Kris Oelbrandt: Tibhirine Meditations for string quartet

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During the Algerian civil war, 25 years ago this year, seven Trappist monks were abducted from Tibhirine Abbey and murdered: they had chosen to remain in their abbey despite the threat of terror and hatred and to work for peace and reconciliation between religions…   

Kris Oelbrandt, himself a Trappist monk and composer, dedicated a string quartet to their memory: the “Tibhirine Meditations”. In four movements, they meditate on aspects of martyrdom: loving one’s enemy, steadfastness, vulnerability and freedom.

The piece was written during the early days of the corona crisis. The harsh lockdown inspired the composer to develop a new method and style: the auditio divina. The extreme isolation and silence led him to reflect on the foundations of his compositional approach and what he wanted to base it on. He designed a system that lies midway between seriality and modality: by drastically limiting the number of possible harmonies and harmonic connections (modality) and at the same time using all possibilities equally within this space (seriality), he achieved a familiar and at the same time new melodic and sound world.

The term auditio divina refers to lectio divina: a very slow and attentive way of reading the Bible. Each word that speaks to one on an intuitive level – this can also be a very simple word like “go” or “here” – is stopped and allowed to penetrate the heart and mind. Auditio divina transposes this practice to music: very regularly there are silences. The music breaks up into chunks of a few seconds. In the pauses in between, the listener is given time to absorb what he hears and to allow it to enter at a deeper level. The theme of the murdered monks of Tibhirine lends itself particularly well to introducing this style of music for the first time.