"The clarinet concerto of Mozart...[becomes] with all the reflections of compositional technique and derivations of resources referring to it, the secret point of reference which my music outlines with veneration and anguished love. My piece is accanto: beside."
When we note that Helmut Lachenmann is a great ironist, we might do good to remember Friedrich Schlegel's definition of irony: "a permanent parabasis." What's a parabasis? It's that wonderful, disquieting moment when an actor steps out of his part during a play, and addresses -- or seemingly addresses -- the audience "from the outside," speaking "in his own person." According to this definition, a "permanent parabasis" is impossible: you can't step outside the framework perpetually, just as you can't keep exiting the same door.
But somehow, this is what Lachenmann accomplishes, not least in his 1976 clarinet concerto Accanto. But of course he knows the secret of a permanent parabasis: you must constantly step in and out of your own door, your own structure or stage, your personalized fourth wall. Or, in a more brutal image of his own: "Art must cut through to the bone." In Accanto, the cutting happens on myriad levels, not least of which involves a tape of Mozart's revered Clarinet Concerto, playing out the entire duration of Lachenmann's own "Clarinet Concerto" on a stereo with the volume turned all the way down. In a fantastic feat of rigorous "indifference," Lachenmann creates a serial rhythmic structure which ordains, at key points, that the Mozart be turned up. The effect is a bizarre mix of shock and humor -- a humor, however, that cuts both the listener's expectations and the actual music "through to the bone."
Though this kind of headlong confrontation with tradition has since become a staple of Lachenmann's art, it was actually quite new in Accanto; in previous works like the solo pieces Pression (for cello) and Guero (for piano), Lachenmann considered his radical exploration of new sound production techniques as a kind of "botanical" collector's work: scratching, rubbing, scraping, and making noises with all regions of the instrument's body was seen by the composer as more an attempt at new sounds.
But by the time of Accanto, Lachenmann had become much more obsessed with new ways of hearing sounds -- and much more aware that old ways of hearing those sounds were conditioned by oppressive, taboo-laden conventions of the bourgeois-capitalist machine. And so if parts of Accanto, with its clacking and stomping and barking, feel less like "new sounds" than like a vicious assault on audience-expectations, then you're right: this music is in no way "abstracted" -- or it's abstracted like an infected tooth.
But remember Lachenmann the permanent parabasist! No sooner does he step into the role of bitter polemicist and defiler-of-the-classics, than he steps out of it, to address us "directly": his critique comes in no way from a lack of respect, but from an overfullness of respect, an "anguished love." And his fractured sounds endeavor not to ruin, but to shore against that ruin.