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Aulis Sallinen

Publisher: Novello & Co

The Barabbas Dialogues (2003)
Commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival, Finland
Text Writer
by Lassi Nummi, Aulis Sallinen
Novello & Co Ltd
Soloist(s) and Large Ensemble (7 or more players)
Year Composed
50 Minutes
Finnish, German
narrator, soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone

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Programme Note
Aulis Sallinen The Barabbas Dialogues (2003)
Barrabas - baritone
The Woman - mezzo-soprano
Judas - bass-baritone
The Maiden - soprano
The Youth - tenor
One of The Twelve - narrator

Dialogue 1: Nocturne (The Woman - Barabbas)
Dialogue 2: Easter I (Judas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 3: Easter II (Barabbas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 4: Easter III (Judas - One of The Twelve)
Dialogue 5: Pas de Deux (The Maiden - The Youth)
Dialogue 6: Passacaglia (The Woman - Barabbas - The Maiden - The Youth)
Dialogue 7: Finale (all)

Barabbas Dialogues, Op. 84, was composed in 2002 and 2003 and was commissioned by the Naantali Music Festival. This fifty-minute work consists of seven dialogues, which - apart from the three Easter story sections - carry sub-headings serve to characterise the musical content.

‘Dialogue’ means conversation or a verbal exchange, but here it also suggests an exchange of influence, an idea which seemed appropriate for a work dealing with world order. And so the Nocturne, for example, took its shape when I cut Lassi Nummi’s even verse poem into dialogue form - with the poet’s permission, of course. It seemed workable, and straight away I placed The Woman at Barabbas’s side, because it is not good for people to live alone. Generally-speaking, one should not expect to find in these dialogues the usual question-answer or argument-counterargument formula. I hope they knit together on some other level into a concept which might touch on profound questions of humanity.

The official new Finnish translation of the Bible was perhaps the most important inspiration for the text, and also for the start of the musical composition process. (Could it be by chance that in the fine translation one can also identify Nummi’s hand? He himself was a member of the Finnish Bible Translation Committee.) The experience of reading didn’t provide clear answers, but rather raised a cascade of big questions. Yet it was an integral part of the work, which - and not for the first time in art - sought to open a dialogue with a God who does not answer back.

Barabbas is a character who excites the imagination. His name is only glimpsed in the record of history which Christianity regards as one of its main pillars. It is pointless for us to concern ourselves with who really played this important minor role: bandit, murderer, or freedom fighter? But, we can always imagine what he might have been like. The same might apply to Judas. The fact that he was designated a traitor by prophecy could make him one of the most tragic martyrs of world history. In the end is he nothing more than a religio-political jigsaw piece, like Barabbas, who makes space for the more important sacrifice on the cross.

The work’s instrumentation is also for a seven-piece ensemble. The choice of instruments confirmed my belief that they could provide enough tone and colour for this extensive work. The same objective can be seen in the choice of The Maiden and The Youth: from their sensitive love, youth and thus continuation of life, the representative dialogue serves to create enough contrast in the musical language. If anyone wished to interpret the sparse and light instrumentation as an overt protest against the overpowering noise of our time, they wouldn’t be far wrong.

Is Barabbas Dialogues a song cycle, a chamber oratorio, a cantata, a piece of musical theatre or something else? I haven’t troubled my head with this question. In the best of circumstances, a work of art creates its own world.

Preview the score:

  • Soloist(s)
    Petteri Salomaa, baritone; Riikka Rantanen, mezzo-soprano; Juha Kotilainen, bass-baritone; Mari Palo, soprano; Topi Lehtipuu, tenor; Kalle Holmberg, narrator
    Ralf Gothoni
Artists can’t make things too easy for the public. Otherwise the effect that the American lyric poet Emily Dickinson jotted down in one of her succinct, epigrammatic lines occurs: “The riddle we can guess; we speedily despise”. But of course the artistic secret has to reveal slivers of insight to the observers in order to capture their attention. Precisely this realization, which in principle holds true for all great art, seems to underlie the “Barabbas Dialogues” by Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen, now playing at the Frankfurt Opera as the final premiere of the season and the German debut performance on the stage of the Bockenheimer Depot. That is what is most fascinating about this remarkable performance intently conducted by Sebastian Zierer, the way very soloistic instrumental sound, vocals, acting, choreographic arrangement, and stage design interlock and bring forth a captivating total work of art in miniature. (review of the staged performance at Frankfurt Opera)
Wolfgang Sandner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,01/07/2011
Aulis Sallinen’s “Barabbas Dialogues” document the story of Barabbas and the story of Judas in a reciprocal dialogue of lamentation – both men have the same broader story: a story of guild and perdition. Sallinen illuminates these feelings of guilt by creating a collage of texts portraying precisely that precarious, dramatic moment in which both men commit their betrayal. These are soberly descriptive texts from the Bible, emotionally lyrical texts from the Finnish poet Lassi Nummi, and biblical texts adapted into modern language by Sallinen himself. As different as the texts are, they join together to form a grand lament, interspersed with masculine self-pity. Sallinen interweaves this braid of texts with a delicate, primarily melancholic, heartfelt music, played by seven soloists. As very often is the case with Sallinen, this chamber music seems traditional, as if you had already heard much of it before: the shimmering runs on the accordion in French chanson, the vibrato-heavy cantilenas on the violin by Puccini, the bells in the church. Sallinen’s artistic achievement is allowing the frequently-heard fragmental to come together in a grand whole that does not seem eclectic. (review of the staged performance at Frankfurt Opera)
Natascha Pflaumbaum, Deutschlandradio Kultur,29/06/2011
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