By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
The Unesco Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger is a melancholy document, charting the 3,000 or so languages that experts predict will vanish by the end of this century. For the most part, ethnographers and linguists are helpless in the face of the gradual erasure of collective memory that goes along with this loss of linguistic diversity.
Time to call in the composers?
A growing number of them are turning their attention to languages that are extinct, endangered or particular to tiny groups of speakers in far-flung places with the aim of weaving these enigmatic utterances into musical works that celebrate, memorialize or mourn the languages and the cultures that gave birth to them. On Saturday, April 9, at the Cologne Opera in Germany, the Australian composer Liza Lim unveils her opera “Tree of Codes,” which includes snippets of a Turkish whistling language from a small mountain village. On her most recent album, “The Stone People,” the pianist Lisa Moore sings and plays Martin Bresnick’s hypnotic “Ishi’s Song,” a setting of a chant by the last member of the Yahi, who died in 1916.