Brian Ferneyhough

Shadowtime, an opera in seven sections dedicated to Walter Benjamin. Music by Brian Ferneyhough and libretto by Charles Bernstein. Composed and premiered in 2004 at the Munich Biennale and recorded on CD the following year.

A recreation in music of the last hours of Benjamin’s life. Although it begins with clear references to his border journey to Portbou, it is not a narrative opera. It places Benjamin in a non-historical time that reflects musically on the nature of history. Benjamin is interrogated by different representations of the Angel of History. A strange opera that does not follow any of the conventions of the genre. Each scene can be interpreted independently, and each has its own instrumentation. The second scene is a concerto for guitar with neither action nor vocal music. The third has a choir accompanied by violin, piano, clarinets and percussion. The seventh features a pre-recorded electroacoustic track. The composer describes the work as an ‘opera of ideas’. With an extensive knowledge of early music, he argues that ideas can have a life of their own, as was the case in early Baroque stage works, in which the characters were abstract concepts.

Brian Ferneyhough (Coventry, 1943) is a highly acclaimed British composer of contemporary music. Associated with the school composition known as New Complexity and an advocate of serialism, over time Ferneyhough has moved away from generative methods of composition. He speaks of his music as if it were a question of creating energy and enthusiasm instead of giving form to abstract schema.