Der Wandersmann

4 mins.
March 2010

Programme notes

Der Wandersmann is scored for large unaccompanied 12-part choir, and lasts just over three minutes. It was commissioned by the Mitteldeutschrundfunk (MDR) Choir, Leipzig, and first performed by them under their musical director Howard Arman in the Peterskirche in Leipzig on 18th June, 2010. It was part of the MDR’s “Cadavre exquis” project, in which the poem Ungewisses Licht by Austrian poet Joseph Christian von Zedlitz (1790-1862), set for eight-part choir by Robert Schumann in 1862 as his op. 141 no. 3, was set anew by seven contemporary composers – each of us choosing two lines of the poem. The other composers were: Manfred Trojaan, Jan Masanetz, Steffen Schleiermacher, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Lawrence Traiger and Howard Arman.

The two opening lines of the poem which I selected present anechtromantisch view of a wanderer who has spurned the well-trodden paths of conventional bourgeois life and roams, frei aber einsam, across a wild and craggy landscape. My setting is imagined on two levels. The first is Boris Karloff’s haunting rendering of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster – reviled by all except the blind hermit who gives him food and shelter. The second is the predicament of humanity itself: monster-like, we blunder destructively through history, hastening our own extinction with almost every action we take.

Giles Swayne, March 2010


Bahnlos und Pfadlos, Felsen hinan
Stürmet der Mensch, ein Wandersmann.
Without road, without path, across the crags
Storms the man – a wanderer.

Joseph Christian von Zedlitz