‘Religion is like a river flowing through many countries. Each country calls this river by a different name, possibly even claiming it for itself. Actually, however, the river is independent of countries and also springs from one source.’ This description by the Sufi master Muzaffer Efendi is only one of many metaphors used in Sufism to express that religion is not meant to be divisive but unifying. The term ‘Sufism’ emerged at the same time as Islam, yet the Sufi philosophy of life can be traced back through all religions and many millennia – to this day, it is unclear whether the word is derived from the Arab word sūf (‘new wool’), from the Greek term sophia (‘wisdom’) or from the Hebrew expression en sof (‘it has no end’) – to name just a few etymological interpretations.
Since the 12th century hundreds of Sufi orders have been established, and different as their characteristics may be, they all respect each other, for they share the same goal: their teachings focus on love as the only path towards finding God, whose name – Allah الله – consists of four Arab letters: alif أ, lām ل, lām ل, hā ه. The Sufis believe that the absolute, unknown essence of God is expressed by the last letter, audible when breath is slowly expelled, so that no living creature can avoid praising the divine. Therefore, each of their rituals, seemingly arising from silence, begins with the invocation of God’s name, growing into chant and, with the oriental musical instruments gradually joining in, into music serving to connect believers with the divine. These rituals are led by the master (sheikh) of the order (tariqa) in question; the sheikh is connected with the divine source of knowledge through a chain of tradition via the Prophet Muhammad. The rituals, not one of which resembles another, are usually held at memorial places for Sufi masters who have died, for death is not an occasion for mourning but for joy, meaning the liberation of the soul, which exists eternally, from the body weighing it down.
Immediately enthusiastic about the idea behind the Ouverture spirituelle, the order Al-Gazoulia from Cairo and its sheikh Salem Algazouly spontaneously declared their willingness to perform a ritual for the first time in a public space at the Salzburg Festival. Orient and occident will then enter into a dialogue on July 24, when the violinist Frank Stadler from Salzburg will incorporate the sounds of Sufi chants into takassim improvisations, building bridges between this spiritual music and Bach’s Ciaccona from the Partita in D Minor, for instance. In oriental music, the term takassim refers to soloistic improvisations with an instrument able to produce all nine subtle partial tones which lie between the whole notes in Turkish music. This form of improvisation, which is not intended to display technical virtuosity but to express, within a given framework, emotions and individuality through attention turned inward, is an essential characteristic of Hossam Mahmoud’s compositions. With his work Seelenfäden, commissioned by the Salzburg Festival, he recalls the last words of the Sufi master and martyr Mansur Al-Hallağ, brutally executed in 922, words he was reported to have uttered smilingly in the face of death. The personality and poems of this philosopher, who has remained influential to our time, are also the source of inspiration for the new work by Samir Odeh-Tamimi, whose Mansúr was inspired by traditional Sufi rituals. The celebration of nature, of man and the divine – the culmination of every Sufi ritual – also lies at the heart of the works in the Christian tradition presented as part of the Ouverture spirituelle. It is reflected in the opening highlight, Haydn’s description of the creation of the world in Die Schöpfung, and in Bruckner’s Te Deum, which closes the Ouverture spirituelle and in which heaven and earth join in the praise of God. A new oratorio, so to speak – an instrumental one – has been discovered by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Mozart’s last three symphonies. After studying these works intensely, he is convinced that due to various parameters, they are conjoined in an almost magical way, reflecting the fateful path of man in their succession of keys (E-flat major, G minor, and C major): a path beginning in solemn seriousness, with dramatic conflicts, leading to hopelessness and finally to a triumphant ‘hallelujah’. 

Ronny Dietrich

Disputationes Form Part of the Ouverture spirituelle

Continuing its involvement of the past two years, the Herbert Batliner European Institute cooperates with the Salzburg Festival to accompany the Ouverture spirituelle with scientific debates and discussions. Flanking the concert programme with its focus on Islam, the Disputationes deal with issues of intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
The opening event takes place on July 18, 2014 and will be followed by three public discussions as part of the Ouverture spirituelle.


Concert 2014

by Alexander Pereira and Florian Wiegand

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