Olga Neuwirth's tape composition Der Tod und das Mädchen II, with a text by Elfriede Jelinek, is loosely based on the legend of Sleeping Beauty, but its larger theme is a critique of feminine passivity when confronted with male aggression. It was created as a ballet that was co-commissioned for three German productions in 2000, but the detailed program notes significantly fail to name the choreographer. A clue to the omission lies in a note that "the choreographer" demanded that the composer delete a section of the score in which Jelinek sharply criticizes Jörg Haider, at that time the leader of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria. Jelinek further compares her contemporary Austria, "the little, fat, pretty, innocent and unoffending country that has been loved back to life by Prince Haider," to the population that in 1938 passively gave in to Hitler's Anschluss. The offending lines may have been excised, but the tone of what remains, both in text and in music, is no less abrasive, confrontational, and sardonic.
The text consists of extended spoken monologues by the Princess and the Prince (who is played by actress Hanna Schygulla, adding a yet deeper layer of irony to Jelinek's politicized fairy tale). Neuwirth underscores the speaking with music that is hallucinatory and viscerally disturbing. She has an uncanny gift for creating psychologically probing, surreal aural landscapes that seem intended to summon up the listener's deepest sense of desolation and anxiety. For the listener willing to surrender to its suggestive imagery, Neuwirth's music can be terrifying. Der Tod und das Mädchen II should be intriguing to fans of edgy new music, especially those who'd enjoy the aural equivalent of the frisson that comes from watching psychological horror films.