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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Publisher: Chester Music

Lachen verlernt (2002)
Commissioned by the La Jolla Chamber Music Society’s SummerFest La Jolla, with the generous support of Joan & Irwin Jacobs.
Work Notes
written for Cho-Liang Lin
Chester Music Ltd
Solo Works (excluding keyboard)
Year Composed
10 Minutes
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Programme Note
Esa-Pekka Salonen Lachen verlernt (2002)
The title Lachen Verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt) is a quotation from the ninth movement of Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Gebet an Pierrot (Prayer to Pierrot). The narrator declares that she has unlearnt the skill of laughing and begs Pierrot, the "Horse-doctor to the soul", to give it back to her.

I felt that this is a very moving metaphor of a performer: a serious clown trying to help the audience to connect with emotions they have lost, or believe they have lost.

Lachen Verlernt is essentially a Chaconne, which in this case means that there is a harmonic progression that repeats itself several times. The harmony remains the same throughout the whole piece; only the surface, the top layer of the music changes.

Lachen Verlernt starts with a lyrical, expressive melody (the same melody has an important role in my orchestral work 'Insomnia', which I was writing at the same time, in the summer of 2002). Gradually the music becomes faster and more frenzied until it develops an almost frantic character, as if the imaginary narrator had reached a state of utter despair.

A very short Coda closes this mini-drama peacefully.

I wrote Lachen Verlernt for Cho-Liang Lin, to whom it is also dedicated. Lachen Verlernt was commissioned by the La Jolla Chamber Music Society's SummerFest with the generous support of Joan & Irwin Jacobs.

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Lachen Verlernt A Film by Tal Rosner
Music by Esa-Pekka Salonen

A visual interpretation of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s solo violin concerto, performed by Jennifer Koh. Commissioned by Jennifer Koh, Cedille Records and Oberlin Conservatory, UK-USA 2009.

Tal Rosner – Director’s Notes:
When approaching Lachen Verlernt I was struck by its sense of depth and visual perspective. Laughter forgotten and then re-learnt, like a voice echoing in the distance, getting closer and louder, demanding its place in our perception. The more we learn it, the more we see, discovering the detailed information imprinted in its circuit.

Using images of power cables, reminiscent of the violin’s strings, I play with compositions, stretching and expanding, together with the instrument. But, inside, a different world – turbulent and chaotic – electric currents and making their way to our homes, secretly carrying charged magnetic energy. This leads to images of a city-scape at night, all blurred and shaken. The lines become alive, trembling in the dark, pulsating to the rhythm and the speed.

Examing the space between the two, the distant and the close-up, the structured and the wild, is at the core of this video piece.

Click on the images below to watch a demo from the film

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Technical specifications:
Running time: 9 min 45 sec
The film will be provided on a DigiBETA (PAL) tape.

Performance requirements:
1. DigiBETA (PAL) player.
2. Video out to a projector (as bright as possible).
3. Audio out to violinist/in-ear-monitor (preferably wireless).
4. Screen in the ratio of 16:9 (hung from the ceiling, if possible)
5. Stand light for violinist.

Rosa Bosch
B&W Films Ltd
53 Greek Street
Tel: +44 (0) 207 287 4223

Sample Pages

  • Soloist(s)
    Leila Josefowicz (violin)
    Warner Classics:
  • Soloist(s)
    Jennifer Koh
    Cedille Records:
Josefowicz is a player of exceptional quality, and her performance of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Laughing Unlearnt for solo violin was a revelation. She plays with such intelligence that this unfamiliar work was immediately accessible: its Bach chaconne-like qualities giving the piece a natural narrative drive.
Stephen Pritchard, The Observer,01/05/2005
(Lachen Verlernt is)… a kind of chaconne, a series of inventions (studies almost) over a chordal progression that is never heard in its entirety, which gels into a formidable technical showpiece.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,02/06/2003
...Then, in the middle of that ambitious schedule, Salonen managed to put in an appearance as a composer-in-residence with SummerFest, the chamber music festival in La Jolla, where his latest work was given its world premiere Saturday night. The piece is "Lachen Verlernt" (Laughing Unlearnt), a 10-minute chaconne for solo violin, written for Cho-Liang Lin, the SummerFest artistic director, and it was included on a program that also saw Salonen conduct his "Five Images After Sappho" and Stravinsky's "A Soldier's Tale," a program to be repeated tonight in Los Angeles at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. "Lachen Verlernt" has an unusually unsettled and dark-seeming tone from a composer whose works have tended to be sunnier. Alone, it says something about our times. Put in context of the two populist symphonies--Shostakovich's Second and Beethoven's Ninth--that Salonen conducted at the Hollywood Bowl on Thursday, and the roseate "Sappho" songs and the sardonic fate of Stravinsky's soldier on Saturday, the violin score says quite a bit about music in its time and place. The title is taken from a line in the song, "Prayer to Pierrot," from Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire." The narrator entreats the harlequin, Pierrot, her "soul's veterinarian," to teach her to laugh again. In a pre-concert talk Saturday, Salonen said the line reflected his own natural unease as an artist to the way the world has changed in the past year. He also felt the concept might be curiously suited to Lin's cheerful personality, which he suspects must have its own darker side. On first hearing, however, Bach's great Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin sounds the obvious influence. In Salonen's case, though, we never hear the repeated series of chords over which the series of variations are made. Each variation, instead, offers just aspects of that chord progression. Instead, the allusions remain just beyond our grasp. The beginning is sparse, tense, dramatic--long notes sharply cut off with brusque curlicues. What follows is both furious and strangely gorgeous, impressive virtuoso flourishes on open strings, fancy scale work and passages thick with chords. The final, flutey bars are but the hint of laughter regained, just sweet enough to leave a comforting afterglow, especially with Lin's masterful performance evoking the best Bach playing. Still, the lack of ready optimism proved a striking contrast to Thursday's Bowl program in which Lenin was hailed as the beacon of happiness at struggle's end in Shostakovich's 1927 symphony, and where Beethoven, in his epochal ode to brotherhood a century earlier, offered the quintessential essay in optimism. Just when we let our guard down, Salonen reveals, history is always there to remind us the struggle never ends.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,12/08/2002
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