SON ET LUMIÈRE
A royal dream. In the late summer of 1884, King Ludwig II fulfilled a dream that had long fascinated him. He decided to use the park of the “new Versailles” castle on Herrenchiemsee Island as a setting to revive the evening court festivals that had previously been staged by Louis XI – albeit now with state-of-the art technology. He had the huge construction site around the castle concealed behind the backdrop of a park. A freight train from Holland brought bushes and flowers for the flower beds. Bavaria’s leading electrical engineer Alois Zettler designed what was presumably the first open air show lighting system in world history, installing a myriad of synchronised coloured lights. Karl Lautenschläger, the head technician of the Munich Court Theatre, wrote sophisticated stage directions for light and sound for the installation.
Son et lumière. The king arrived on the island on a mild September evening and took in the beautiful sight of the unlit castle at dusk. He then allowed himself to be enchanted by a mesmerising gesamtkunstwerk of music and illumination until late into the night. In devising this unique production the king had unknowingly anticipated a type of event which would become the core element of ‘event culture’ a century later: ‘Son et lumière’ – the artistic combination of light and sound which no courtyard serenade or rock concert can do without today.
The light of enlightenment. On the occasion of the130th anniversary of this premiere the Herrenchiemsee Festival would like to commemorate the origin of these light and sound spectacles in King Ludwigs’s fantastic dreams. In addition, the motto ‘Son et lumière’ holds a charming double meaning, for it was the declared aim of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot to Voltaire, to bring ‘la lumière’, that is to say light to a society that was deliberately kept in the dark of ignorance by its leaders. Consequently, Rousseau’s cry of ‘back to nature’ went far beyond the new landscape aesthetics of ‘English gardens’. It was aimed at political and social transformation in all areas of life.
Music as inspiration. It would be presumptuous to try and technically re-produce Ludwig’s ‘Son et lumière’ of 1884. The lack of documentation alone makes it simply impossible. This is why the Herrenchiemsee Festival will use musical means to reflect all the aspects that once fired the king’s imagination: serenades and night musics, acoustic images of nature from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ to Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ and landscape impressions from Berlioz’s symphony ‘Harold in Italy’ to Robert Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ symphony. The profound theological imagery of Bach’s cantatas is as much an expression of this year’s motto as is Mozart’s carefree ‘Little Night Music’; and in terms of music drama, the range spans from the celebration of light and freedom in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ to the enchantments of fairies and goblins in Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.