Die Schwester



words by Gerhard Rühm

version in English (The Sister)

Rühm’s original libretto (and play) is a fragmentary conversation between two nameless characters — A (soprano) and B (mezzo-soprano), ostensibly a young woman and a man —concerning the woman’s sister. Periodically punctuating A and B’s snippets of conversation are enigmatic one to three-word interjections from off-stage, which I set as sprechstimme for a third voice (soprano).

Absent the conventional constraints of plot and character, Die Schwester invites a free handling of the music. In this spirit, I freely quote fragments of existing music that I associate with the fragments of text. The result is a sort of aural Rohrshach test. The quotations range from songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Ives, Berg and Webern to waltzes by Chopin, Mahler, Berg and Schoenberg, among numerous other miscellaneous works. If there is any unifying thread it would be my fascination with the Viennese Romantic musical tradition, prompted by the fact that Rühm is Viennese.

I composed a version of Die Schwester, entitled Conversation Piece (2006), for the Da Capo Chamber Players. The instruments play the vocal lines, but I preserve the Sprechstimme asides. - C. C.


A — young woman (soprano)

B — trouser role (mezzo-soprano)

off-stage voice (high soprano)


flute, clarinet, horn, trumpet, percussion, piano, single strings