The „Funeral march for the First Cosmonaut“ is a multilingual radio-poem by Etel Adnan & Ulrike Haage in 11 chapters.
With: Etel Adnan (English voice), Judith Engel (German voice),
Zainab Alsawah (Arabic/English voice), Eduard Wassmann (Russian voice)
Soloists: Christina Andersson (Soprano),
Claudio Puntin (Clarinet), Ulrike Haage (Grand Piano, Organ, Celesta)
German Translation: Klaudia Ruschkowski
Direction and composition: Ulrike Haage
Sound: Thomas Monnerjahn
Production: Deutschlandfunk Kultur 2019, 49’37 min.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin with the spaceship Vostok 1 orbited the earth in 108 minutes, writing space history. Barely seven years later, the space pioneer died in the crash of his MiG near Moscow. The cause of the accident is still not exactly understood.
From the beginning, the Lebanese-American poet, philosopher and painter Etel Adnan was interested in philosophical, artistic and mythical aspects of the space programs of the great powers. The cosmonaut Gagarin – „the great child in the great machine“ – particularly impressed her. In 1968, after his death, she wrote the eleven-part poem „A Funeral March for the First Cosmonaut“ – a metaphor on flights of fancy and crashes of mankind.
Fifty years after its release, Etel Adnan entrusted the typewritten version to composer and pianist Ulrike Haage. As she declared, the „Funeral March“ calls for composition, evokes music, sounds, acoustics. Where are we – nearly sixty years after Gagarin, more than fifty years after Apollo 11, leaving the earth, heading to Mars, on the way to which kind of outer spaces, we, who Etel Adnan describes as „pre-history of space-age“?
Ulrike Haage composed an experimental requiem and at the same time a radio-poem in which text and sound, composition and improvisation, singing and voices, languages and noises are congenially interlinked.
One may hear this piece like a concert performance, one may enter it like a space-time-sound installation, guided by the voice of Etel Adnan herself. Her impalpable concrete poetry opens up a questioning of our state of being.
“Today we are at the beginning of a new upheaval. No easy change. We are in the process of becoming a new species. We already are.”
(Recording Etel Adnan, Paris 2019, Photos by Anton Maria Storch 2019)
Please enjoy some excerpts from the text, written by Etel Adnan in 1968:
You were searching through the hands of the monkey tree
that pipeline to the sky
an incoherent light-wave was moving
behind the clouds
and you went swimming into that distant
pool you went to be suspended there
cool as the western side of palm leaves
under the break of noon
there are potholes in the skies
familiar to the Sierra’s wanderers
moving icebergs which taste like
anti-matter when physics go wild
Gagarin Scott Gherman Titov McDivitt
Komarov the new hierarchy of archangels
bringing messages from outer space
decoding the protons and moving under
a shower of travelling electrons
seven sunsets for a single evening
and the uninterrupted moon
growing into their eyes with the look
of mothers looking back on us from the other
side of our death
seven sunrises for a cosmonaut!
Astronauts also are mortal
Gagarin first man in space but also the thirteenth
the sun god Ra and murderous Isis
Eliah and Jesus and you
Mohammad hovering above Jerusalem
refusing to enter Paradise but unclothed
and reduced to a heap of ashes
you prophet Eliah carried by your horses
burning close to the sun
all of you cosmonauts carried by our dreams
floating above sleep
all of you pioneers of that space
which lingers between atom and dream
we heard the tremendous minute of silence
you all stood when Gagarin came to you
the great child in the great machine.
(Zainab Alsawah, Ulrike Haage; Photo by Antje Beim 2019)