Throughchant on Woruld Sprouting

(Propéven’ o Prórosli Miróvoy)

for violin and accordion solo, vocal ensemble, chamber choir (40), and spatially distributed orchestra (4-4-4-4, 6-4-4-1, strings in two groups)


Text by Pavel Filonov (1915), sung in Russian

Commissioned by Igor Tsukanov Foundation, Vladimir Jurowski and The Moscow Philharmonia

“…I met this one artist and asked him if he was going to war. “I am already at war” he answered “only it is a war to conquer time, not space.” I crouch in my trench and grab scraps of time from the past. It is a rough assignment, just as bad as you would have in a battle for space.” He always painted people with only one eye. I looked at his chokecherry eyes, his pale cheeks… This painter (Filonov) painted a feast of corpses, a feast of vengeance. The dead ate vegetables in a solemn ceremony, and over them all, like the ray of the moon, shines a grief-stricken madness.”

Velimir Khlebnikov, “Ka”

One hundred years ago, World War I set an end to the old Europe. The painter and poet Pavel Filonov experienced this war as a soldier and died of starvation in 1941 during the German Siege of Leningrad. Like no other artist in Russia and probably the world, he managed to illustrate the World war with giant, dreadful frescos. Even though Filonov’s artistic vision expertly depicts the whole 20th century, his prophetic art is almost unknown. The cause of this scant publicity of Filonov in the Western countries might be that for more than fifty years until the late 1980s, Filonov’s paintings were prohibited or had a semi-legal status in Soviet Union. However, as measured by his historical significance, he is on a par with Malevich or Kandinsky, and he far surpasses them in terms of visual mastery.

In his canvases, produced around WWI, Filonov made his method of “analytic art” flourish. Nowadays, his century-aged experience is topical and necessary again. According to Filonov, the grotesque occurrences of the 20th century destroyed both humanism and the pursuit of beauty, such as “seid umschlungen, Millionen”. As an analyst and visionary, Filonov shows no mercy to his heroes and interprets war as natural state of living matter. This is a very special, relentless humanism by a first-hand witness and master of the visual medium.

“Propéven’ o Prórosli Miróvoi” (Throughchant on Woruld Sprouting, 1915), the only literary text written by Filonov, is one of the most outstanding work within the literature of Russian Futurism. The language of “Propeven” is a kind of literary summary taken by Filonov from his paintings, both created (The Kings’ Feast) and conceived at that period (The Man’s Rebirth, The Formula of Cosmos, The White Picture). The style of “Propeven” unites the futuristic “zaum’” (Russian dada), biblical narrative, and expressionism. Nowadays, Russian art critics characterize the Filonov’s manner as a “vast and rigorous non-figurative ‘overture’ of primarily visual level proceeding and and producing the figurative forms or archetypes” (Evgeny Kovtun). These “figurative forms” can be seen through “the bodies of human beings or animals,” which “are plugged into a worldwide power net” (Boris Grois).

A pathos of Filonov’s “analytic art” blazes also in the colossal tension of his word creation. “Propeven” is, in a way, absolute text about death and transfiguration, but in the same instance, a documentation of the epoch’s apotheosis of war and victory. It is so massive that Russian culture seemed to avoid it for more than a hundred years; in particular, Russian composers did not resolve to address it yet.

Music for “Propeven” has been conceived as building up the links missed in the Filonov’s “chain of arts”—a very remote version of the Gesamtkunstwerk Filonov was dreaming of. “Propeven” is conceived like a kind of Russian war requiem.

Boris Filanovsky (translated by Claudia Gotta)