  These methods are not novelties for the sake of being novel or funny, but are completely functional with respect to the musico-dramatic ideas behind the work.”

An excerpt of the text of Frederick’s Doctor

“So when I [Sir Morell] was informed that he [Prof. Gerhard] had applied the red hot poker to the interior of the larynx every day for a fortnight I could hardly believe it!  There is no record in which the cautery was so terribly misused!  I do not say he actually caused the cancer … there can be little doubt that he is largely responsiblllllllllllllllllargely responsiblllllllllllll  responsiblargelllllllllllllllllllllllllll rrrrrreallyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”