Friedrich Cerha


for 16 voices or 16-voiced mixed choir
Vocal Music
Chor a cappella
Number of performers
4 sopranos · 4 contraltos · 4 tenors · 4 basses or 16-voice choir
Composition year(s)
World premiere
Bremen · Schola Cantorum Stuttgart · Clytus Gottwald, conductor
Extra title
text: Catalogue of the witches that were condemned in Würzburg to death by sword and afterwards burnt (16. Februar 1629) · commissioned by: Radio Bremen for the Festival
Comment of the composer on the work

Apart from working out my sonic-surface compositions of 1959/61, the notion of breaking out of the purist material of the world of Fasce [“surface”] and Spiegel [“mirror”] began to intrigue me in 1962. As opposed to collage, which makes a meaningful experience out of fracture and disassociation, my interest drew me toward inventing something heterogeneous and “disturbing,” and integrating them functionally into an organic whole.

At the same time, I was captured by an ever-greater longing for transparency and sensitively controlled relationships between clearly formulated individual elements (perhaps recalling other options of working with mass structures which were also confronting me as a conductor on all sides). After indirectly dismantling some taboos of new music in Exercises and Catalogue des objets trouvés, I initially emphasised referential associations with material grounded in tradition (which, in view of certain configurational intentions, might have been disguised but not fundamentally circumvented), even if I did address them via deliberately changing presentations of problems. This made my conscious more profoundly aware of what certain constellations of material are principally capable of yielding – it also led to concentration on the concept of composition per se, which was so important to me and which could not be replaced by any intellectual excursus. Thus, although these works entailed no new style, it did foster new criteria for my further development.

Verzeichnis was one of the first results. In that work, I defied my reservations of many years about “setting to music” a continuous text, although this special text opened up options easing my situation. I found it in the Austrian almanac “Protokolle [“Official Records”] 69” – it is simply a list of persons serially executed for witchcraft in Würzburg during a certain period of time. Its flatly unreflective character raises with unaltered clarity the ever-current question as to how long people will continue to condemn and murder one another; after the date of execution, the final sentence of each entry – “And many burnings have taken place since then” – bespeaks that directly. The text is musically treated so that it is only fragmentarily comprehensible. Drily declaimed speaking, motet-style legato polyphony, mechanised staccato progressions, Sprechgesang, sinking glissandi on single words and glissando vocalises – all of these are deliberately heterogeneous stylistic devices used in the composition. The droning repetition of specific passages is commensurate with the predicated horror, just as the variety of the other means – of whatever origin – point to its ever imminent and ever presence.

Friedrich Cerha