Work

L’hiver monastique — 70 consolations harmoniques pour violon (2000-01)

Michael Oesterle

violin

Program Notes

The Hôtellerie St Norbert stands in an isolated bend of La Rivière Sale in Winnipeg Manitoba. Once home to Trappist monks, its history and location inspired the underlying concept for L’hiver monastique. I envisioned a site-specific recording project that would allow me to collaborate with violinist Clemens Merkel and sound engineer Peter Hecker. We spent the first week of January 2001 at St Norbert recording within the rooms of the Hôtellerie in the deep quiet of winter evenings. We worked together to capture its unique spaces — spaces that still seemed to echo with the self-imposed silence and diligent, repetitive activity of the monks. At the conclusion of the session Clemens gave the first public performance of L’hiver monastique.

Now a heritage site, the Hôtellerie St Norbert was built in 1892 by the Trappists monks of Notre-Dame des Prairies. The site provided the Trappists with tranquility and sustenance for their lives of prayer and manual labour. Ritual, order, balance as the elements of both monastic life and compositional creation, draw a parallel between the order of monks and the order of music, each living within a network of highly organized cells. The piece uses simple numeric permutations outlined as harmonies and expressed in a series of patterns to create a representation of monastic life. The monastic silence is echoed by the continuous sound of the violin, a single focus which permits no personal interruptions.

At the outset of the project I imagined this piece would only be experienced as a recording. I felt the duration and character of the piece would be taxing for a concert audience. However, following the first live presentation I realized that Clemens’ performance of L’hiver monastique in a concert setting evokes the very essence of what we hoped to capture in St Norbert.