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Songs of Wars I Have Seen

Heiner Goebbels

September 7 at 8:00pm

2018 Fringe Festival

Runtime TBA

$15 – $29


Wheelchair Accessible

DescriptionAbout the ArtistsInterviewFurther Reading

“The piece is uncannily moving, its emotional reach unexpectedly deep.” The Sunday Times (UK)

“When a tree is already being mentioned, you don’t also have to show it.” Heiner Goebbels in his “Aesthetic of Absence”

A work of theater as much as one of music, Songs of Wars I Have Seen juxtaposes modern and period instruments, electronic atmospherics, Baroque compositions, modernist harmonies, and the haunting text of Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir to create a bittersweet lament on war’s insidious effects.

An American Jew living in the Nazi puppet state of Vichy France, Stein detailed everyday life in a neutral, descriptive style, pausing as much on the food she ate as the atrocities engulfing Europe. Her Wars I Have Seen tells us what is happening, without telling us how to feel about it. In Songs of Wars I Have Seen, iconoclastic German composer Heiner Goebbels emphasizes this meditative neutrality and sharpens our focus on the gendered experience of war.

Conducted by Estonian maestro Anu Tali, the staged concert sees performers from Philadelphia’s leading classical music groups — Philadelphia Orchestra and Baroque ensemble Tempesta di Mare — speak Stein’s words and play Goebbels’s compositions. Bridging centuries of music, the melodies range from jazzy bursts to plaintive moans, incorporating melancholic and violent segments by the 17th-century English composer Matthew Locke. Musical styles change, war remains.

Friday, September 7: Post-Show Conversation with Heiner Goebbels and Thomas Patteson
Thomas Patteson is Professor of Music History Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He is a specialist in the music of the twentieth century, in particular the classical, experimental, and electronic traditions. He is the author of Instruments for New Music (University of California Press, 2016), a study of modernism and new sound technologies in Weimar Republic Germany.

$29 general / $20.30 member
$15 student + 25-and-under
$2 FringeAccess memberComposer & Light Design Heiner Goebbels Text by Gertrude Stein Conductor Anu Tali Performed by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta di Mare.


Philadelphia Orchestra
Jonathan Blumenfeld, Oboe
Paul Demers, Clarinet/Bass Clarinet
David Bilger, Principal Trumpet
Nitzan Haroz, Principal Trombone
Julie Thayer, Horn
Angela Zator Nelson, Percussion/Associate Principal Timpani
William Wozniak, Percussion/Timpani
Elizabeth Hainen, Principal Harp
Davyd Booth, Keyboards


Tempesta di Mare
Rebecca Harris, Violin 1
Mandy Wolman, Violin 2
Daniela Giulia Pierson, Viola
Eve S Miller, Cello
Heather Miller Lardin, Bass
Eve Friedman, Flute
Anna Marsh, Bassoon
Paula Maust, Harpsichord
Reese Revack, Piano
Richard Stone, Lute


Songs of Wars I Have Seen has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.



Festival Co-Producer: Lee van de Velde

About Heiner Goebbels

Multi-instrumentalist Heiner Goebbels was studying sociology when he discovered the political importance of music through the work of Hanns Eisler. After this discovery, he began his career as a composer and director. His compositions have been performed by orchestras around the world. In 1993, he presented his first theater production, Ou bien le débarquement désastreux (“Or the Hapless Landing”), which was followed in 1994 by Surrogate Cities (Grammy nominated), Black on White (1996) and Eislermaterial (1998) with Ensemble Modern, Hashirigaki (based on texts by Gertrude Stein, 2002), Eraritjaritjaka (2004), I went the House but did not enter (2008) and Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury (NYC, 2015). From 2012 to 2014, he was the artistic director of the Ruhrtriennale Festival, a prestigious annual music and arts festival in northwestern Germany. In 2018 he received the first appointment for the recently established Georg-Büchner-Professorship at the University Gießen.

Heiner Goebbels presents theater where different languages coexist without hierarchy, extending and interacting with each other. The stage becomes a space of observation open to the surprising and the unexpected, where attention to detail creates a renewed curiosity for the complexity of human existence.

About Philadelphia Orchestra

Founded in 1900, the Philadelphia Orchestra is among a select group of  the oldest and most prestigious American symphony orchestras. Based at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, it performs over 130 concerts  each year. Renowned for its distinctive sound, desired for its keen ability to capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences, and admired for an unrivaled legacy of “firsts” in music-making, The Philadelphia Orchestra remains one of the preeminent orchestras in the world.

About Tempesta di Mare

Conversational. Extroverted. Emotionally provocative. These words describe baroque music and the experience Tempesta di Mare delivers with every performance.

Baroque composers imbued their chamber and orchestral music with the powers of language, letting every listener experience as full a range of human emotion as from a play or poem. Tempesta crafts its performances to bring baroque music’s most speech-like and emotive qualities front and center. Whether as an orchestra or a chamber ensemble, its players transform the musical notes into dynamic, wordless dialogues in sound that win over audiences everywhere we play.

To experience Tempesta is to experience nonstop discovery of repertoire both in and outside the canon: groundbreaking, modern rediscoveries, essential music by forgotten composers, overlooked works by famous composers, and even famous works by famous composers revealed in new ways.

Interview with Heiner Goebbels

May 2018

FringeArts: How did you encounter Gertrude Stein’s writing?

Heiner Goebbels: The first experience I had with the meditative musicality of her prose was when Robert Wilson recited some paragraphs of her book The Making of Americans during the funeral service for German author Heiner Müller. It was a moving encounter with literature, which is so hard to describe: a novel, a poem, a litany, an incantation? And with other excerpts of this book I created my music theater work Hashirigaki in 2000.

FringeArts: What inspired you to adapt her memoir into Songs of Wars I Have Seen?

Heiner Goebbels: I got the idea to work with some of that text for my opera Landscape with distant relatives, which I created in the context of 9/11 — because of the difficulty and the inappropriateness of personal words when trying to talk about an experience of violence and disaster.

FringeArts: What kind of directions do you give to the musicians who speak the text?

Heiner Goebbels: Not much. I don’t want them to be too prepared, I don’t want the reader to be cleverer than the listener. But anyway, Stein’s Wars I Have Seen has this light everyday approach to speech, so it is better and more convincing if the reader has an untrained voice.

FringeArts: Why did you choose to incorporate Matthew Locke’s score for The Tempest?

Heiner Goebbels: Gertrude Stein has a cyclical concept of history. She says “history is repeating” and compares the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries with the violence in Shakespeare plays. So it was quite consequent to confront my music with music which was composed by Locke in the 17th century as a curtain tune for Shakespeare plays.

Excerpt. Full interview coming soon to the FringeArts Blog.

Further Reading

Heiner Goebbels Talks About “Songs of Wars I Have Seen” by Jeremy M. Barker, The SunBreak

Goebbels says, “It’s like neighbors talking about everything, and she [Gertrude Stein] combines very personal comments on food, on her dog, on the weather, with very political statements on the Americans and the Italians and the French and the prisoners in Germany. And the nice thing is that when you read this book–and probably when you hear this composition–you have to decide yourself, what is your own focus, between this relationship of your personal point-of-view and the political and social point-of-view.”

Read the full article

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