Nick Cave believes in God, but didn’t know exactly what a litany is until this year. His friend Nicholas Lens, an atheist, had to explain it to him, but educated as a Catholic in Belgium and highly trained in the traditions of sacred music by his father, a true lover of Gregorian chant. The retreat inspired monks in the Middle Ages in its repetitive and crudely coded note sessions. The global confinement of this year has somehow taken us back to those shelters and in the case of Lens and Cave to this piece between sacred and minimalist called L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S and published by Deutsche Grammophon.
According to Cave (Warracknabeal, Australia, 63 years old) he had been locked up at home since March and his tour of Europe had been canceled. “I was adrift in the midst of a kind of illness that led me to a mixture of feelings between apocalyptic and boredom,” Cave writes in a note from the record company, since he does not grant interviews. It was then that Lens (Ypres, Belgium, 63 years old) called him. The latter does grant them from his home in Brussels, the city where he lives and remains in some way confined. It was those months between March and June when he felt an impulse that led him to religious music: “For that silence as a revelation that took over the city. It was beautiful and disturbing to me, ”he says.
It connected him to a sacred place that had somehow changed his life: the temples and gardens in the hills of Kita-Kamakura, in Japan. “Where I experienced silence in another dimension,” he says. Suddenly, we all discover the tension of an acoustic peace. Cave and Lens had already composed an opera together: Shell Shock, premiered in 2014 in London and Brussels. This time, despite the distance of the confinement – one in Belgium and the other in Australia – they felt a synchronized impulse: “Let’s do something,” Cave told him. Rather, he begged her and from that request came L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S.
Cave would take care of the lyrics. But it was Lens who, according to the musical form he was looking for, suggested he do some litanies. “The repetitive prayer dynamic leads you to a form of meditation. Nick is a believer and therefore in him, this way of prayer acquires a concrete dimension. In me, it is simply poetic, more abstract ”. Through the two paths, both pursued a certain transcendence. In the case of Cave directly connected to his previous work, that wonder that is Ghosteen. “As everyone knows, his personal circumstances and the tragedy in his family have led him to express himself in a certain way. I think this work has helped him find relief ”.
Lens refers to the death of Arthur, Cave’s son who fell off a cliff after using LSD at age 15. Ghosteen represents a funeral hymn to that circumstance and L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S., also. When Lens explained what this form of prayer consisted of, Nick Cave realized the following: “I have been composing litanies all my life.” So 12 more were no problem. In just one week he sketched them out, the singer writes: “About the birth, flowering, fracture and rebirth of a human being. Requests to a divine maker that had to do with a form of cosmic knowledge and that had to find a beautiful fit in the wonderful music that Nicholas had composed ”.
A music that Lens made in a very small room and to which he invited his daughter Clara-Lane, who was also at home, to participate. “I proposed it to him without thinking that he would finally use his voice,” says the composer. Just for proof. But it turned out that as a counterpoint to Nick Cave’s imposing, deep, sore throat, the girl brought an egoless innocence, centered on the spontaneous and vibrant solicitude of chance. And thus arose one of the greatest achievements of this work. An opera, as the record company sells it? Or rather a sacred piece? “The barriers between genders have been erased in recent times. For good. I consider it a chamber opera, “says Lens.
Well. Although perhaps his father, so devoted to the religious genre, so devoted to the Gregorian, a tradition that knew how to transfer his son, would not see it that way. Neither did Olivier Messiaen, one of his references along with the minimalist trend, especially in the inspiration that the French composer found in the songs of the birds. Lens listens carefully to them when he walks or walks through the Soignes forests, in Brussels: “Attentive to the sound of what surrounds me or simply to the silence, what people are so afraid of and that they do not perceive with their helmets, but what I make sure it is heard, even in the music I make ”.