Der Wasserhehler

Complete Work Title: 

Der Wasserhehler (The Water-harborer) — character study after Elias Canetti

Performance Medium: 

solo ocarina




to Helen Bledsoe

Date Composed: 

June - July 1997 (originally for Native American flute); revised and transcribed for ocarina September 2000

Additional Information: 
  • Included on the album Improbable Encounters (innova 873, 2014).
  • 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: 
  • 26 July 2014; broadcast on "Cousin Mary,” KFJC-FM (San Francisco, CA)
  • 6 April 2001; University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
  • 27 March 2001; University of North Texas (Denton, TX)
  • 14 November 2000; Sofia City Art Gallery (Sofia, Bulgaria) — Third Annual American Music Week in Bulgaria [premiere]

    Helen Bledsoe, ocarina

Program Notes: 

Der Wasserhehler (The Water-harborer) is the third 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 Water-harborer "lives in fear that he is bound to die of thirst and so he collects water… He goes to his neighbor and asks for some water… [and] thereby spares his own faucet, which shares his sensitivity and closes before it is too late."

Der Wasserhehler was composed in July 1997 and revised in September 2000 for Helen Bledsoe, who first performed the work on 14 November 2000 in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is included on the album Improbable Encounters (innova 873, 2014).