I have always been interested in virtuosity. There is a very strange kind of beauty in the idea of a performer doing extremely difficult things for other people to enjoy. The best kind of virtuoso is a musician, who is willing to go to places nobody has gone before; a virtuoso of mind as well as fingers.
Most of my instrumental music is about challenging fellow performers, sometimes pushing them to their physical (or mental) limits, but always with respect and empathy. The best thing about conducting to me (apart from the music itself) is the thrill of sensing the energy of talented and dedicated people on stage. When composing, I try to imagine that particular kind of radiation, especially when the lonely existence in my studio feels frustratingly slow and devoid of adrenaline, which performers of course enjoy sometimes more than they’d wish.
Mania was written for Anssi Karttunen, a close fiend and a much admired colleague, whom I have known since the distant days of playing the first horn in my early teens in the Junior Orchestra of the Sibelius Academy, where Anssi was the solo cellist.
In the late eighties I wrote a short solo piece for him, YTA III, which is still the most extreme piece of music I’ve composed: bizarre and violent, very ugly, but a virtuoso vehicle nevertheless.
In the spring of 2000 I finally decided to write a concertante piece for Anssi and a small orchestra, a plan I had had for a decade or so. I wanted to compose music, which consists of a number of relatively simple gestures or archetypes, which are constantly evolving and changing; not so much through traditional variation techniques, but trough a kind of metamorphosis. A maggot becomes a cocoon, which becomes a butterfly: very different gestalts indeed, but the DNA is the same.
Mania is about movement that never stops. The tempo fluctuates between extremes, gestures become other gestures. Transitions are quite often seamless, telescopic (N.B. not telescopical): a new thing starts before the previous one has ended. (Not entirely coincidentally, this is the main formal principle in the late works of Sibelius, especially in the Seventh Symphony and Tapiola).
The role of the cello varies from a clear solo/accompaniment situation to merely being a part of a chamber ensemble - and all the shades between these extremes. Therefore, Mania has little to do with a traditional concerto form.
© Esa-Pekka Salonen, 2000