ward de jonghe

Ansatz – prelude for orchestra

duration: ca 5’30”

instrumentation: 3(1.2.3/picc).3(1.2.3/ca).3(1.2.bcl).3(1.2.3/cbn)-

written in 2021-2022 in the context of the SOV Composers’ Academy, for which I was laureate in 2020

first performance: 2022-05-05 by Kristiina Poska and Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen at Concertgebouw Brugge

score preview

“Sounds that marvel, that carry you into a strange world […] with the sul ponticello notes in the violas as a reminder of our earthly existence.”
-Willem erauw, Klassiek Centraal, 2022-05-21

program text: 

This year we celebrate the 300th birthday of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s renowned treatise: Traité de l’harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels (1722). For this French baroque composer, music was quintessentially harmonic, and in this text he argues, in a rational scientific way, that the triadic chords are inherent to nature; he discusses the inversions of these chords, and not in the least, he describes harmonic progressions as a logical movement of the ‘basse fondamentale’, the theoretical ground tone of the chords. His theory not only served as a base for his own compositions, in fact it is a description of the essence of all tonal music.

The young composer Ward De Jonghe (°1990), who currently studies at the Royal conservatory of Ghent, shares this fascination for harmony with Rameau, and considers this the most critical musical parameter. Aside from the analytical aspect, harmony, after all, directly affects a listener’s emotions. A single chord may be enough to change the atmosphere completely, or to add a sense of beauty whereas before a piece might have been merely fascinating. There is something ungraspable about it, which seems to precede cognition.

The title ‘Ansatz’ refers to a small building block, which served as the starting point of the compositional process of this orchestral prelude: a four note melodic cell (stolen from Francis Poulenc) with two signature leaps of an expressive major seventh. The intervals first lead to a series of chords which in their turn determined the course of the piece. But the motive also appears in many shapes throughout. This may be at the surface, e.g. the opening gesture, or the trumpet solo at the end, but also hidden in the inner Voices, passing by as a quick ornamentation, or completely hidden as a ‘basse fondamentale’ spread over the five minutes. In his compositions De Jonghe searches for a way to retain the traditional role of the harmony, giving a sense of direction, within a non-tonal context. First of all, the chords determine the narrative with tensions and relaxations. The instrumentation, dynamics and tempi all support this, and the melodic material freely moves around the tones in the chords. Hence, by writing music, De Jonghe conducts a personal research in the working of harmony, and in the ungraspable aspects to it. This is no ‘Traité’, but a mere ‘Ansatz’, a principle, a start of new searches.