I was occupied with the novel “El otoño del patriarca” (The Autumn of the Patriarch) by Gabriel García Márquez during a long preparation phase in 1995 before Nicanor was even written down.
Not least of all because of my own trips to Ecuador and Chile as well as my acquaintance with many Latin American artists, I was able to develop a deeper understanding of the literature of Cortázar, Borges and Márquez.
“El otoño del patriarca” has become a literary reference point for me through its blend of documentary indictment, rhetorical architecture and convoluted narrative flow. The novel, more specifically the last chapter, is the literary basis for the orchestral piece.
On two parallel levels, the temporal and the historical, the novel tells the story of the life and death of a patriarch, a phantom image of a “dictator”, an image stitched together out of many figures, superimposed one upon another, of dictators from recent Latin American history.
The story is about the ever more pronounced isolation and estrangement from humanity experienced by the aging dictator, about remaining in power and ensuring his own security; this manifests itself among other things in tremendous cruelty towards his own people.
All of this, however, is also associated with the gradual inner and outer rotting of his life, which lasts for what seems like an eternity, emblematic of the often unbroken succession of tyrannies in many Latin American countries.
The curiously cyclic form of the chapters strengthens this impression:
At the beginning of each chapter the temporal level is indicated by the first hours and days after the liberation from the dictator by his death and then a flashback takes us back to him aging as a second temporal level.
Only in the last chapter do the levels make contact through the description of the moment of death in the form of one single monumental sentence that brings the intensity of the lament to a climax.
In this final chapter death incarnate appears in the middle of the fortress-like palace; unimpeded, he reaches the General, calling him by the name of Nicanor, the name by which death knows all of us when we die.
Festival Éclat Stuttgart 1999. Radiosinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Peter Rundel.
3 C-flutes (1st, 2nd also piccolo, 3rd also G-flute)
3 oboes (3rd also french horn)
3 clarinets in B-flat (3rd auch bass clarinet)
4 tenor trombones (4th also bass trombone)
4 kettle drums, cabaza, small bells, bass drum, medium tamtam
vibraphone, medium tamtam, cabaza
12 violins 1
12 violins 2
8 double bass