On a timeline, almost 300 years lie between J.S. Bach‘s Partita in D Minor for solo violin (1720) and the Ciaccona (2002) by Norwegian composer and violinist Ole-Henrik Moe.
While in Bach’s partitas the sarabands, bourrees, gigues and chaconnes appear like richly ornamented musical objects in the “empty” space, only to disappear again, in Moe’s Ciaconna they are acoustic events whose ephemeral figures emerge from an endlessly filled sound universe and begin to contour themselves, only to vanish again in the silence.
Musicologist Peter Gülke wrote about Bach’s partitas that they primarily conversed with themselves, talking about the person performing it and about the listener behind him who hears it as if he were playing himself. This statement also applies to Ole-Henrik Moe’s Ciaconna. This music devotes itself to sonic worlds that open up beyond the clearly delineated sound: the overtone spectra of the instrument and its diversity, the noises that the bow can produce on the violin, the manifold continuums of rhythm to sound. The wood of the violin becomes audible, not just as a percussion instrument but also the possibilities of creating quasi-electronic sounds with it. Ciaccona by Moe is, like the Bach partitas, a composition at the boundaries of that which can be realized. The musician brings it into an intensive dialogue with its instrument, demanding concentration and ease of the listener.
Moe wrote Ciaccona in 2002 to commemorate his teacher, Iannis Xenakis, who had just died. The over forty-minute work is a variation series that is based on a fragment of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraklit: “Harmonie (a)phanes phaneres kreiton”, or in English: “invisible harmony is stronger than visible harmony”. For his work, Ole-Henrik Moe translates this to the effect that a hidden structure seems stronger than the clearly visible or audible. For him, the Heraklit fragment became a starting point for various musical compositions, with the phonetic, tonal and rhetorical qualities of the Greek original serving as a foundation for a number of variations.