Die Geruchschmale

Complete Work Title: 

Die Geruchschmale (The Narrow-smeller) — character study after Elias Canetti

Performance Medium: 

solo harpsichord


c. 5:30


for Elliot Figg

Date Composed: 


Additional Information: 
  • This work is part of a collection of solo works based on character studies in Elias Canetti's book Der Ohrenzeuge (Earwitness).
  • Solo works from this collection may be programmed as a set, or in conjunction with the semi-improvisational, open-form works Canetti-menagerie (for five to eight instruments) or Conversations (for two to four instruments), which use these works as source material for improvisational interplay.

Program Notes: 

Die Geruchschmale (The Narrow-smeller) is the twentieth in a series of short works for solo instrument based upon characters from Der Ohrenzeuge: Fünfzig Charaktere (Earwitness: Fifty Characters), written in 1974 by the Bulgarian-born British-Austrian novelist Elias Canetti (1905-1994). Canetti's distinctive studies incorporate poetic imagery, singular insights, and unabashed wordplay to create fifty ironic paradigms of human behavior. This collection, begun in 1997, was inspired by the vividly surreal depictions of Canetti’s characters, and comprises twenty-two solo works to date—composed for familiar instruments such as violin, guitar, piano, and trombone, as well as less common instruments such as ocarina, cimbalom, glass harmonica, and carillon. In Canetti's depiction of this character, the narrow-smeller "shrinks away from smells and avoids them. [She] is regarded as noble because she avoids any touch. She fears vehement sentences that might pierce through, she addresses people softly.... Unfortunately, she is attractive and gets pursued with roses, she can save herself from them only with quick faints.... while she dreams about distilled water, her admirers put their foul-reeking heads together and try to figure out to which flower scents they could convert her." Der Gertuchschmale is conceived as a deconstructed chaconne, whose subject is based on a fragment from Maurice Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911). The work incorporates a 23-tone microtonal scale, which is the result of tuning each manual to a different key in just intonation.

Die Geruchschmale was completed in September 2022 and composed for harpsichordist Elliot Figg.