Stundenbuch [Book of Hours] – Forty-eight pieces for piano for two hands in four volumes
Roger Woodward (piano)
Recorded 18-21 (or 25-27!) January 2006 in Radio Bremen Concert Hall
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: CELESTIAL HARMONIES
Duration: 57 minutes
The German composer Hans Otte – who was born in 1926 and who died on Christmas Day last year, 2007 – was music director of Radio Bremen from 1959 to 1984, a position that enabled him to promote cutting-edge contemporary composers. A pupil of Paul Hindemith and Walter Gieseking, Otte was himself a composer – and, from the evidence of ‘Book of Hours’, it seems that we need to pay attention to his output.
Otte himself often performed Stundenbuch. In the present instance we are privileged to hear Roger Woodward playing it – as an interpreter of contemporary music he is of the highest calibre. The recording (engineered by Renate Wolter-Seevers) is immaculately clean – Woodward uses a Bösendorfer piano – yet still somehow preserves the sheer intimacy of Otte’s utterances.
Otte worked on Stundenbuch from 1991 to 1998, music of predominant fragility, with its delicate traceries only occasionally broken by violent outbursts (pieces 26 and 40, for example). There are 48 movements, ranging from 40 seconds to just short of three minutes; the whole is divided into four volumes of 12 pieces each. Time seems irrelevant, though, for these aphorisms seek to operate almost in the manner of Japanese Haiku. The work is written so as to give the performer plenty of space to breathe, so there is no formal notation of metre. Furthermore, Otte widened the dynamic scale to 18 levels using his own system.
Otte takes the idea of the horologium (book of hours), a concept that formed the basis for monastic prayer in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the subtitle of Otte’s work is ‘Of monastic life – of pilgrimage – of poverty and death’. There is a meditative aspect to most of the music here that fits well with this basis. Woodward plays with great serenity. All is unhurried. His piano is superbly prepared by an unnamed piano technician (try movement 43 for a demonstration of the exquisite, extreme upper register).
The booklet includes a sequence of brief texts – given in German, but with English translations – which accompany the score. The idea of Zen is explicitly articulated in one but seems to permeate them all. Recommended.