What is this Totentanz anyway?

Resonance is hard at work preparing our "Dance of Death" concert, and we are incredibly excited about the double bill of versions of the Totentanz (pronounced TOE-ten-tahnts).

The amazing pianists Thomas Lauderdale and Hunter Noack are joining us to perform the Franz Liszt Totentanz in its two-piano form. This is a virtuosic tour de force for these musicians in a piece described as having "diabolic intensity." (See this YouTube video to get a "sneak peek..." )

So, that's a Totentanz that is extroverted, intense, in your face. But our other Totentanz is one that makes you stop and reflect on your mortality. It hits you in your gut in a surprising way.

Our other Totentanz is by Hugo Distler, the early 20th-century German composer whose music sounds like a mixture of jazz chords, medieval writing, and Stravinsky. It is transcendently beautiful.

When we performed this work a few years ago, Brett Campbell wrote that it "may linger longest in my memory." I'm not sure I can adequately convey how much we love this work and how much the audience loves it, but I will try!

It has 14 short, tender movements that reflect on death and loss and the afterlife. Between those movements, there are dialogues, which we perform in English, between the figure of Death and various townspeople. Death invites everyone to join the dance. Some come willingly, some come in fear of judgment, and some (like the heartbreaking dialogue with the young child) just don't understand why they must join the dance. After each dialogue, there is a plaintive violin solo, played here by Third Angle's Ron Blessinger.

There is something magical that occurs within this piece. The singers (and I!) have a hard time not crying in parts of the music. (We do our best not to, as it's not a pretty sound... ) We suspect you will find a wayward tear on your cheek as well.

Distler Totentanz movement 14 The mural from the Lübeck Totentanz, with the original medieval dialogues that inspired Hugo Distler  

Distler Totentanz movement 14
The mural from the Lübeck Totentanz, with the original medieval dialogues that inspired Hugo Distler