STELLA MARIS: The Chartres-Oratorio

The Oratorio Stella Maris is a homage to the cathedral of Chartres and it is an attempt to respond to this overall work of art with current and modern means of art. The composer of this creation is Helge Burggrabe, who as a young musician, first came to Chartres in 1996. Since then he visits there several times a year to stay and work. On the occasion of the 1000 years anniversary celebrations in Chartres, Burggrabe was commissioned to compose a work for the cathedral.
The Chartres-Oratorio was first performed in the cathedral on September 8, 2006 as a European cultural project under the patronage of the ambassadors of France and Germany with international soloists and choirs from Chartres and Hamburg. The German-French TV station ARTE accompanied the premiere and produced a documentary which has been broadcasted in many countries and has reached millions of people. This documentary was followed by a concert movie and the publishing of a DVD. Further performances took place in St. Mary’s Cathedral Neviges, the Dome of Cologne, and the Lady’s Church of Dresden.

Composer: Helge Burggrabe


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Theme of the Work

An approach to the female figures Mary and Sophia runs like a thread through the Chartres-Oratorio. In the beginning of the work, Sophia appears and the Bible tells us that she dwelled on God’s side even before the creation of the world. The singer (soprano) carries a blue pane of glass from Chartres and introduces herself as personified Wisdom. Musical versions of excerpts from Genesis follow that tell about the primeval ocean and the creation of light. Thereafter, Mary (recitation) appears for the first time. She speaks on behalf of a woman of this day and age and holds a monologue in the style of journal entries. The In a second universal narrative level, texts from “Marienleben” (life of Mary) by Rainer Maria Rilke are recited as a solo aria (soprano). Together with the choir piece “Je suis le silence” (I am the silence), they offer room for further reflections. The libretto continues with recitations from Mary’s famous chant, “Magnificat”, and picks up a text about Mary by the scholar Fulbert of Chartres (about 1000 AD).
The oratorio ends in a final piece with the words of the author and nun Silja Walter: “She will erupt from the weathered frescoes. (…) Mary, break open the wall from the inside and talk openly to us.”

The music, as the act, lives off the polarity between old and new by combining Gregorian elements with a more modern musical language. The words sung by soloists and choir are carried on by instruments: the solo melody lines of the cello on one side and the sonority of the organ on the other side.



Light, Water and Space

Mary’s term Stella Maris incorporates two central elements: light and water. This term is why a lighting concept supports the act of the oratorio and creates a new experience of space through discrete architectural lighting. The aspect of water is realized by the artist Alexander Lauterwasser who makes the dialogue between sound and water visible through his images. Water-sound projection developed by him sets a vessel filled with distilled water winging and transmitting the sound of music from the bottom of the vessel by means of a special transducer. Light reflectors show the distribution and movement of the waves which are filmed and projected onto a screen.

Through the interaction of music, language, light, and water art; the audience experiences an intensification of the moment on multiple levels: the effect of space, the hearing experience, and the visualization of music that creates a synaesthetic adventure.

Compressed into a performance of about two hours, the oratorio picks up on the cathedral’s approach to an overall piece of art and transports the essential aspects of ideas of Chartres: the theological and philosophical basis was characterized by a holistic view of the world. The lyrics and music styles pay homage to tradition and combine it with new ideas. Order and the right measure play an important role in the construction of the work. Eventually, the narrative thread is formed by the many themes around Mary as they are only found in Chartres.

This work of art is radical in a deep sense. It touches our roots and lifts us to the highest heights! In a positive sense, it strikes us in the core at a time in which we are lacking a core within.