Sweat of the Sun

Research output: Performances, compositions and other non-textual formsComposition



It's fair to say that all the thoughts, images and ideas explored in Sweat of the Sun have as their starting point the collection of diaries published as Die Eroberung des Nutzlosen (Conquest of the Useless) by Werner Herzog. In the end however, that text has become only a part of a constellation of influences that includes the movie Fitzcarraldo, Les Blank's documentary Burden of Dreams, Verdi’s Rigoletto, audio recordings of Peruvian conch-shell players, Greek myths, the Christian Passion, theories of monochords, Bavarian folk songs …

It seems like the further one sinks inside the text, the further one becomes removed from the particulars of the story and instead gets involved with something deeper and more ambiguous to do with the inner experiences of a protagonist who is searching for … something.

Sweat of the Sun is in three parts. Musically, the first part consists of two distinct elements – first, everything which is outside of the protagonist; the environment, if you will, and second, that which is inside him; his motivations. The outside is characterised by a surround tapestry of voices; real and imagined while the inside is personified by the body of strings; very physical and raw. A kind of ‘motif’, which dominates the whole piece, is a slow and inexorable upward glissando.

The second part is characterised by everything which the first part is not. It is quiet, still and remote. I imagined a kind of ‘Garden of Gethsemane’. It was really also a chance to delve musically into the images conjured up by Herzog's prose. A mezzo-soprano acts as a guide through this fever dream-scape. The sense of what is real and not real is completely abandoned and instead, we're in the realm of the sensual.

The third part is a ‘snap’ back to reality, or at least, the reality of the task at hand – to get the ship over the mountain. The presence of an extremely large and somewhat daunting instrument (or is it a machine?) onstage begs the question – what to do with it?! Rather than attempting to replicate the sheer force and physical effort involved in moving the ship, I wanted to explore something more fundamental to the whole concept of the work – the futility and absurdity of the venture. Our protagonist has realised his vision but has also perhaps come to terms with its uselessness.

In the Epilogue of Conquest of the Useless Herzog expresses his desire to ultimately escape from the “vortex of words”. Similarly, in Sweat of the Sun, the spoken (or sung) language has become redundant and all that is left is action. The protagonist is left on his own, playing his instrument.

Composer: David Fennessy
Librettist: Marco ŠtormanDavid Fennessy
Writer of pre-existing text: Werner Herzog

Dedication: for Dietmar Wiesner

Commission: Commissioned by the City of Munich for the Münchener Biennale – Festival for New Music Theatre – financed by the Ernst-von-Siemens-Musikstiftung.

World première
Location: Muffathalle, München (DE)
Date: 28.05.2016
Orchestra: Münchener Kammerorchester
Conductor: Alexander Liebreich
Main soloists:
Susann Vent-Wunderlich, s;
Leslie Visco, s;
Annette Schönmüller, a;
Marco Vassalli, bar;
José Gallisa, b;
Stephanie Schadeweg, actress;
Dennis Pörtner, actor


Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversal Edition
Media of outputMusical Score
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 28 May 2016