David Philip Hefti

In the echo chambers of tradition - David Philip Hefti

There is a poem by the Swiss writer Felix Philipp Ingold that disintegrates and consolidates at the same time. In three stanzas gradually more and more words from the original version are left out; at the same time the resultant gaps expose new levels of meaning in the text. It is a very strong poetic idea, and anyone who takes on the task of setting this poem to music, as the composer David Philip Hefti did, needs musical means which are just as sturdy. Hefti has them at his disposal. He makes Bergwärts, as the poem is called, one of “3 conditions of aggregation for soprano, flute, violin, cello and piano” with the titles “solid”, “fluid” und “gaseous”. On the one hand, Hefti takes up the literary idea of producing a surplus of meaning by way of omission; on the other hand he adapts it in a characteristic manner, so the text isn’t just put to music. By way of Hefti’s setting it is subject to a new and fascinating interpretation. 
In any case, Hefti’s compositional work takes its cue from external references: his 1st string quartet Ph(r)asen (2007) not only follows two outstanding examples of the genre – Robert Schumann’s string quartet op. 41 no. 1 and Leos Janáceks 2nd string quartet „Intimate Letters“ –, it puts selected text passages from the correspondence of the composers with their lovers to music. The texts noted in the score are, to be sure, not to be recited, but are supposed to inspire the performer. This double presence of old models, musical and semantic-biographical, makes the quartet into music about music. And it is meta-music in a further sense, too: its title questions the technical aspects of music-making on string instruments. In this case the term “Phasen” also means the distribution of the actions of the left and right hands, their shifting and uncoupling – a particular challenge for the performer!
The phantasy and adroitness with which David Philip Hefti enters the echo chambers of tradition also serves him well when planning and realising musical structures. The title of his piano quartet Interactions (2010) contains the basic idea of the composition, which is the interdependence of instruments, formal sections, motifs and rhythms. The music is developed from a single tone which is initially differentiated in its timbre and subsequently rhythmically contoured. Actions produce reactions, which form an overarching structure. The work for orchestra Klangbogen (2009) also adheres to this principle. Here, too, various, increasingly contoured sound surfaces are developed from one single sound thread. But to the same degree that they are developed, disturbances appear, a series of events that push their way in from the outside, bringing the immanent developmental process of music to a standstill, and finally reversing it. At the end we are left with dissolution and extreme reduction. 
The engrossing give and take between organic development and interruption, of unfolding and external intervention is obviously a formal, and beyond that a broadly dramaturgic foundation in David Philip Hefti’s compositions. In its most general form this principal rules the interaction between individual and group, in a musical sense: between soloist and ensemble. It is no wonder then that Hefti finds the solo concerto genre very attractive, as his numerous compositions demonstrate. But not only here, also in his many other works David Philip Hefti has shown himself to be a clever dramatist, a composer who thinks in structures and who is not afraid of tradition, but rather draws significant inspiration from it.

Markus Böggemann

Translated by Andrew Williams