In the margin of the sketches for his composition Bagatelles opus 126 Ludwig Van Beethoven wrote: ‘Ciclus von Kleinigkeiten’. The word ‘bagatelle’ means a trinket, niknak, bauble, trifle… These ‘little things’ demonstrate the extent to which the composer had moved beyond conventional generic models inherited from the classical tradition toward the conception of a musical work made up by a number of strongly contrasting miniatures.
Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten (Cycle of Trifles) is the only feature film by visual artist Ana Torfs. For this radical conceptual movie she drew upon Ludwig Van Beethoven’s so-called ‘conversation books’. These allowed others to ‘talk’ to the famous composer after his hearing deteriorated dramatically in 1818, at the age of forty-eight. Visitors had to make themselves intelligible by writing in these notebooks he always carried with him, until his death in 1827. His answers are not included, as he could still speak. This results in a fascinating negative portrait. The main character remains outside the picture, and we don’t hear his words either. The conversation books read like a sphinx’s riddle: many questions, few answers. Beethoven could speak in response, so his written reaction was mostly absent, leaving a series of one-sided conversations.
‘Should it be played without interruptions?’ the violinist Karl Holz wrote down while studying the score of the string quartet opus 131 or: ‘When should we do our tuning?’
Fragments from a life lived: that is what Ana Torfs offers us in Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten. Fragments that have been portrayed with the utmost attention and care and put on the soundtrack. But it is among all these incontrovertible images and sounds that Beethoven comes to life. In the silence between a question and an answer, in the gap between image and sound, between a sip of wine and a spoonful of warm apple compote. In the endless space, in short, that Ana Torfs has created for Beethoven between all those trifles.
The conversation books contain the words that were literally addressed to the deaf composer during some of the most important phases of his last years: they conserve as it were, what happened all around him. Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten provides an insight, although literally one-sided, into his everyday life, through timeless black and white scenes.
Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten premiered at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels in 1998.
This film was originally to end with the riddle canon Wir irren allesamt, nur jeder irret anders (We all err, but everone errs differently), sung by some actors from Torfs’ film. It is the last composition Beethoven wrote, in December 1826. Due to circumstances, this scene died in the final editing of her film, something Torfs has always regretted. in 2020 a special programme named Wir Irren was initiated by Ana Torfs after contacting the Brussels-based contemporary music Ictus Ensemble, which originates in the first place from this loss. She invited Ictus Ensemble to make a composition based on Beethoven’s last work.
Two composer-performers, Jean-Luc Fafchamps and Aurélie Nyirabikali Lierman, come together with Lucy Grauman, George van Dam and Géry Cambier for an informal musical performance. The musicians who play and sing invite the audience to their exploration of Wir irren allesamt, nur jeder irret anders. This speculative, cryptic and playful exercise inevitably leads to a musical fiction, like an unforced happening between friends in the living room.
This project was conceived by Ana Torfs for a small audience of up to 140 people, who would sit on stage during the musical part by Ictus Ensemble, around the musicians, in an intimate setting. A white cloth would have hung on the edge of stage and auditorium, as a neutral background in front of which the musicians would sit. After the concert, the audience would have gone to the main auditorium, where they would have chosen their own seat and Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten would be shown on the other side of the same white screen. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this minimalist scenographic concept had to be adapted for the performances in Bozar in Brussels.
Without the digitisation in 2017-2019 of Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten by the Royal Belgian Film Archive and Eye, Dutch Film Archive, this collaborative project would not have come about.
“Wir irren” premiered on 18 February 2020 in deSingel, Antwerp, and the project also took place in Bozar, Brussels, on 6 and 7 October 2020, after having been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.