Ein Körnchen Sands (2020)

It is arduous to describe a single poem by Paul Celan without including his whole opera. Most of his works are related and connected to each other. These connections can be spotted in both, between collections and among poems of the same collection.

One of the main features of his poetry, especially in the first period (1948-1955, year when he moved to Paris), is the usage of recurrent themes or sceneries. Ein Körnchen Sands starts with the word Stein [rock, stone]. The stone is an element that occurs in other poems (Ich hörte sagen, In Gestalt eines Ebers…) and is a metaphor of the petrified world of the “submerged”. It is the nostalgic remembrance of the first Threshold, the shade of the tough past. This remembrance did not dissolve. It just took other shapes: a tree, a bird, a grain of sand.

The middle part of the poem introduces a marine scenery. In all his poems this refers to an amorous setting and suggest that Celan is most likely talking about a person he loved. Since this collection (Von Schwelle zu Schwelle) gathers poems written between 1945 and 1952 (his absconding period) he might be talking about Ruth Lackner. She was a Yiddish actress, probably his first love, who helped him to escape from the Nazi deportation. We can consider her as his saviour. She is probably Ein Vogel (the bird) who saved Celan from the Boden von Tod (the bottom of death).

Pain, despair, hope and love cohabit in this poem, united. The night, seat of the shadows, sanctioned this union. The feat of the night is to dominate not only the personal past, but all the terrible legacy of his generation.


In the music I tried to incorporate this union by using ambiguous harmonies, extraneous sounds, and conflicting sections, without being descriptive. The material is partially taken by a Schubert’s lied Letzte Hoffnung, from Die Winterreise. This lied follows, almost exactly, the same dramatic structure of Celan’s poem. Moreover, different elements appear in both poems and have the same role (e.g. the tree, the leaf, the wind, the earth). Even though these poems have been written in a very different period, they still have some connections. Thus, this was my mission as a composer. I tried to translate this connection in music and give the audience the chance to feel the journey from suffering through hope… without reaching a real destination.

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