Speaking Drums

Peter Eötvös

Born 1944

Discussion with drums

Péter Eötvös’s Speaking Drums (2012–2013) creates an entirely different symphonic landscape that’s a lot more … percussive! Divided into four poems, the work highlights the percussion section, which is normally relegated to the background. An impressive number of percussionists are at the front of the stage according to the composer’s detailed plan, as he wanted to ensure that the soloist could move about freely.

The soloist is at once an instrumentalist and poet, speaking while they play. In composing his piece, Eötvös imagined a child playfully repeating words until they completely lost their meaning: “It begins with the percussionist speaking nonsensically, the emphasis on the rhythm, which he then passes on to his instrument. Like the pure, childish joy of repeating the same word in a different tune, the soloist teaches his instrument to speak until the drums start to talk themselves.”

Eötvös is a Hungarian composer and conductor who has been promoting his country’s avant-garde music around the world since the 1960s. He has collaborated with many contemporary composers, notably Stockhausen, Kodály and Boulez, for whom he has conducted certain pieces. He is influenced by Béla Bartók, who was able to reproduce certain sounds of the Hungarian language through his music.

Émilie Lesage