Und meine Seele spannte Weit ihre Flügel aus, Flog durch die stillen Lande, Als flöge sie nach Haus.
And my soul spread its wings wide, flew through the silent lands, as if it were flying home.
verses by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
from Liederkreis op. 39
by Robert Shumann
It sounds like merely a technical detail but it is not: German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) called his collection of Lieder op.39 ‘Kreis’ and not ‘Zyklus’. Both words are translated as ‘ciclo’ in Italian but in German there is a subtle difference between the two words. The musicologist Walter Wiora explains it like this: a ‘Zyklus’ of songs is made up of many parts that are arranged chronologically and tell a story, showing a before or after and delineating a journey that is comprehensible by the listener. In a ‘Kreis’, however, the boundaries are more blurred: there is no before and there is no after, there are many moods, many visual and poetic fragments that together form an inner world. If a Zyklus takes the listener by the hand, a Kreis invites him to lose himself and seek his own path.
And seeking one’s own path in a world reduced to rubble is precisely what the actors, singers and musicians in French director Samuel Achache’s Sans tambour do. Achache’s work has long revolved around the mechanisms that link music and theatre, singing and acting. He and his company La Sourde have founded an orchestra that brings together musicians from the most diverse backgrounds: early music, jazz and improvisation. “And it is not about building a specialised orchestra,” the director explains, “but an orchestra that is special because of the people who make it up.” From Le Crocodile trompeur/Didon et Énée to Sans tambour, the question that Achache’s shows seem to ask is “How should we watch music? How should we listen to theatre?”
When we enter the theatre, we see a house. A man at the top of a ladder has just finished building the structure: he is laying the last stone. At a certain point everything collapses: only one main wall remains standing, the one on which the ladder rests. The man is standing there, watching his world fall apart.
In many languages, the words ‘home’ and ‘homeland’, or ‘place of birth’, coincide. The rubble of a home is the fragments of the life and history of the people who lived there. The images we see today of the bombings in Ukraine are as old as history: people who, before fleeing and finding their way in the world, linger to collect the last fragments of their past history. The search for a lost home, a distant homeland, a shattered identity is one of the quintessentially German Romantic themes that underpin von Eichendorff’s lyrics set to music by Schumann.
There is also a piano in the rubble of the house, but it has been destroyed. It no longer plays. The man who saw his world crumble needs help to pick up the fragments of his story, to return to playing and singing his ‘Kreis’ of songs. A reconstruction takes place here through Schumann’s Lieder: There is an awareness in all the performers on stage that they will never be able to rebuild the house as it was before, but they can mend its memory together, with love and pathos and with the idea that destruction is never the end but always a transformation. It makes sense to speak of reconstruction with Schumann’s Lieder for an underlying, social reason. As well as being the romantic music par excellence, the Lied, accompanied by the piano, are also music of domestic intimacy, of the hearth. In every home there was a piano to play. When the piano is no longer there, as in this case, music can still be played with whatever remains.
Sans tambour is above all the reconstruction of a mental space, a space of memory through music and recitation, and Schumann’s Lieder, with their poetically fragmented “Kreis”, offer the artists and the audience the spiritual means to embark on a process of transformation, of what was and what can never be again.