“The Shock of Time”: Hauntological Echoes of La Folia in Max Richter’s Woolf Works

Rogers, Holly. 2023. “The Shock of Time”: Hauntological Echoes of La Folia in Max Richter’s Woolf Works. In: Delphine Vincent and Holly Rogers, eds. Max Richter: History, Memory, Nostalgia. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. ISBN 978-2-503-61185-3 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

This chapter traces the intermedial passage of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography into “Becomings”, the central act of the ballet Woolf Works by Hans Richter, with choreography by Wayne McGregor. “Becomings” is based entirely on repetitions and variations of “La Folia”, a sixteenth century motif that has been used in hundreds of compositions during the last 500 years. Here, the theory of hauntology is used as a framework to understand how the ballet’s variation form mirrors the repetitive journey through time and space of Orlando’s eponymous protagonist.

In Orlando, Woolf queers time, perception, gender and sexuality as the protagonist spans four centuries while aging only thirty-six years. Through encounters with historical and cultural change, Orlando reflects on the fragility of gender and the process of self-fashioning required to adapt to changing eras and expectations. While each new century promises positive change, social and political issues persist, and the anticipated futures never fully manifest. At the heart of the novel is what Henri Bergson has philosophised as “durée”, a tension between “inner duration” and “historical time.”

Founded on this temporal dissonance, “Becomings” matches Orlando through the centuries with continual variations of La Folia, a theme that can, explains Richter, “go in any direction and, because of its simplicity, still retain its character”. Moving from traditional variations for orchestra and chamber ensembles to distortion through digital signal processing, glitch and computer-generated synthesis, Richter’s variations symbolise the hauntological failure of certain futures to materialize despite the appearance of change. Deeply intertwined the music, the dancers morph fluidly between male and female, depicting the paradoxical splintering of selves and genders to illustrate the Orlando’s consistency amid great change. This chapter explores how, when taken together, these sonic and gestural recurrences signify on two levels: locally, through the symbolism of repetition and recognisability, which mimics Orlando’s ability to remain “precisely as he had been”; and externally via the revoicing of a familiar musical configuration that has reappeared in various guises through the centuries, collecting new timbres and colours, yet remaining fundamentally unchanged.

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February 2023Accepted

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23 Feb 2023 13:27

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09 Apr 2024 17:30



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