La Strada op. 45. Opera in two acts and a prologue after Fellini’s film (Libretto: Eric de Kuyper) 2008 (printed in large format)
Van Hove, Luc
Luc Van Hove (Wilrijk, 1957)
La Strada (2008)
The composer The Flemish composer Luc Van Hove spent his formative years at the Royal Flemish Conservatory for Music at Antwerp, where his studies included composition with Willem Kersters, analysis with August Verbesselt, piano with Lode Backx, and music history with Kamiel Cooremans. Later he went to the famous Mozarteum in Salzburg for orchestral conducting and to the University of Surrey in Guildford for composition and choreography. In addition to being a composer of stature, Luc Van Hove is also one of the most distinguished teachers of composition in Flanders. He held a special professorship at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel and currently teaches composition at the Antwerp Conservatory as well as composition and analysis at the Lemmens Institute in Leuven.
Luc Van Hove’s oeuvre consists mainly of absolute music in which the pure musical aspect is foregrounded. In his style a sensory fascination with the sound shape and an analytic approach to the score go well together. Apart from a few early works, Luc Van Hove only wrote instrumental music until recently. He gives preferential treatment to traditional genres from the classic-romantic period such as the concerto, the string quartet, the symphony, and the sonata. One of his most important preoccupations is the thematic development of a number of tones into a coherent whole. Gratefully he takes advantage of the means made available by tradition, not avoiding classic-romantic and early modern musical techniques and forms. Even so, while the connections with the past have remained intact, assorted contemporary features are conspicuous to the ear as well. Thus the rapid movement of dense textures on the one hand and concurrently the development of several superposed layers on the other hand, equally constitute major components of his work. His preference for lively and colourful textures is clearly expressed in his four concertos, for electric guitar (op. 26, 1990), oboe (op. 29, 1993), piano (op. 32, 1995), and cello (op. 36, 1998) respectively.
Lately, for the first time in about twenty years, Luc Van Hove has returned to the special challenge of vocal music with the compositions Four Sacred Songs (op. 42, 2003) and Psalm 22 (op. 44, 2005). ‘It was a conscious strategy. I feel that writing for the singing voice is something so specific that you can do it optimally only when your musical language has come into its own completely, when you have reached the stage of mastery as a composer. If not, you are tempted to cheat, to indulge in things you would normally refrain from doing. Compositions for voices demand a perfect command of the musical language. Recently I have completed some choir music again, nothing for soloists though. From this experience I gather that gradually I have managed to find a vocal style of my own’.
In 2002 the Flemish Opera commissioned Luc Van Hove to compose a full evening’s opera for a large cast. La Strada was premiered on 29 January 2008 in the Flemish Opera. Van Hove’s motto for opera composition sounds like this: ‘You need to have a thorough understanding and command of your own aesthetics. It would be ill-advised to start with opera too early’.
Adeline Boeckaert (Translation: Joris Duytschaever)
La Strada With the new opera La Strada composer Luc Van Hove and librettist Eric de Kuyper revive a consecrated masterpiece: the legendary film of the same title by Federico Fellini dating 1954 – a milestone in the oeuvre of the Italian maestro with memorable interpretations of Giulietta Masina -Fellini’s wife- and Anthony Quinn. Yet the makers didn’t intend to provide a copy or a remake of the film. The uncomplicated story about the muscleman Zampanò, his somewhat simple assistant Gelsomina and the acrobat Il Matto leads a music-dramatic life of its own.
The libretto remains close to the original film scenario. Even so, the sequel of certain scenes has been changed and some separate scenes have been put together. Furthermore, Eric de Kuyper adds text, more specifically for Gelsomina. In so-called inner speeches she reflects upon the events on the way and her experiences alongside Zampanò. References to the well-known film music of Nino Rota are absent. However, from the film the composer maintains the alliance between the individual characters and their instrument: the trumpet for Gelsomina – the instrument she uses to announce Zampanò’s acts – and the violin for Il Matto.
Each of the three protagonists is associated with a particular type of music: energetic music with brass and percussion for Zampanò; dreamlike, subdued music for Gelsomina (strings and harp) and a virtuoso violin part for Il Matto – a musical metaphor for his gracefulness and his activity as a tightrope walker. Rather than with Leitmotive the composer works with recurring orchestral textures and tonalities.
The opera is subdivided into a prologue and two acts, respectively named after Gelsomina (1st act) and Zampanò (2nd act). For the composer and the librettist this doesn’t necessarily refer to the part each character has in the action, but to the consciousness-raising taking place in each of them: Gelsomina’s vocation as a street artist and her human mission as a loving creature (end of the first act); Zampanò’s tragic sense of loneliness after the death of Gelsomina.
The scenes of the two acts are linked by intermezzi the composer called Strada’s. This music describes the everyday routine of being on the road, contrasting sharply with the kicks of the shows. For the composer this music evokes an atmosphere of tristesse, melancholy and monotony. The bugle plays a central part in these intermezzi. Trumpet and bugle also embody the ‘announcement syndrome’ Luc Van Hove mentions: ‘Announcement is essential to me; nothing gives an artist a bigger kick than being announced.’
In accordance with the simplicity of his characters Van Hove has opted for simple vocal lines bearing close resemblance to the spoken language, with basically a diatonic profile.
Just like in his other works Luc Van Hove uses the so-called set theory of Allen Forte as a basic principle of his composition. In this theory tonal/centrist as well as atonal strategies are appropriate. Dissonants and consonants are treated as being of absolute equal value. In this context the composer defines his opera as ‘post-tonal’ or ‘post-atonal’.
La Strada is Luc Van Hove’s opera debut. The work was created in the Flemish Opera in Antwerp (Belgium) on 29 January 2008.
Piet De Volder (Translation: Joris Duytschaever) …
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