...the bitterness of absence... (2010)

In January 1796, the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) started working as a private tutor to banker Jacob Gontard’s children in Frankfurt am Main. There, he fell in love with his employer’s wife Susette Borkenstein Gontard (1769 – 1802). The feelings were mutual and their (mostly platonic) relationship had an enormous impact on both their lives. Susette inspired Hölderlin to write his epistolary novel Hyperion and many poems. In his work Susette is addressed as ‘Diotima’. When the secret love was discovered on 25 September 1798, Hölderlin left the Gontard family’s house after a clash with Jacob. In the period following their separation Susette and Hölderlin started a correspondence and tried to arrange secret meetings. From Susette seventeen letters still remain today; from Hölderlin only three drafts of letters survived. On 8 May 1800 they met for the last time. Hölderlin moved away to Stuttgart and later to Switzerland and France. Susette died on 22 June 1802 after a short illness.

…the bitterness of absence… is a fictionalized portrait of Susette Gontard. She has just been separated from her beloved one and finds herself tossed by grief, hope and despair. She writes letters to him and desperately tries to recall his image. Consequently …the bitterness of absence… deals with lost time, longing and loneliness. In the composition text fragments from several sources are used: the letters from Susette Gontard, a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, a sonnet by William Shakespeare and the biblical Song of songs. It also uses enumerations of, mostly, bodily recollections. In its large scale structure …the bitterness of absence… refers to Ludwig van Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte Op. 98 (1816) from which a quote appears twice in this composition.


    bass clarinet



    ca. 16’

Text fragments

    Susette Gontard

    Friedrich Hölderlin

    William Shakespeare

    Canticum canticorum
Score sample