God Save the Human Cannonball
premiere: June 11, 2009 New York City (Scandinavia House)
Voluptuous Panic was commissioned with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts
Paul Frehner was born in Montreal in 1970 and is on the Faculty of Music of the University of Western Ontario where he teaches composition, electroacoustic music and co-directs the contemporary music ensemble. He completed his Doctorate in music in 2004 at McGill University where he studied composition with Denys Bouliane and Brian Cherney, and orchestration with Bengt Hambraeus. Frehner’s works have been played in Canada and abroad by professional soloists, ensembles and orchestras including Almeida Opera, the Esprit Orchestra, the Prague Philharmonia, the North Holland Philharmonic Orchestra, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, André Ristic, the ECM and the Quasar Saxophone Quartet. Upcoming projects include a concerto grosso for Canada’s Gryphon Trio and the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, and an ensemble work for the Aventa Ensemble.
In 2001, as a finalist in the Genesis Opera Project, Frehner was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation to compose Sirius on Earth, a one hundred minute opera based on a libretto by Angela Murphy. Co-produced by Almeida Opera and Aldeburgh Productions, Sirius on Earth was premiered in the 2003 Almeida Opera Festival in London, England. It was subsequently toured to Aldeburgh where it opened the 2003 Proms season in the Snape Maltings concert hall.
Paul Frehner’s works have been performed and broadcast both in Canada and internationally by acclaimed soloists, ensembles and orchestras including the Almeida Opera (UK), Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Prague Philharmonia, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Soundstreams Ensemble, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, amongst others.
Frehner has received numerous awards and mentions for his compositions both in Canada and internationally. Recent premiers include The Seven Last Words of Christ, a cantata for high voice, choir and string orchestra and Trance, a Radio France commission for string quartet. Paul Frehner is on the Faculty of Music of the University of Western Ontario where he teaches composition, electroacoustic music and co-directs the contemporary music ensemble.
“In Voluptuous Panic my goal was to translate the euphoric vertigo and visceral excitement of certain extreme Olympic winter sports and ilinx (play) into a musical form. Roger Caillois, the noted French writer and sociologist, in his work “Man, Play and Games” (1961), identifies four basic types of play that humans regularly engage in: agon (pure competition), alea (chance) mimesis (role playing) and ilinx (whirlpool or vertigo). Caillois describes ilinx as “an attempt to destroy momentarily the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.
The first movement, “Escape Velocity”, is inspired by such Olympic events as downhill skiing at high speeds on extreme slopes, ski jumping, the moguls competition, the aerials, bobsledding and the skeleton. These are all examples of extreme Olympic sporting events that fall into the ilinx category of human play.
The second movement, “Saltarello – Proxima Centauri” captures the transported sensation resulting from fast folkloric dancing. The Medieval Italian Saltarello dance form, in particular, is the source of inspiration, with its fast leaping melodic figures and the use of a ritornello. In keeping with the spirit of the first movement, this dance takes place beyond the earth’s gravitational field.”
– Paul Frehner
“God Save the Human Cannonball is based on the notion of “ilinx” as discussed by Roger Caillois. He describes it as a form of play that makes “an attempt to destroy momentarily the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind.” Fast and wild rides at amusement parks, skiing at high speeds, racing in sports cars are examples of ‘play’ activities that fall into the “ilinx” category. Of amusement park rides, Caillois says “it is worth watching people leaving these vertigo-inducing machines. The contraptions turn people pale and dizzy to the point of nausea. They shriek with fright, gasp for breath, and have the terrifying impression of visceral fear…. Moreover, the majority of them, before even recovering, are already hastening to the ticket booth in order to buy the right to again experience the same pleasurable torture.” In this piece I’m trying to musically capture the thrill of being blasted from a cannon, flying through the air and having a feathery-light landing”. – Paul Frehner