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Bell Requiem XXI (2006; english)

H. Johannes Wallmann BELL REQUIEM XXI [2005] A space-sound composition for 137 Dresden church bells and three distantly-separated choir groupings / texts in german, hebrew and higharabic


To peace and a world that points to the future. Dedicated to the children, bearers of hope for the future. In memory of the continued killing through canons and bombs all over the world. In memory of the Holocaust and the dead of World War II. In memory of the bombing of Dresden on the night of 13.2.1945.

The Concept

Peace means today: communication between different cultures and religions. Particularly with a view towards globalisation different traditions are now more than at any previous time required to transcend their boundaries and assert their kinship even as they are aware of their distinctiveness. 

The BELL REQUIEM XXI reflects in a new and different way on the central thoughts of death and dying as well as the meaning of life. The composition begins and ends in hebrew/german/higharabic with a text which the 15 year old Anne Frank wrote in 1944 before her deportation to Auschwitz: 

“As long as mankind, without exception, does not undergo a metamorphosis, war will ravage the earth and all that has been built and nurtured and all that has grown will be destroyed.”  

The composition 

The composition consists of 7 main parts which are divided into a total of 17 movements. The sounds will alternate between the three choirs which will be positioned around the room and which will form a harmonious whole with the bell sounds. In “Introitus” (1st part) and in the “Sequence” (5th part) the above mentioned listening windows will be opened during which texts from the Jewish and Islamic religions will be sung (in hebrew and higharabic and without bells). At the very beginning (“Introitus”), in the middle (“Tractus”) and at the end (“Sanctus”) the texts of Anne Frank (Amsterdam) as well as Karolina (former Yugoslavia) will be sung in three languages. All texts deal with questions about the meaning of life and the relationship of man with death and the future. These texts taken together illustrate the possibility for each individual human life to contribute to the “eternal” cycle of life. The musical structures of the BELL REQUIEM XXI also prompt these and similar questions.

Example of sounds

Here you find some example of sounds.

The texts 

The texts of BELL REQUIEM are in pdf CD-Booklet. The composition of 2005 picks up on the texts of the BELL REQUIEM DRESDEN (1995) but extends these by further texts from the three cultures/ religions. With this expansion of the project by ca. 220 pages of choir score for 36 voices and in light of current world politics the composer deliberately picks up on the theme of G. E. Lessing's Parable of the Rings.  The composer commented: "According to Lessing's Parable or Rings, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and by extension all religions and cultures - can be considered siblings. And, in their concern for the future, they may see themselves in peaceful competition over how to best contribute to the creation of a sustainable future for the world."

World Pemiere 9-11 2006

of the concert version of the BELL REQUIEM XXI by H. Johannes Wallmann:  11 september 2006 with the concert choir Darmstadt (, Director: Wolfgang Seeliger

Statement by W. Seeliger: 

„The towering musicality and the modern harmonic sound result in a fascinating composition for the listeners, as well as for us, the musicians. During the entire, 81-minute, world premiere of the work, one could have heard a pin drop. And at the end of the performance there was an awestruck silence, which then erupted into a prolonged applause. A critic wrote the following: `a deeply moving work which captivated the audience`.

The date of the BELL REQUIEM XXI premiere was very deliberately chosen by the concert choir Darmstadt. Not only is September 11, 2006 the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, but it is also the 62nd anniversary of the destruction of the city of Darmstadt. (Darmstadt is home to one of the most important European Centers for contemporary music, with its "International Summer Courses for New Music").

The BELL REQUIEM XXI is an expansion of Wallmann's BELL REQUIEM DRESDEN, which premiered in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the destruction of Dresden and was broadcast live by Deutschlandradio, BBC London, as well as Radio Washington, DC. The BELL REQUIEM XXI is, however, very different from the earlier composition. The BELL REQUIEM XXI consists of a 36-voice choir set, which is based largely on the orchestra composition of the 137 bells of Dresden as well as electronic sounds.

At the beginning and end we hear in german, hebrew and higharabic the words of the15-year-old Anne Frank, who, in 1944, wrote in her diary before deportation to Auschwitz:

"Until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change,

wars will be waged, everything 

that has been built up, cultivated and grown, 

will be destroyed and disfigured..."

Anne Frank's statement is still relevant today, not only because of the two World Wars in the last century, but also given the contemporary wars and conflicts. Memorial days like the 11thof September (New York, 2001) or the 13thFebruary (Dresden, 1945) should serve as occasions to remember and reflect upon these words of Anne Frank.

Equally intriguing here is the compilation of the other texts. The composer’s desire is to express that all cultures have a responsibility for the future of all others. This idea has its roots in a great text of the Enlightenment, The Parable of Rings, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The BELL REQUIEM XXI provides listening windows in which, without bell sounds, Hebrew and High Arabic texts are read from the Jewish and Islamic religions, whereby these cultures and religions (which, in effect here, represent all others) are given a voice as "siblings" of Christian culture.

Musically, the composition consists of 7 sections, which are divided into 17 movements and are composed partly with and partly without bell sounds. The choir set, which in the various movements blends in with the bell sounds, consists of highly complex polyphonics, as well as homophone sets. The interpretation, which is, indeed, very demanding, is as impressive as the bell composition.

All sound sources were positioned around the audience and were coordinated by me - the conductor of the world premiere concert - based on the second by second-notated musical score and the precise, to-the-second, electronic sounds. The computerized sounds move around the space and around the audience, joining in with the choir movement. It was an extraordinary experience, but cannot truly be reproduced by the CD.

It may appear paradoxical to combine inter-religious ideas of Lessing's, Parable of Rings, with an orchestra of bells. But a closer look renders exactly this `orchestration` as quite meaningful. On the one hand, bells were already used for music thousands of years ago in other cultures in order to avert disaster. On the other hand, bells in Christian culture were also regarded as material that could be converted into canons and bombs in times of war. Accordingly many of Dresden’s bells during World War II were brought to the "bell cemetery" in Hamburg to be melted and forged into weaponry. this paradox, it is especially noteworthy that the BELL REQUIEM XXI bells are employed just like the instruments in an orchestra. It is as if humankind is becoming aware that we can transform our destiny in an enlightened and peaceful way, instead of abandoning ourselves to old habits and by following the all-too-often quarrelsome course.

The recording of this world premiere has since been played by a number of radio stations. For example, in November 2007, the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) broadcast a very interesting 4-hour program, comparing Wallmanns BELL REQUIEM XXI with the Brahms Requiem. I´m looking forward to many more performances of this memorable work, hopefull on the international music scene as well.“

Media response:

Darmstädter Echo, 13-9-2006 by Heinz Zietsch: “As long as mankind, without exception, does not undergo a metamorphosis, war will ravage . . .” observes Anne Frank in her diary.  With these words - sung in german, hebrew and higharabic - begins the Bell-Requiem XXI of the Berlin composer H. Johannes Wallmann.  On Monday night, the work had its world premiere in the Darmstadt cathedral under the musical direction of Wolfgang Seeliger. The performance commemorated the bombing and burning of Darmstadt 62 years ago.  The Roman numeral refers to our 21st century with the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 and its numerous wars. The approximately 80 minutes long Requiem is a deeply moving work in which World War II, Auschwitz, and other horrors up to our contemporary conflicts become ‘space’, a musical space of three choirs, 137 bells of Dresden, electronic voices, three screamering voices and one reciter of the Koran. Fascinating in this work is, above all, the integration of the bells, which mutate into electronic voices (based on bell and tuning fork sounds) and finally into song, so that the sounds almost rotate. Impressive, how Wallmann fittingly adopts the Brahms Requiem for the words “Lord do teach me”, and how he recites the Bach chorale “It is enough.” Amazing, the musical presentation of the verses of the Koran and of the screamering voices with their messages of Hiob which are meant to be a meditation at the same time.”

Audience responses:

“Rarely have we experienced a concert which created such “high tension.”  Particularly in the short intervals you could have heard a pin drop, and this with such a demanding contemporary piece which lasted 80 minutes!  It was brilliant, how all soloists, the conductor, the engineers, and the composer worked together to achieve the greatest possible effect.  How Wofgang Seeliger was able to achieve such a powerful interpretation even under the “dictates of the radio-controled clockwas not only worth hearing but also worth seeing.  Similarly, it must be pointed out that the solo ensemble performed superbly despite the difficulty of the movements which consisted mostly of twelve voices. It was our impression that the vast majority of listeners were deeply moved by this exceptional musical experience.  The audience demonstrated this in full measure with a long applause at the end.  Darmstadt has added an important chapter to its reputation as a bastion of new music (“Neue Musik”) in Germany.  We are looking forward to many more performances of this memorable work, hopefully on the international music scene as well.”  (Sylvia + Martin S.)

“I was hugely moved by this piece, particularly as the ‘archaic’ sounding bells, in combination with the voices of the most diverse character and religious origins, created a space that was limited in time and gave me the opportunity to contemplate all images which were saved inside of me. I was able to realize visiually and acoustically all the unimaginable horror that people are able to inflict on other people and on her environment. It was deeply moving for me to bring up these images in front of my inner eye and at the same time almost feel deliverance from the suffering.  I was emotionally so exhausted after the experience that I was unable for some time to settle back into the ‘real’ world. I admired the highly professional and concentrated performance of the musicians and the way in which they themselves were impressed by the work. I was moreover fascinated by the co-ordination of the different choirs, the very moving voice of the Koran-reciter and of course the screaming voices which were able to touch me at a still deeper level.  This was, however, at this stage, also the achievement of the very dense, multi-layered composition.  Great praise is due also Wolfgang Seeliger, who beautifully shaped this performance with his presence, calm and highest degree of professionalism.  All deserve great recognition and praise for their various accomplishments!  An unreserved thank you in this regard to Johannes Wallmann as well. May yet many be moved by this exceptional work.” (Elisabeth H.)

“The performance was impressive.  Many sections touched me instantly.  The live-choir sounded warm and engaged.  I enjoyed hearing this. The electronic voices were a meaningful part of the whole.  Electronic voices may easily be random.  In this case they were an organic part.  Before the concert, that is in theory, I expected the trilingualism to be overly complicated and bloated.  However, during the actual performance I could easily understand this complex arrangement and found it very impressive. When I saw the mention of “three screaming voices” on the placard I thought, well, Wallmann is one of those attention seekers who can’t come up with anything else.  In the piece the screaming sections were impressive and a welcome addition.  This really surprised me, but it was convincing and good. Overall I really liked the concert very much. To translate a complicated concept so clearly and easy to grasp was fantastic.  Many congratulations (really) to all!”  (Jan K.) 

excellent musicians about Wallmann