Dust was written for a concert with the theme of Vienna, a city which conjures up both the Great Germanic tradition (as exemplified by Vienna-based composers such as Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern) and a light, frivolous style (as in the waltzes of the Strauss family).

There is Viennese tradition in me too, though of a different nature. A branch of my family lived and prospered in Vienna for many generations, lovers and patrons of the arts, part of that city’s rich cultural fabric. Two years ago I visited Vienna for the first time, and stood outside a grand mansion–Kupelwiesergasse 12, in Hietzing, near Schloss Schönbrunn. The house had been “Aryanized”: that is, stolen by opportunistic Austrians while its elderly inhabitants—my aunts and uncles—were rounded up as Jews and murdered at Theriesenstadt. Now it’s divided into half a dozen flats, and has no doubt made its “owner” wealthy. The Austrian government began to compensate victims of Aryanization in the late 1990s, but in this case all direct descendants are dead, so no compensation can ever be made.

The texts are taken from Wilhelm Müller’s Winterreise (set by Franz Schubert, the only native Viennese from the Great German list above). In their descriptions of a young man, brokenhearted, on a futile, grieving, and suicidal winter journey, they resonate with the fate of Viennese Jews. I have also included some apt texts from Ecclesiastes.

Dust was commissioned by Barbara Hannigan with the assistance of The Ontario Arts Council.

Texts to Dust [with sources in brackets]

A stranger I came, a stranger I go [Winterreise, #1]

The dogs are barking, their chains are rattling, People are sleeping in their beds,

Dreaming of all the things they don’t have Finding escape in things good and bad

By early morning all will be gone.

Yet each have had their share of joy, And hope that what’s still missing They’ll soon find on their pillows.

Drive me away, you watchful dogs, Don’t let me rest in the hour of sleep. I’m now finished with all this dreaming;x

Why should I linger among sleepers? [Winterreise, #17]

A stranger I came, a stranger I go [Winterreise, #1]

There is no remembrance of old things,

Nor shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who come after. [Ecclesiastes 1:11]

Though I only walk on ice and snow It burns ‘neath both my feet

Yet I’ll not take another breath

‘Til I can see the towers no more.

On every stone I stumbled

So quickly did I flee the city;

The crows threw snowballs and hailstones

From every house they rained them down on me.

How differently you welcomed me You unfaithful city! [Winterreise, #8]

A stranger I came, a stranger I go

What is crooked cannot be made straight, What is missing cannot be numbered. [Ecclesiastes 1:15]

Behold the tears of the oppressed

They have no comforter [Ecclesiastes 4:1]

On the side of their oppressors there is power But they have no comforter

Behold the man to whom God gives riches, wealth, and honour So that he lacks nothing that his soul desires

Yet God gives him not the chance to enjoy it

But a stranger enjoys it instead [Ecclesiastes 6:2]

In the days when the windows be darkened, And the doors be shut in the streets,

When the sound of the grinding is low,

And the daughters of music be brought low, And desire shall fail,

And mourners go about the streets,

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: And the spirit shall return unto God. [Ecclesiastes 12:3-7]