Instrumentation: Flute (doubling Bass flute), Baritone Saxophone (or Bass Clarinet), Violin, Viola, Violoncello

Duration: ca. 10‘

Publisher: Schott Music

FP: Jan 31, 2008, Munich

Commissioned by the Bavarian State Opera with funds of the „Friends of the National Theatre“


One of the most bodacious episodes in the Kalevala, the finnish national epic, tells how Joukahainen challenges the old, wise singer Vainamoinen into a competition, during which Vainamoinen sings him up to his neck into the swamp.

This scene, combining stunning and comical elements, is a great subject for a musical composition, but holds also a certain risk: nothing would be more evident than depicting it by an ample, romantically expressive cantilena. This, however, seems quite dull and conventional to me – instead, Sumpfgesang is based on the imagination of Vainamoinen’s chant as anything else but melodical (in a traditional sense) and ostensibly clamant.

The paradoxical idea of the piece could rather be described as „chant without melody“, characterised by an inner tension, power and diversity and a partly fragile and bizarre musical language that avoides everything superficially ‚melodic‘, yet still creating a ‚breathing‘ dramaturgy and suspense.

The quintet is mostly being split into even smaller instrumental units, but there is never a dominating single voice – in fact, the few solos are the most sparse episodes of the composition. The sections are often marked by clear cuts and harsh contrasts rather than smooth transitions, but in the details, the musical language is colourful and sophisticated, building more and more tension that culminates in an unexpectedly massive tutti.