Louth Contemporary Music Society



Pascal Dusapin’s enthralling song cycle, O Mensch!


O Man! Take heed!

What does the deep midnight say?

“I was asleep, asleep –,

I have awoken from deep dreams: –

The world is deep,

And deeper than the day imagined.

Deep is its grief!

Joy, deeper still than heartache!

Grief says: Perish!

But all joy seeks eternity –,

– seeks deep, deep eternity!”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

O Mensch! is an enthralling journey through the mind of one of history’s most radical thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche, by one of the world’s pre-eminent composers, Pascal Dusapin. It is a work which explores the many expressive possibilities of a genre which combines music, poetry, the full range of the singing voice and the piano, and an intimate setting. It is profound and moving, and deserves a place alongside the great song cycles of Schubert and Schumann.

At the heart of O Mensch! is the figure of Nietzsche. It is fascinating to see this philosopher’s attempts to distil two-line maxims or short poems from sprawling philosophical works. The poetry is at times grandiose, at times witty or even joyous, and sometimes scathing in its cynicism or seething with bitterness and disgust. There is beauty, too. At times we feel inspired by the ideas expressed in one poem, only to feel repulsed in the next as another side of those ideas is explored. With Nietzsche, it is often hard to distinguish between the veneration of Man and a contempt for Humanity.

Some of the poems selected for the song cycle were written by Nietzsche as a very young man, others as the established author of works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. Pascal Dusapin has ordered the texts in a very subtle and intelligent way, often laying bare the contradictions in Nietzsche’s thought: the teenager unwittingly rebukes the middle-aged man, whilst the same man who suffered a mental collapse espouses the importance of being able to laugh at life. The music is also playful in its relationship with the text, sometimes sympathising with a sentiment, at other times mocking it. This is not to say that Dusapin has been irreverent or dismissive towards Nietzsche. There is a real respect and compassion for a man who was ultimately isolated and broken by the weight of his convictions and ideals. Of course, we won’t have the same intellectual and emotional journey through life as Nietzsche, but I suspect that in composing O Mensch!, Dusapin recognised Nietzsche’s struggle to make sense of existence as deeply human.

The sheer range of expression in Dusapin’s music is something which must be experienced. He navigates the twists and turns of Nietzsche’s thoughts with great artistry and sensitivity. For me, O Mensch! is so extraordinary because Dusapin manages to transform these philosophical texts into something which makes us feel so intensely and deeply – it is a visceral, theatrical experience full of great beauty and passion, humour, anger and despair.

I am very excited to be presenting the Irish premiere of this incredible work with Vanessa Wagner, one of today’s most versatile and original pianists, and a major interpreter of Pascal Dusapin’s music, having premiered a number of his compositions, including O Mensch!. For me personally, it is a great privilege to be able to return to this work and share it with a new audience as part of Louth Contemporary Music Society’s 2022 festival, Nothing has Changed. Everything has Changed.

Mitch Riley

Louth Contemporary Music Society’s festival Nothing has Changed. Everything has Changed takes place on 17-18 June 2022 in Dundalk. More details www.louthcms.org

Pascal Dusapin’s O Mensch will be performed by Mitch Riley and Vanessa Wagner on

Sat, 18 June 2022
13:00 in
St.Nicholas Church of Ireland
Church St
Tickets €5 from