56. Aktion

Wednesday, 1 June, 1977

barely two weeks after the action in naples i drove with pauli from prinzendorf in my red car to bologna. rosanna chiessi and morra had managed to arrange that i perform a large action in the empty church of santa lucia in bologna as part of an international performance festival to mark the opening of the art fair there. i was officially invited by the city of bologna. i wasn’t really sure about things or indeed about myself, in keeping with my sad situation i wasn’t able to really get a grip on all that was going on, but nevertheless decided to take part in the festival. all my friends had promised to come along and help. pauli, patricia, cibulka, fuzzi, veit, polansky all came from austria. my proven percussionists headed by emmerich came from munich. leo was there of course, so too wunderlich with his wife and frau rein. geoff and john hendricks came over from america. they’d loved beate a lot and as actionists helped out in important things. both my inner state as well as the external circumstances meant that i saw this action as a requiem for my wife beate and announced this publicly. the preparations and rehearsals went along relatively well and without too many problems. but had to do without pauli. after a fight with his girlfriend patricia he left bologna a few days before the performance. patricia also left the scene 2 days later. the city authority in bologna found me a real brass band. as i began to rehearse with this orchestra i suddenly heard a sound in the expansive church that seized me deep inside, i’d never before heard my music so perfect. profound, consoling, exultant joy filled me. i heard that what i had always wanted to reach with my music, and had never been able to realise, was indeed right.
i now had a crystal clear vision of how the music of my overall work would progress. i looked at cibulka, we were both full of joy. i become dewy-eyed. we knew: that’s it. i had the brass orchestra for 4 rehearsals and i managed to unify both orchestras, bring them together. the brass orchestra stood in front of the back wall of the church and the rear balcony, the noise orchestra was grouped in front of the altar. legal problems cropped up just a day before the performance. filthy from rehearsal work i had to go to the town hall and sitting in plush fauteuils negotiate with elegantly dressed politicians and lawyers, who most certainly considered that i was crazy and of unsound mind. the situation became increasingly desperate. the city’s communist government feared that my action would offend the religious feelings of bologna’s citizens and thus antagonise the christian coalition partner. the critic and festival organiser renato barilli was able to finally defuse the crisis thanks to his vigorous intervention, declaring that he would take full responsibility for whatever eventualities my action would cause. i didn’t really care, i only wanted to do my best so that the action would be a success, without my earlier nervous ambition. nobody can guess how sad and wretched i felt without my beloved wife. i was alone, i missed her so much, everything was somehow amiss without her. she left a huge gap in my life, in every nook and corner, in every room, in every open door. as she was still alive she was really everywhere, tried to solve all the problems, negotiated with everyone, and was in fact in each and every room, entered through each and every door and was always the bearer of good tidings.
i had one sole purpose in mind, to seize the opportunity given to me and erect a worthy monument to beate with this requiem.
during rehearsals i got to know a wonderful person, marcello jori, a young, important italian artist. he translated my instructions at rehearsals. we became friends, i’m so glad that i know him.
when we finally got to the performance i couldn’t believe my eyes. 1000 - 1500 people streamed into the church. this action was one of the most wonderful and i believe i’m able to say, one of the most moving and credible. streams of wonderful music pressed in and sounded out from everywhere. it was perhaps the greatest success i’ve ever had. i felt as if, as always, beate was there to lend a helping hand, perhaps for the last time, but this last time her help radiated from the depths of the great expanses. she helped me to build her own requiem.
but i believe to be assured of her heartfelt help for all my future works. i wish it ardently. so much of her wealth of love was in her requiem. the success was detailed and universal. i was particularly pleased about the recognition given by the reserved critic laszlo glozer. morra surprised me by having the whole action recorded acoustically by professionals. at the book fair that year a triple album was brought out, entitled “the music of the action, requiem for my wife beate”, by edizioni morra. this record has proved indispensable for winning over many doubters of my work.

performance: almost all of the external factors helped to make the action a success. we found large pieces of timber equipment in the empty church which looked like medieval torture instruments. in any case their appearance inspired me to use them in my action. the most favourable circumstance of all though was the wonderful acoustic. the music droned out through the expanses and heights of the nave. it was possible to lead the music into the loudest climaxes, otherwise achievable only with amplifiers. in fact, for this action i had no need to use a single amplifier.
the stage performance of the action was executed masterly and this was thanks to the performers and helpers who had already taken part on frequent occasions and knew exactly what to do. many of them had worked in prinzendorf. john was always the second performer in most of the actions i performed in america, most notably at the 12-hour performance in new york. geoff hendricks was a key passive performer in this action.
despite all this, shortly after the action got underway, i had the impression that it would all go wrong, mainly because of the crush of people present. at the start the blood was too watery. later geoff hendricks fell onto the floor from the bier held well over head-height like a damp frog, but this went practically unnoticed. then everything went well.
a serious technical problem cropped up. expecting a large crowd a podium had been built for me so that i could direct the performance, visible for both orchestras. the crush of people who then in fact turned up exceeded all expectations. naturally my podium was hung with clusters of people prior to the performance beginning. i had to shoo them away if i wanted to begin. normally i got the action underway simultaneously with the music. this was not possible here. i had to first get the action underway before running back to the podium to start the music. but each time i got back to the podium there was a throng, each time i had to chase them away to be able to use the podium. at first i was frantic, desperate, but as i saw that everything was going well joy swelled in my heart. because of the large spatial distances this performance demanded a great deal of running around. we had a messenger who connected the front wall of the church to the rear side entrance. he often gave the signal for the music to start up. as the action really got going, some of my friends came up to me and said that it had never been this beautiful, and then i sensed too that all was going along nicely.
morra had brought along a 50 litre bottle of asprino from naples. the bottle was hidden behind the stage set, in the room where the participants washed. my friends from germany soon discovered where the wine was. i remember that wunderlich and glozer went behind the set to this room and drank quite a bit of wine. after the action it took a great deal of effort to get wunderlich to the next inn, where he then promptly fell asleep.
music was the decisive factor in this action. i had actually never worked with such disciplined musicians before. it was important that the percussion group under emmerich’s guidance had already been involved at prinzendorf. he knew what my intentions were and helped me to train the lay orchestra in the short rehearsal period. i struck it lucky with the brass orchestra, the musicians were not so overtly refined as a classical symphony orchestra. they understood my simply explainable intentions and followed my instructions without any critical intellectualism. both orchestras blended tremendously in the expansive space of the church. this action initiated a change in my own music. up to this point i had preferred the unruly bullish sounds of lay musicians for the brass instruments because of the novelty of the unorthodoxly produced music. i was never completely satisfied though, because much of it seemed to suffocate in the amorphous. and due to their lack of technique many of the lays soon ran out of breath and were unable to execute the escalation i envisioned. i came to realise that it was possible for the brass at least to work with willing professional musicians. i could always intermingle the lay musicians with their bullish, roaring sounds. the clarity of the wonderfully blown long, drawn-out sounds convinced me as well. the randomness of the intermingling remained open nevertheless and i could still determine the intensity rising into ecstasy. in this way i was now able to avoid violating the principle of my noise music when i gave preference in my scores to drawn-out sounds.
cibulka rang me in my hotel the next morning, waking me, and said that i’d never before done something so beautiful, and he wanted to invite me to lunch as a sign of his gratitude.

duration: 3 ½ hours