Pascal Dusapin’s O Mensch! is a cycle of songs for voice and piano, all settings of lyrical texts by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). The work bears the subtitle “An unreasoned inventory of some Nietzschean passions”, and as such it attempts to create an evolving musical and dramatic space for exploring the enigmatic meanings of these extraordinary poems. The 75-minute work sits comfortably within the tradition of the 19th century Germanic song cycle, but as it progresses Dusapin imbues it with subtle dramatic and theatrical elements. The original performance by Georg Nigl and Vanessa Wagner was staged by the composer himself as a sort of mono-opera. In the vocal writing, Dusapin’s self-professed goal is to achieve the kind of flexible expressivity found in the operas of Monteverdi. Also in the score are recurring features of Dusapin’s larger output, including a keen ear for shifts in timbre, rhythmic inventiveness, metric flexibility, and a deep love of lullabies.
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