While reading Jules Verne’s book “Voyage au centre de la Terre” (“A Journey to the Center of the Earth” in English) in which Axel narrates a journey in terrestial entrails with his uncle Professor Lidenrock and an Icelandic guide named Hans, I was struck especially by chapters 26-30, as in these chapters, Axel realizes that he is not anymore in company of the others. Finding himself alone in a cave deep down in the earth, his innermost struggle begins. Un Silence Extraordinaire is based on this struggle and on the rapid exchange of mental, emotional and spiritual states described, until Axel hears his name being called by his uncle, then all three being reunited and unexpectedly discover a sea.
When Axel finds himself lost and alone, he wonders if it is better to ascend or to descend, in order to escape. Monter ou descendre? At the beginning he is sure that he has to ascend, to climb (Monter évidemment! Monter toujours!) He lies between fear and decisiveness, between logic and emotion, between trust and mistrust, agony, solitude, confusion. He lies in an extraordinary silence. He prays. Then a hope that the light never abandons its own rights to warm his heart. (Mais la lumière n’ abandonne jamais entièrement ses droits). This is when he hears his name. It is his uncle and they reunite. “Axel, Axel, mon enfant!” He encourages him to descend (Descendre, et voici pourquoi), and then to rise and to retrace his route (Relève-toi donc et reprends ta route).
On the following day, everything was like a dream. Yet, the sea that they now discover, is real.
The striking parallel with the biblical story of Absalom revolting against his father, the King, Prophet and Psalmist David, was a very shocking discovery (Axel is the Danish form of Absalom): David’s famous cry “My son, my son Absalom” when he receives his son’s dead body, reveals the immense pain and love for his child, even if he knew that the child had revolted against him. Jules Verne’s characters, professor Lidenrock and Axel, form a similar paradigm here: Axel loses sight of the rivulet which he had been serving as his guide, he forgets himself and the others, and without realizing he loses himself in the labyrinth. He prays as he is losing all hope, just like David prayed to God saddened by his child becoming his enemy. And this is the moment Axel finds hope again. Someone calls his name, calls him “mon enfant” and accepts him back. Even more amazing is that Absalom in Hebrew actually means “Father of Peace”. So who is actually calling whom? The Greek text is taken from this Psalm (no.3) in which David prays to God to rise and save him. It is very likely that Jules Verne had had this Psalm in mind when structuring these magnificent chapters.
Un Silence Extraordinaire unfolds in a rhapsodic, quasi-operatic way:
FIL – TOUT.E SEUL.E – DOUTE – PEUR OU REALISATION – RAPPEL – ENGOURDISSEMENT – LUTTE – LA PRIÈRE – DOUTE – CONFIANCE – LA RÉPONSE – EN SORTANT – BRILLANT
The young voices of the choir can bring this special variable energy into the music, to be the narrator (Axel) but also to shout the dynamic and humble “Pardonne-moi” which is not clear if it is said by Axel or his uncle, David or Absalom. The co-existence of elements and colours of antiquity and contemporaneity is set almost naturally by the instrumental ensemble (saxophone, cimbalom, harp, accordion and cello) and its particular sonic and poetic palette. The inter-connected episodes of the piece are characterized by sequences of gestures and often prosodic singing, by careful orchestration and tempo fluctuations which enable the physicality of the music to emerge in rhythmic as well as in lyrical contexts. The structure is underlain by a sentiment of a continuous trembling with sporadic outbursts, a trembling which is led to an outcry and to the final luminous harmonies.
Un Silence Extraordinaire was composed in Paphos, Cyprus between December 2022 and April 2023 and it is dedicated to the victims of the train collision in Tempi, Greece on the 28th February 2023.
Delegated production: Ensemble c Barré
Co-produced by the Festival d’Aix-en-Povence and the Théâtre du Centaure
Supported by the Fondation Orange, the Fondation Société Générale “C’est vous l’avenir” and the Politique de la Ville