– for mixed choir (2010)

Text: Paul Celan

Duration circa 6 min


It is with a certain apprehension that I undertake the setting of Paul Celan’s poem Tenebrae. It is so immensely strong and incredibly painful. A prayer which does not move upwards towards the heavens, but downwards to the abyss. For a long time, I have kept it in my folder for possible poems to set to music.


But is it possible?

Is there music for these words?


What I do musically is to move between large contrasts in expression, mainly two:

– The most expressive, which is sung without words;

– The words, these immense and painful words, which are sung nakedly, unadorned, without expression.


”Windschief gingen wir hin…” (”Wind-awry we went there…”)


Certain tones extend beyond the tempered scale to which we are accustomed today in the West. There are so many micro-tonal steps between the semi-tones of the piano. In this piece, quarter-tones represent that which is twisted, when reality is askew, is incomprehensible.


As in a society in which one cannot exist.


Tenebrae is commissioned by The Ultima Festival for The Latvian Radio Choir. It is included in Project Concrescence which was initiated by Lasse Thoresen to investigate untempered scales and song techniques found in folk music from diverse parts of the world with Western choirs.


Karin Rehnqvist
Nacka, July 2010

English translation by Bill Brunson




Nah sind wir , Herr

nahe und greiffbar.


Gegriffen schon, Herr,

ineinander verkrallt, als wär

der Leib eines jeden von uns

dein Leib, Herr.


Bete, Herr,

bete zu uns,

wir sind nah.


Windschief gingen wir hin,

gingen wir hin, uns zu bücken

nach Mulde und Maar.

Zur Tränke gingen wir, Herr.


Es war Blut, es war,

was du vergossen, Herr.


Es glänzte.


Es warf uns dein Bild in die Augen, Herr.

Augen und Mund stehn so offen und leer, Herr.


Wir haben getrunken, Herr.

Das Blut und das Bild, das im Blut war, Herr.


Bete Herr.

Wir sind nah.

Paul Celan



In English translation:




We are near, Lord,

near and at hand.


Handled already, Lord,

clawed and clawing as though

the body of each of us were

your body, Lord.


Pray, Lord,

pray to us,

we are near.


Wind-awry we went there,

went there to bend

over hollow and ditch.


To be watered we went there, Lord.


It was blood, it was

what you shed, Lord.


It gleamed.


It cast your image into our eyes, Lord.

Our eyes and our mouths are open and empty, Lord.


We have drunk, Lord.

The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord.


Pray, Lord.

We are near.




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