Music and Psychoanalysis: Monash University Composition students in Germany

Monash Composition students in Germany
Hayden Dun (4th from left), Natasha Pearson (5th from left), Daniel Aguiar (6th from left), Dr Rainer Paul (7th from left), Inge Besgen (front, 3rd from right), Dr Stefan Hakenberg (front, 1st from right) (Photo: Horst Ziegenfusz)

Composition students from Monash’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music recently travelled to Germany to hear first-hand a performance of their original musical works based on psychoanalytical portraits.

The performance by new music group Ensemble Phorminx took place at the Theatre Rüsselsheim in Hesse, Germany on December 2nd 2015 and was the culmination of a project that began eight months earlier when composer and director of the Musikschule in Darmstadt, Dr Stefan Hakenberg, visited the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music as a guest teacher.

Dr Hakenberg worked with four of Monash’s young composers on a project called Lebenslinien 9 (Lifelines 9), which involved the creation of four new musical works based on psychoanalytical portraits.

Lebenslinien is a concert series initiated in 2007 by the visual artist Inge Besgen with the underlying idea of presenting musical reflections of the life of people living in the city of Rüsselsheim in Hesse, Germany.

For each concert, Besgen interviews four people and these interviews form the basis for personality profiles created by psychoanalyst Dr Rainer Paul, which in turn become the psychological blueprint for original musical works.

Dr Hakenberg worked with Monash composition students Hayden Dun, Natalie Jeffreys, Natasha Pearson, and Daniel Aguiar to develop strategies that would allow for the creation of musical analogies of these personality profiles.

It involved the Monash students each interviewing a resident of Rüsselsheim to learn about their emotional experience of living in the German city.

“Even prior to the drafting of musical ideas, the young composers had to investigate what it might mean to live one’s life in Germany—a country marked by historic events such as World War Two and the recent influx of around a million refugees. These events are clearly not part of the experiential horizon of young Australians, but maybe there is some common ground in terms of the emotional worlds associated with such events,” Dr Reiner said.

The four composers wrote their Widmungskompositionen (dedication-compositions) over a period of six weeks, and three of the composers were able to travel to Germany to attend the premiere of their pieces by Ensemble Phorminx. The concert was also attended by the four interviewees from Rüsselsheim.

Dr Reiner said the project was a valuable experience for all involved.

“There are many valuable learning outcomes in all of this, maybe above all, a growing awareness of music’s capacity to reflect existential concerns and associated emotions,” Dr Reiner said.

“In a project of this nature, music is more than just organised sound. Here, music has the potential to signify the emotional essence of our experiences, fears, and desires more accurately than natural language.”

Other more obvious outcomes for the four Monash composers was the opportunity to have their music rehearsed and performed by some of Germany’s leading musicians of contemporary classical music and to work with experienced composer Dr Hakenberg.

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