Posted by UMP Classical on 23 January 2015

Editio Musica Budapest and Peter Eötvös continue their collaboration with the Peter Eötvös Foundation Series, which is dedicated to new compositions by talented young composers discovered and supported by the foundation. The first release is Máté Bella’s Lethe, a composition for string ensemble. The work will be premiered at musica viva in Munich by Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under the baton of Peter Eötvös on February 20, 2015. Lethe was commissioned by the Musica Viva concert series of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. 

The piece takes its name from the ancient Greeks. According to Greek mythology, dead souls drank from Lethe, one of the rivers of Hades, to forget their past lives before reincarnation. The word itself means „oblivion” in Greek. Throughout Western literature, poets and philosophers have refered to Lethe when speaking of a desire to forget painful memories or to shed time-worn bodies and be reborn.

Máté Bella’s composition suggests the flow of this mythical river and its waves. He uses a special configuration for the string orchestra, hearkening back to the polychoral technique of the early Baroque, using separate „choirs” sounding in alternation. He separates the ensemble into three groups: two string quintets (two violins, viola, cello and bass) seated on either side of the podium with a larger ensemble made up of eight violins, two violas and two cellos in the middle. The quintet music is soloistic in quality, and the two groups weave around eachother in counterpoint – finishing eachother’s sentences – and gradually fading into „oblivion” over the course of the piece. Their motion is reminiscent of waves in a river.

Meanwhile, the larger ensemble plays complex, repetitive micro-motifs, and provides a density of sound representing the flow of the river. The composer achieves continuity and forward motion by using closely-related musical ideas and changing dynamics. While he notates the music in common meter, the effect is ametric. Harmonically, Bella alternates between modal scales and twelve-tone serialism. He also makes use of noise and percussion effects throughout the piece.