Der Leichenschleicher

Complete Work Title: 

Der Leichenschleicher (The Corpse-skulker) — character study after Elias Canetti

Performance Medium: 

solo contrabass




to Michael Hartt

Date Composed: 

June 1997

Additional Information: 
  • Included on the CD Equipoise — Music of Joseph Klein and William Kleinsasser (innova 611, 2005).
  • 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.

Performance/Broadcast History: 
  • 23 October 2018; James Madison University Concert Hall (Harrisonburg, VA) — JMU Contemporary Music Festival

    Sam Suggs, contrabass

  • 22 January 2011; University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA) — UCSD "Sonic Diasporas” Festival

    Adam Goodwin, contrabass

  • 23 March 2001; University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) — “Imagine 2001” New Music Festival

    Ted Partin, contrabass

  • 19 November 1999; University of North Texas (Denton, TX) [premiere]

    Todd Markey, contrabass

Program Notes: 

Der Leichenschleicher (The Corpse-skulker) is the first in a series of short works for solo instrument based upon characters in 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 Corpse-skulker "goes from bar to bar, looking for acquaintances.... The moment he spots one, he walks over solemnly, greets him, stops, remains silent, and then says in a lamenting, rather sing-song voice: 'Have you heard, N.N. has died'.... [H]e infects them with his funeral lusts and invites them so emphatically that some people come even though they would never have dreamt of it, but fearing his next announcement could be about them."

Der Leichenschleicher was composed in June of 1997 for contrabassist Michael Hartt. The work was first performed by Todd Markey on 22 November 1999 at the University of North Texas and is included on the album Equipoise (innova 611, 2005).