Amy Bauer

Ideology, Compositional process, Optics and Form in Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain

The music of the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas features sound color as a central element of musical discourse. As with works by the spectralist school, most Haas compositions produce a sonic resonance Joashua Fineberg termed ‘acoustic glow’. The orchestral works in vain (2000) and Hyperion (2006) transcend this ‘acoustic glow’ to incorporate optics as a metaphoric and literal aspect of the composition in a way that recalls works by Grisey or Murail. Yet Haas self-identifies as a microtonal composer whose compositional concerns are focused on harmonic alternatives to—rather than extensions of—the equal-tempered system. Hence his writings focus on ad hoc constructions that feed his creative process, such as microtonal harmonic structures and non-octave scales championed by the French-Russian theorist and composer Ivan Wyschnegradsky.

Written for 24 instruments and a ‘spotlight’, in vain puts unique demands on performer, listener and conductor, while serving as a case study of Haas’ compositional methods. This paper focuses on in vain’s strategic juxtapositions of tempered and non-tempered intonation, and their interaction with the literal and metaphoric use of light over the course of its 70-minute duration. I analyze how the use of heterogeneous harmonic resources and extra-musical associations force a dramatic convergence of nature and artifice that directs the work’s form. This convergence exposes paradoxes inherent in musical notions of the natural and the artificial, and challenges accepted connections between musical structure and human perception.