Bastiaan Blomhert

Projects in Progress

  • Preparing the 21st Century premiere of the complete Totentanz zu Basel im Jahre 1943 by Frank Martin.

This project involves preparing the first edition of the complete work and the making of a Concert Suite (in cooperation with Maria Martin). The music was performed twice in the 20th Century and forgotten afterwards. Its qualities however demand an edition. Meanwhile, the works have been published by Floricor Editions.

The work itself has a unusual background. In the course of time mankind has developed a broad range of images and ideas in an effort to understand what happens during the transition from Life to Death and many cultures have found as many ways to render these moments.

In Central Europe a (widely accepted) image since the Middle Ages was the presentation of Death in the guise of a skeleton dancing with the person whose destiny it is to die. Death  does not represent an evil threat, but acts as a sympathetic and caring guide, whose actions are meant to make the final human journey as agreable as possible.Death is a friend and gently leads the deceased into his or her new environment.

Prominent painters and engravers, Albrecht Dürer among them, have depicted this and since the middle of the 14th Century many texts are known, that describe these Dances of Death.

Perhaps the most famous pictural collection of Dances of Death existed in Basel. It consisted of 37 pictures dating from the middle of the 15th Century painted on the walls of the Church Yard of the Dominican Monastery. Unfortunately, the walls were destroyed in 1805 and only 19 fragments of these paintings remain. (Today they are exhibited in the Historical Museum in Basel.)

The image of the Dances of Death remain till the present time a living traditions in the yearly Bassler Fassnacht (Basel Carnival) during which many people appear disguised as skeletons.

In 1943 Mariette von Meyenbourg, a mime artist, asked her uncle, Frank Martin, to compose a music for a theatrical performance in which - unlike the violent horrors and mass destruction of the contemporary Second World War - the traditionally empathic and understanding Death would be the central focus of attention. This idea, incidentally, was sympathetic to Frank Martin himself who cherished similar ideas about the end of human life.

Together they designed the scenario for one professional dancer (Death) and a dozen of mime artists (advanced pupils of Mariette von Meyenburg).

The “plot” presents eight scenes during which Death is meeting with people, who are (or are not yet) destined to die. If they are indeed, Death ushers them along to the Stairs of Angels. When the Doors to Heaven at the end of these Stairs open old Psalms sung by a boys’and men’s choir (accompanied by a small string orchestra) are heard from Heaven, the musique spirituelle. For the music of the Dances of Death on Earth, the musique profane, Martin choose the configuration of a (jazz) big band. Four Bassler Trommel (the traditional military Basel side drum) accompany Death.

 

Death
Fritz Stabler as Death
in the 1943 premiere
In 1943 Mariette von Meyenbourg, a mime artist, asked her uncle, Frank Martin, to compose a music for a theatrical performance in which - unlike the violent horrors and mass destruction of the contemporary Second World War - the traditionally empathic and understanding Death would be the central focus of attention. This idea, incidentally, was sympathetic to Frank Martin himself who cherished similar ideas about the end of human life.

Together they designed the scenario for one professional dancer (Death) and a dozen of mime artists (advanced pupils of Mariette von Meyenburg). The “plot” presents eight scenes during which Death is meeting with people, who are (or are not yet) destined to die. If they are indeed, Death ushers them along to the Stairs of Angels. When the Doors to Heaven at the end of these Stairs open old Psalms sung by a boys’and men’s choir (accompanied by a small string orchestra) are heard from Heaven, the musique spirituelle. For the music of the Dances of Death on Earth, the musique profane, Martin choose the configuration of a (jazz) big band. Four Bassler Trommel (the traditional military Basel side drum) accompany Death.
 
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