Spirituality in form and gesture

Ton de Leeuw once wrote about Daan Manneke’s music:

“His compositions are the result of the fusion of two opposing forces that exist within him. On the one hand, the determination to transform his creative energy and to channel it into tight, abstract sound structures that require time, distance and technical insight. On the other hand, the tendency toward direct action, translating the creative impulse into an immediate, emotionally-laden gesture. The path that composer Daan Manneke treads can be seen as a continuous attempt to come yet closer to an ideal amalgamation of these two forces.” (Ton de Leeuw, programme notes for the CD Archipel, Erasmus WVH 066 )

Already from his earliest works (including the Psaume 121, dating from 1962), Daan Manneke’s oeuvre is primarily vocally-inspired, often including those works that at face value appear to be instrumentally-conceived. Like many Renaissance compositions, it is often possible to perform his works - thanks, indeed, to their vocal qualities - in a variety of settings. His passion for literature is betrayed in part by the generous use of titles, subtitles and quotes. Often the image called up by the words serves as the basis and generator for an entire composition. In this sense his music is comparable to conceptual art.
In the string quartet Arc (1994), the title of the first movement, Hesperion, invokes light and transparent music; in the second movement, Syrinx, we return to earth with both feet firmly on the ground. The organ work Diaspora (1969), with, as a prelude, a poem of the same name by Gerrit Achterberg, is almost a literal musical representation of the title, which means ‘scattering’ or ‘dispersing’.
For Daan Manneke, singing is the most fundamental form of music-making. It is as personal and physical as it is social. Here, as in his instrumental works, Manneke thinks monodically rather than polyphonically. Much of his music, while conceived for choir - like that of De Leeuw - is largely heterophonic. Polyphony emerges as the various elements of the composition coalesce. His texts are carefully chosen, with a preference for the Frenchman Rimbaud, the Fleming Guido Gezelle and the Zeelander Hans Warren. The musical setting is first and foremost attendant on the text’s atmosphere, and only later on the prosody. Occasionally different texts serve as building blocks for a composition (as with his idol Stravinsky), with the music providing the link.
This vocal aspect lends much of Manneke’s compositions, with their well thought-out construction, a nearly tonal lyricism, that in many of his purely instrumental works (Diaphony for Geoffrey, 1973; Pneoo II for wind band and Ramificazione for piano trio, both from 1979) is temporarily replaced by aggressive, motor-like, physical, rhythmic and savage sounds. These works reflect Daan Manneke’s admiration for the composer Iannis Xenakis.
In addition to Ton de Leeuw, Olivier Messiaen and Xenakis, Igor Stravinsky has exerted a considerable influence on Manneke, in particular Stravinsky’s rhythms and fundamental attitude regarding music as autonomous, anti-Romantic art.
And as does Stravinsky, Manneke possesses an unquenchable thirst for the music of the past, from the minimalist bourdon of the 12th-century organa by Leonin and Perotin (Organum I and II, 1986) to the complex rhythmic patterns of Guillaume de Machaut (Messe de Notre Dame, 1986); from the hushed unisons of the Gregorian chant to the Baroque suite à la Grigny (Offertoire sur les grands jeux, 1996) and the glorious double choirs of Adriaen Willaert and Giovanni Gabrieli. Characteristically, his use of the mi-fa motive betrays not only the traces of medieval solmization but also the influence of Hindemith’s tonal system.
This is also the source of Manneke’s predilection for the use of musical quotes, which appear in a variety of guises throughout his works. The listener stumbles upon a snippet of Bach here, a Gregorian introitus there - incognito or barefaced, but usually isolated from its usual environment. At times Manneke quotes a style rather than the notes themselves, as in the valeur ajouté of Messiaen.
Additionally, Manneke shares Stravinsky’s Christian background and his attitude that music is essentially a ritual, a spiritual search for perfection.
Manneke’s view of music as a ritual is supported by his image of rhythm as ‘irregular regularity’, in the sense of the ritual as a regularly-recurring but never identical event. No single unit is exactly the same as the preceding or following unit, but the listener nevertheless experiences a sort of uniformity.
Manneke has thoroughly explored the twelve-tone system and serialism, two techniques that have played a determining role in 20th-century music. But mostly he draws - as the composition itself demands - on a very different set of principles: contrasts, modality, bourdon, the overtone series, church modes, modal diatonicism. In much of Manneke’s music one hears, one way or another, a certain kind of ‘tonality’, in any case the sense of a ground tone. The composer once said in an interview with Maarten Brandt:

Within my attitudes towards diatonicism there is, by definition, always a certain feeling of ‘tonic’. It is, of course, a matter of terminology. In the music world itself the argument still rages. ‘Atonal’ and ‘tonal’ are such precarious words. Perhaps you could put it better this way: the Classical harmonic system of Rameau, with its dominant-tonic relationship, is but one of the many facets of tonality. Strict ‘atonality’, for lack of a better word, is not something I feel any affinity for. I don’t believe in atonality. (Composing is the expression of a religious consciousness, Daan Manneke interviewed by Maarten Brandt, Mens en melodie, September 1987, p. 379v.)

In many of Manneke’s works the intervallic structure plays an important role. His preferred intervals are the minor second and the perfect fourth. Closely associated with this interval structure is the use of sequences and variable ostinato.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of Manneke’s music is the need for contrast. Two or more sound worlds, ‘characters’, are placed alongside one another in blocks, and in the course of the piece approach, repel and eventually absorb one another. Much of Manneke’s work is composed in block structure.
A few of the works from the Archipel series are representative of this essentially dramatic manner of composing. The title is an homage to Zeeland, itself an archipelago in which small communities coexist and influence one another. A good example is Archipel II for low strings (1985).
Manneke emphatically implicates the concept of ‘space’ (in all aspects of the word) in the framework of these contrasts. And in the compositional elaboration of ‘space’, Manneke proves to be a worthy pupil of Ton de Leeuw. Topos (1995), for example, includes staging directions for the singers accompanied by a floor plan of the church for which the piece was written. The musical space can in effect become a labyrinth, where the listener is literally required to find his own way (Babel for six orchestras, 1985), but it can also shrink to the ambit of a single note (Vice Versa, 1979, which is nearly entirely limited to the note D). In various Archipel pieces the concept of space becomes more or less a symbol for the spaciousness of the island chain of Zeeland itself.

Last but not least, the idea of ‘space’ also functions as a religious symbol, bridging the gap between the material and the spiritual. In that sense Manneke does not trouble himself with a distinction between secular and sacred music: the line separating the two is shifting and fluid.
That which appears far away can actually be quite close by, and vice versa. Or, to quote the motto from Plenum (1989): Arrivée de toujours, qui t’en iras partout (Rimbaud).
The organ works occupy a separate place in his oeuvre; in fact they are an oeuvre within an oeuvre. Daan Manneke has a magical talent for coaxing the most stunning sounds out of the organ. The wind (in Hebrew and Greek the words for ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ are the same) that blows through the pipes brings them to life. Most of these works strive for grandeur and place extreme demands on the performer. One extraordinary organ work in particular is Pneoo (1979). The title translates to ‘blow’ or ‘breathe’ but also to ‘inspire’. He based the work on the bamboo wind harp encountered on Vlissingen’s boulevard; similarly, Manneke listened for days to ‘the rustling of the slender reed’ (Gezelle) for his string quartet Arc (1994). The wavelike movements are also typical of his music. One can trace this penchant to the numerous works in which the recorder plays an important role, including Archipel I and Ordre.
In a number of works Daan Manneke attempts to draw other art forms (the visual arts, architecture, dance) into his musical concept. Visual experience goes hand in hand with auditive experience, a total occupation of the space. Manneke is a consciously ‘democratic’ composer, not one who preaches from atop an ivory tower. In his large-scale Babel (1985, revised 1997), his most daring work to date, the audience can co-compose its own music by listening from various positions within the performance space.
Other important works not yet mentioned include: Le Pavillon (1987), to texts by Arthur Rimbaud, a beautiful and utterly refined and colourful composition in which the church modes evoke a well-nigh intoxicating atmosphere; Threni (1989) - Jeremiah’s laments - whose title (like the Symphonies of winds from 1996/1997) is an explicit reference to Stravinsky; and perhaps his most personal work to date, Plenum (1989), which describes the fullness of earthly life, that we only truly experience in accepting death. Manneke the composer is seen here in all his various facets: the sacred, the tranquility, the dance, remembrance of things past, the Gregorian chant, psalms, Verlaine, Rimbaud, double choirs, the colours, the peace. Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit, si bleu, si calme. Kruiningen, Manneke’s Combray, enlarged to mythical proportions and projected on the life of man. All of this is precise and controlled, but with sensitivity and directness, notated in a strict but never overbearingly present form.
All his works show an enormous spirituality, and the ability to be creative and unpredictable even within a strictly conceptual framework.
Or, as Daan Manneke once said, All the material can appear everywhere and at any time.
Manneke’s journey through musical space is far from being completed. Arrivée de toujours, qui t'en iras partout.

Gerard van der Leeuw
(translation: Jonathan Reeder)