Günter Mayer

Advanced Composition and Critical (Political) Ambition

Posted in gedruckte Texte by guentermayer on 15. März 2010

Günter Mayer

Advanced Composition and Critical (Political) Ambition

1. Preliminary Note

The invitation to this year’s reflection on the question „What does critical composition (still) mean today?“ states that the phrase „critical composition“ generally refers to the generation between Nono and Klaus Huber on the one hand and Mathias Spahlinger (including Helmut Lachenmann, Nicolaus A. Huber, Vinko Globokar and others) on the other hand. And it asks what – following the rapid societal changes since the late 1980s, and in the face of the problematization of critical composition through the post-modern discourse and its consequences for the middle and younger generations – can be stip­ulated regarding the fundamental problem of how a critical, socio-critical, indeed politically sensitive form of composition is at all possible: in a cosmopol­itan, universal and plural guise, in fundamental openness, „without this leading to a non-committal attitude or a shirking of responsibility.“

My immediate response was the following: the import of this sympa­thetically-sketched review of critical composition among the (now already) older generation is that there were no composers of that age-group beyond the Western European and West German experiential horizon of material-centered critical composition who were advanced, critical and also politically-ori­ented – or at least none comparable to the aforementioned ones. I indicated that I had a different view, not least through my experiences in the GDR1 and the developments in the eastern regions after 1989/1990, and that I considered this view in urgent need of expansion, as function-centered critical composition has in fact existed and continues to exist here.

Accordingly, I was asked to fill this gap. During the planning phase it was referred to as „Eastern European tradition“ or „Eisler.“ I was forced to narrow this enormous field and decided on the subject that has now been announced in the program: „Advanced Composition and Critical (Political) Ambition in the GDR – and After?“

Here too I shall restrict myself considerably, only – and unfortunately only cursorily, with a mere few musical examples-speaking initially about Paul Dessau and then – time allowing-about the composers belonging to the circle of musical and intellectual mavericks whose teacher, friend, adviser and patron

1    Editor’s note: the GDR refers to the German Democratic republic, i.e., East Germany; in German this was the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). The FGR refers to the Federal Republic of Germany, i.e., West Germany; in German this is the BDR (Bundesrepublik Deutschland).

he was. From this circle I have chosen-once again restricting myself for reasons of time – to the following: primarily Friedrich Schenker and Reiner Bredemeyer, but also Georg Katzer, Ralf Hoyer and Hermann Keller.

Secondly: as I and the rest of us know that neither Lachenmann, Spahlinger, nor the aforementioned composers from the GDR, in so far as they are still alive (Bredemeyer died in 1995) -i.e., also Friedrich Schenker (b. 1942) and Georg Katzer (b. 1935), meanwhile members of the older generation – have not stop­ped practicing their advanced and critical composition in the reunified Germany, the question of whether critical composition is (still) possible today is presum­ably above all a question posed from the perspective of the younger generation and directed at the same. Even if its exponents, as a result of post-modern reflection upon the far-reaching crisis affecting the concept of progress, seem to have a different, not to say a troubled relationship-or perhaps even none at all – with the older composers, history, and even the concept of critique itself, it should nonetheless be emphasized that today’s younger generation-as much as I can understand their generation-specific separation from the older ones – all too often ignores many questions that have already been formulated, and approaches these issues without historical interest or awareness, without an informed, critical engagement with the past and without theoretical reflection on the once-formulated ambitions, the goals achieved or the failures suffered; as a result, they lose experiences that could help towards a differentiated, considered orientation in the present and the exploration of future possibilities. The future will still come without it, but the question is: what kind of future?

2. Current Experiences Before and After the Symposium

2.1. Current Experiences Before the Symposium

It was only recently, upon hearing and seeing the world premiere of INTERZONE, Lieder und Bilder (music: Enno Poppe; video and space: Anne Quirumen; libretto: Marcel Beyer) during this year’s Berliner Festspiele, that I realized once more just how appropriate it is for the situation and perspectives of the younger generation to be the focus of our discussions. The basic post-modern stance is fundamental here, directed critically at the „stasis of ordered, systematically defined situations,“ against the „concept of consistency.“ The young authors of this work are fascinated by transitions, by the zones in which „monotony dissolves and what is diffuse spreads itself out,“ for example in the transit/on between day and night. The authors are concerned with „atmospheric elements, the feeling of transition, with existence in the transitory.“ The text is based on William S. Burroughs, who articulates an individual sensibility of the same kind, and the almost deserted urban video world of wide spaces, squares, streets and storefronts in the broken view of the compound eye is predominantly dark and couched in beautiful melancholy. And the music works towards systems „in order to break them up, to approach the cliché before changing course at the right moment.“

The enormous, increasingly glaring contradictions of capitalistically-formed globalization or the effects of neo-liberal regroupings in societies appear not to exist. There is no trace of the catastrophic consequences of the current wars and of international terrorism, of progressive environmental destruction, or the danger of humanity’s atomic self-extermination. Unfortunately these do not disappear if they are ignored by perception and accordingly by critique – and if critique restricts itself very vaguely to melancholy reflection on the alienated situation of the individual in a world both familiar and foreign. That reflection was new a long time ago, and is of little depth if it simply points out abstractly that everything is located in the transitory, that the world is in transition.

The result, put in simple terms: still advanced – but critically weak or even uncritical. Discussion is required so that socio-critical composition also – and especially – among younger composers is not only (or once again) possible, but is rather grasped as necessary,.

2.2. Possible Experiences After the Symposium

On 11 October 2004, in the former Palast der Republik in Berlin, which has meanwhile been torn down, the cultural events taking place in the ruin included a concert in which instrumental/theatrical, critical, politically intended composi­tions from the 1980s by Friedrich Schenker, Georg Katzer and Ralf Hoyer were performed once more; at the time of composition, they had gone to the limit of what could only just or no longer be tolerated politically, but were able to do so publicly in the Kleines Theater located in the palace. In October 2004, these phenomena of critical composition were confronted with the changed setting and the new, partly younger audience, and after the concert there were dis­cussions between the featured composers and interested listeners. I was asked by the composers to act as presenter. In the following, I shall address at least one of these works by Friedrich Schenker, and if time allows also that by Georg Katzer. I have the piece by Ralf Hoyer with me as a video production of GDR television, and can show it to any who might be interested.

If we are to speak about advanced composition and political intention, we should first of all refer to Paul Dessau – and not to Hanns Eisler (the reasons for this I cannot mention here).

3. Paul Dessau – Integrator of Advanced, Critical Composition

Paul Dessau lived from 1894-1979 and worked as a conductor and composer. As a Jew, he was forced into exile and spent time in France and Spain (the Lied Die Thälmann-Kolonne) before traveling to the USA. There he met with Brecht, with

whom he remained in contact until his death (in the GDR). In East Germany, he was initially carried along by the pathos of a new beginning (Aufbaulied der FDJ, on a text by Brecht). Unlike Eisler, however, who had already died in 1962, Dessau never sacrificed his orientation towards advanced composition, and further developed it in his mature years. Nor was he held back by the brainless criticism of his opera Das Verhör des Lukullus voiced by the central committee of the SED at the famous formalism meeting – at which Ernst H. Meyer’s classicistic Mansfelder Oratorium had been celebrated as a prime example of Socialist Realism in music.

Dessau later defended himself against these charges of formalism, for example in the film Über die aufbauende Unzufriedenheit eines Komponisten [On the Constructive Dissatisfaction of a Composer], made by Richard Cohn-Vossen and myself in 1967: „one must open one’s ears to all musical production. All composers work and labor honestly for a form of expression and struggle with it. And if this leads to results that are not immediately understood, one should not simply dismiss them as ‚modernism‘ or ‚formalism‘ or some other ‚ism.‘ I cannot tolerate that, in so far as my field is involved. And that is my field, and I understand my field.“2

Dessau composed critically against the desired epigonal acoustic bolster­ing of heroic illusions, against the flood of ahistorical, stereotypical sound products that merely catered for a short time to the underdeveloped taste that demanded the illusion of a perfect world with the rose-tinted pathos of a new beginning and an Arcadian state of well-being. This even applies to such declaratory works as Appell der Arbeiterklasse [Appeal of the Working Class] (1959), but becomes very prominent in clear political partisanship, for example in Requiem für Lumumba (1959) or the opera Einstein (1974). Dessau’s critical composition with political intentions also manifests itself in his instrumental music – for example In Memoriam Bertolt Brecht (1957).

I should also mention Orchestermusik Nr. 2, which Dessau composed in 1967 for the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, referring to the news of the landing of the second Russian moon probe in the „Sea of Storms“ on 24 December 1966. In his choral symphony, where he uses the revolutionary song Warschawianka, the non-musical subject of Dessau’s musical thinking is ex­pressed in words. It is difficult to imagine that the sounding result was intended or understood as a hymn of celebration for the triumph of Soviet achievements in space travel, or indeed for the world-changing effects of the 1917 revolution. There is no audible trace of Warschawiankal The end of the piece is intense, but peculiarly restrained at the same time.

Dessaus’s strong partisan – yet at once critical – stance in his musical and political actions was valued highly by the politically committed composers on

2  Paul Dessau, Aus Gesprächen (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1974), published on the occasion of Paul Dessau’s 80th birthday, p. 17.

the Left in the „West.“ He was a close friend of Hans Werner Henze and Luigi Nono. We – the Dessau circle – met both from time to time at his house in Zeuthen, near Berlin. In Reggio Emilia, between 25 April and 2 May 1976, the Italian Left had organized a homage to Paul Dessau and a festival of music from the GDR (also with East German performers and the composers Siegfried Matthus, Georg Katzer and Wolfram Heicking). I also took part as a speaker and discussion partner. I was asked by Nono to hold a brief lecture on Dessau during the lunch break at an instrument engineering factory, which he translated simultaneously.

A circle of younger composers and musicians had formed around Dessau since the middle of the 1960s and 1970s: his students, his younger friends, for whom he was a teacher, an adviser, a helper and a partner in the broadest sense. In the GDR, these were the ones who composed subjectively autono­mous, subtly differentiated New Music, representing an independent modernity that was open to the world, advanced and – like Dessau – with political in­tentions. They gathered demonstratively at his grave, visible to all. He had forbidden any flowers, speeches or ceremony at his funeral, to avoid being

At the grave: Günter Neubert, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Friedrich Schenker, Günter Mayer, the oboist Burkhart Glatzner, Jörg Herchet, Friedrich Goldmann, Georg Katzer, Luca Lombard!, Christa Müller (musicologist), Hans Werner Henze, Reiner Bredemeyer and Albrecht Betz (a German scholar who was not part of the Dessau circle and found his way into the photo by chance).

praised by those of his comrades who had once misunderstood and condemned him.

The following was typical of this younger or middle generation of compos­ers (and the musicologists who supported them), along with Dessau and under his influence: critical distance from the ruling musical ideology and the corre­sponding evaluations, in an increasingly critical commitment to music as music, always connected to an ideal reflection on fundamental social experiences and contradictions that found their way into musical production as an aesthetic process. A typical aspect among composers of this orientation was a form of critical loyalty to the socialist perspective that was characterized by solidarity and commonality, a striving for social utility, and a political and musical vigi­lance of international dimensions. Dessau emphasized time and again that one should become acquainted with everything. In 1990, Frank Schneider formu­lated these particularities as specific to East German music in the following manner, speaking of „its rhetorical seriousness, its intensely gestural spirit of contradiction, its relative lack of outward, simply playful experimentation. … Composers in the GDR took the risk involved in experimenting with this difficult balance of an attempted unity of critically enlightened, political conscience and a strong authenticity of aesthetic configuration in a different way … to those in the FRG.“3 Also: „It was essentially this group that rapidly found resonance in West Germany and was resolutely supported. One need only recall the note­worthy GDR presence in Witten and more recently at the Donaueschinger Musiktage, the numerous works commissioned by West German institutions, the many radio programs with GDR music and the extensive archives, partic­ularly at the WDR and the Deutschlandfunk, which probably far exceed the productions of GDR radio stations.“4

4. Various Observations Regarding Friedrich Schenker in the GDR

Schenker was born in 1942 in Thuringia and grew up there. He studied in Leipzig from 1961-1964, was a student of Paul Dessau from 1973-1975, was principal trombonist of the Leipzig Radio Orchestra from 1964-1983, and has been a freelance composer in Berlin since 1990. He has meanwhile amassed an im­mense oeuvre about which Lachenmann wrote: „It unifies the expansion of the concept of musical material, as introduced by the Western European post-war avant-garde, with the grand expressive air that characterizes our symphonic

Tradition.5 Frank Schneider writes: „His music shocks the listener through its extraordinarily polyphonic compactness and its cataractic violence, through an expressive volcanism and those „unheard-of products of the sonic imagination that will undoubtedly have a disturbing effect on normal listening needs that bow to tradition.“ And: „He truly explores the unsheltered, unordered and uncomprehended regions between such established, seemingly incompatible positions as those of Mahler and Cage, Ives or Nono, Berg or Xenakis, in a productive and inventive way…. He thematicizes his culture-critical and political commitment time and again ‚with reference to mythological, historical, political, ecological and psychological subjects in ever new forms and new variants.'“6

Alongside concertante works for double bass, viola, flute, cello and violin, as well as countless chamber pieces,, one finds works with explicit critical-political content. For example: Symphonic In Memoriam Martin Luther King (1970), the orchestral pieces Epitaph für Neruda (1973), and Fanal Spanien 1936 (1981), or the chamber work Jessenin-Majakowski-Rezital (1981). The chamber piece Aria di bravoura per tenore e otto strumenti „Die Friedensfeier“ (1982), the orchestral piece Dona nobis pacem (1983), from 1987/88 Traum…Hoffnung…Ein deutsches Requiem (auf Karl und Rosa), the radio opera Die Gebeine Dantons (1987/89) and Commedia per musica (1988/89), for full orchestra and children’s choir.

One should also mention Kammerspiel II „Missa Nigra“ (1978) with the group „Gruppe Neue Musik Hanns Eisler,“ which Schenker founded in 1970 with the oboist Burkhardt Glatzner and six other musicians from the Leipzig Radio Orchestra and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. When the American government opened a new round of the arms race in 1978 with the building of the neutron bomb, Schenker responded with the protest piece Missa Nigra. Regarding the piece’s conception and the choice of texts, Schenker stated in 2001: „Alfred Polgar’s satire Kriegsperspektiven [War Perspectives] anticipates an atomic apocalypse. I also quote the Prussian military and the Catholic requiem mass for the purpose of mockery. If naked people turn up while the oath of allegiance is being taken, I am very much in favor of that. It is a newer possibility for mocking today’s military. … One has to remember that when the piece was written, in 1978, Honecker had clothed himself in Prussian heritage and discovered this history. My attack is therefore directed not only at the A-, H- and N-bombs, but also against German national chauvinism. To this end I quote from a blood­thirsty battle song by the ‚freedom poet‘ Theodor Körner.“7

3    Frank Schneider, 40 Jahre deutsch-deutsche Musik. Versuch einer Bilanz. Discussion carried out in May 1990 at the Akademie der Künste with Frank Michael Beyer, Klaus Ebbeke, Georg Katzer, Günter Mayer, Mathias Spahlinger and Jakob Ullmann, in hanseatenweg 10, 2/90, p. 29.

4    Ibid. p. 47.

5    Helmut Lachenmann, „Gratulation,“ in Landschaft für Schenker, Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Stefan Amzoll (Berlin: edition refugium, 2003), p. 58.

6    Frank Schneider, encyclopedia article „Friedrich Schenker,“ in Komponisten der Gegenwart, ed., Hanns-Werner Heister and Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer (Munich: text + kritik, 1992), p. 2.

7    Friedrich Schenker, „Du hast zu gehorchen,“ [You Must Obey] im Interview mit Stefan Amzoll, in Freitag 48, 23 November 2001,11/17.

Gerhard Müller writes about the work: „The intention was approved by the authorities, until they observed that Schenker not only rejected the American bombs, but considered all wars and arms races sheer madness. That was too much for some. The musical establishment of the city of Leipzig was outraged at the piece, and its performance was forbidden. Subsequently the musicians went to the SED district office and inquired as to whether criticism of imperialism and war was now forbidden in the GDR, and the secretary responsible took out the GDR constitution and was unable to find any such paragraph. So he banned the ban, and one evening this black mass against all wars took place in the banqueting hall of the old town hall. No one who experienced it will ever forget it. The scenery was cloaked in a pale light. The conductor, Christian Münch, entered the stage and shot himself, continuing the performance as a corpse. The concert became theater. The musicians appeared wearing ghostly white shrouds with owl-like winged masks created by the painter Hartwig Ebersbach – another enfant terrible of the colorful Leipzig art scene. And so the dead of coming wars performed an insane dance on the volcano, with the grim reaper as master of ceremonies. At the end, the dead themselves hung the dolls of their dead children on the gallows. Those who witnessed this shuddered at such macabre phantasmagoria.“8

The piece was performed both in the GDR and abroad, for example at the Festival des politischen Liedes in East Berlin as well as in Monte Pulciano, Zurich, etc. It was performed once again in the solo version on 11 October 2004.

processed in the electronic studio of the TIP (Theater im Palast, Berlin)… Following the premiere by Gerhard Erber in 1983 (broadcast live by the TIP), the use of the Brecht quotation ‚Let us sing  -even in dark times‘ earned me an ominous warning from the culture authorities.“

Georg Katzer was „summoned“ by the First Secretary of the Komponisten-verband [Composers‘ Association]. He had the complete text before him and asked what its statement was: he was missing a positive stance. He had every reason to do so, for the text claims provocatively that art has nothing to do with life, and adds: „We believe we have met the recent demand for positivity in our work.“ The First Secretary also criticized the „defeatist stance“-though this did not have any negative consequences for the composer. Katzer recently wrote to me about this First Secretary (Peter Spahn): „I cannot say whether I am wrong, I never took him for a swine; but of course he was milked, and had to let himself be milked.“

Of the composers in the Dessau circle, it was Georg Katzer who occupied himself most with electro-acoustic music, for example in Aide Memoire. Zwölf Albträume aus der 1000jährigen Nacht [Twelve Nightmares from the Thousand-Year Night] (1983). This work, an acoustic reminiscence of the Third Reich using original recordings of Hitler’s speeches, was commissioned by Radio DDR II on the 5Oth anniversary of the Nazi book burnings. Katzer was also addressing the reality of the GDR – especially in the chapter „Erziehung und Bespitzelung“ [Education and Spying]. These allusions were very much understood.

5. Georg Katzer in the GDR

Georg Katzer was born in 1935, studied in Berlin and Prage and was a student of Eisler from 1961-1963, then of Leo Spies. He has been a freelance composer since 1963.

Speaking about his Ballade vom zerbrochenen Klavier [Ballad of the Broken Piano], Katzer told me the following: „The idea for the composition came to me on a walk: I discovered the ruin of a piano in the forest. The surreal situation, resembling a picture by Max Ernst, made me think. Was this sad wreck not standing there as a symbol? How does a person, how does society deal with music, are we right to let it transport us ‚to a better world,‘ as Schubert recommends to us in agreement with his poet Schober? Reflecting on this led to a text, which I subsequently set. It is heard partly from the pianist, who is singing and speaking, and partly from the tape, which uses the fascinating sounds I was still able to coax from the moribund instrument. The last sighs and screams of this instrument punished by passers-by, however, were further

8  Gerhard Müller, „Der historische Kontrapunktist,“ in Landschaft für Schenker (see footnote 5), P.73.

6. Reiner Bredemeyer In the GDR

Bredemeyer lived from 1925-1995; he moved from Munich to East Germany in 1954, encouraged by Paul Dessau. He studied with Wagner-Regeny and was assessed negatively by Eisler.9 From 1961 onwards he was musical director at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.10 Bredemeyer was probably the only composer in the GDR who reacted very quickly-without any external requests-to current political events with musical „feature articles.“ When a Korean passenger aircraft was „mistakenly“ shot down by Soviet interceptors in September 1983, he set the press reports justifying it only a few days after their publication in a composition for choir and percussion, which he entitled 269 to commemorate the number of civilian deaths. He used the following reports:

9 Harms Eisler, „Uber die Arbeiten Bredemeyers,“ in Musik und Politik. Schriften 2948-1962, critical edition by Günter Mayer (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag fur Musik, 1982), pp. 367 ff.

10   See Frank Schneider, „Reiner Bredemeyer,“ in Momentaufnahme. Notate zu Musik und Musikern in der DDR (Leipzig: Reclams Universal-Bibliothek Nr. 785,1979), pp. 47-61, and „Diskurse heiterer Vernunft. Neuere Kammermusik von Reiner Bredemeyer,“ in: MusikTexte. Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, issue 33/34, April 1990, pp. 89-92.

„Ascending Soviet jet fighters from the air defense attempted to assist the airplane in reaching the nearest airfield. Despite having invaded the Soviet air space, however, the aircraft did not react to the signals and warning of the Soviet fighters and continued its flight towards the Japanese Sea.“11 And: „As the intruder still made no reaction to the instructions to follow the jets to a Soviet airfield, and instead attempted to escape, the interceptor from the air defense carried out the order from central command to stop the flight.12

There are numerous compositions of this kind by Bredemeyer, many of them existing only in manuscript form, for example Einmischung in unsere Angelegenheit [Meddling in Our Affairs], recitatives and arias for bass and full orchestra on words of Michail Gorbachev with a quotation from V. I. Lenin (1985, manuscript); Post-Modem for mixed choir and four horns on an ADN report from 19 November 1988 (1988, manuscript), Triostucke 3 in fünf Sätzen for viola, guitar and double bass using two texts by Heiner Geissler and Manfred Wörner (1983, published by Peters Leipzig); Nebenbei gesagt [As an Aside], recitatives and arias for bass and orchestra on answers by Kurt Hager (together with an Adenauer credo) (1987, manuscript); Kohlrabiates for two speakers, speaking choir and percussion on an interview with Helmut Kohl from 1986.13

7. Friedrich Schenker in the FRG

If one looks at the pieces of many different kinds written by Schenker after 1990, it is clear that he has remained true to his critical musical and political orien­tation: still musically advanced and politically aware. His „Allemandes,“ espe­cially the fourth, do not thematicize German dances so much as the political egg dances in and around Germany.

Let us consider the orchestral piece …ins Endlose … [into the Infinite], commissioned in 1992 by the ORF for the Graz Musikprotokoll that same year. He was concerned with the American celebrations taking place at that time: 500 years since the discovery of a continent. Schenker referred not to the ideology of the Columbus world anniversary of discovery, conquest and domination, but rather to Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel America, in which he described America without ever having been there – as was true of Schenker until 1992 (though he was certainly familiar with Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Wolfe, Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Rauschenberg, Rothko, Warhol and Pollock – and of course with Charles Ives, Elliot Carter, George Crumb, John Cage and Morton Feldman).

Schenker was fascinated by Kafka’s question: „How can a subject assert itself in a context where the subject is swallowed by the masses, where every­thing can apparently be bought?“14 In his commentary on the work he writes: „Images of abrupt change, new beginnings and unrest, automation, of the ineffability of geographical dimensions and economic undertakings, of dom­ination of and threat to the world, of people as masses and/or individuals accompanied me and motivated me in my compositional work.“15 Schenker took his title from a letter written by Kafka to Felice Bauer: „The story I am writing, though it is conceived as extending ad infinitum … is set entirely in the United States of America.“16

8. Georg Katzer in the FRG

Georg Katzer also retained his advanced and critical stance after 1990. In the GDR he had never made such controversial political statements as Schenker did (and continues to do), but nonetheless formulated a political position, at times almost sarcastically. Regarding his electronic piece Les paysages fleurissants -laudate (for 4-channel tape) he wrote: „Supposedly everything is different compared to before. One does not need to worry about that. Nor does one need to worry that anyone might actually notice.“ About the work: „The labor of beginning, the constant failures, the regressions to beautiful melancholy, resig­nation, silence-but then the saving bell, the market is booming, progress is rife, greedily devouring itself, accompanied by the triumphantly resounding 16-foot pipe: Laudate, laudate!“

The approximately twelve-minute piece is derived entirely from two com­monly known sounds and is thus located in the tradition of musique concrete. Admittedly, however, the starting material is modified to the point of unrecognizability in order to obtain an almost constantly saturated sound spectrum from the second section onwards.

In the context of a well-known prophetic promise made by Helmut Kohl, the piece can certainly also be taken as having sarcastic connotations relating to the economy in parts of Germany. This „also“ is important, as it is primarily a compositional game with noise-like sounds, formed in classical fashion with suitable irony as an introduction-allegro-coda.“17

11   TASS announcement of 2 September 1983.

12   TASS announcement of 7 September 1983.

13   Reiner Bredemeyer, „Musik und Realität, Legungen am Schreibtisch: Offen-, Ober-, Zurecht-,“ in MusikTexte. Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, issue 33/34, April 1990, pp. 92-95.

14   Friedrich Schenker, Du hast zu gehorchen (footnote 7), p.u.

15   Ibid., pp.ioff.

16   Quoted by Stefan Amzoll in the booklet for Friedrich Schenker, WERGO CD 1996, p. 12.

17   Georg Katzer, letter to the author, August 2004, information for the hosting of the concert on 11 October 2004.


9. Reiner Bredemeyer in the FRG

Bredemeyer also continued his own characteristic practice, already begun in the GDR, of critical composition with brief documentary-musical commentaries in the FRG. Thus in 1990 he composed rauh an Rau, using a statement by the Bundespräsident Johannes Rau that the reunification of the GDR and the FRG had made Germany larger. Referring to the catchphrase of „blooming land­scapes“ propagated after the reunification, Bredemeyer composed Quartettstück 4 AUFSCHWUNG 0ST für Klavier, Oboe, Schlagzeug und Tuba in 1993 – with the additional note: „with misuse on trust of no. 2 from the Phantasiestücke op. 12 by Robert Schumann.“

His program note, showing his typical predilection for suggestive plays on words: „The pseudo-pathetic F minorish-sinister ‚Schumann‘ is not destroyed, broken or devastated, but rather broken up, interrupted, trebled and deliber­ately (as dictated by the title) – also in a listener-friendly manner – slowed down. The frequently swerving, title-sabotaging counterpoints are allowed to crow dominantly three times. The important, over-weighty ‚trio‘ (0/S/T) is supposed to ‚be in charge,‘ although the quantities of notes would allow different conclusions. Overhangs and instructions can be quite inconsiderate. Any other ’nastinesses‘ suggested by the title should be brought into play. The man from Zwickau who went westward was driven mad by the world there, as we know (it is a matter for speculation whether the proximity to Bonn could have had a part in that). The final, eighth piece from his op. 12 is called ‚Ende vom Lied‘ [End of the Song, also Moral of the Story], and is supposed to be played ‚with good humor.“ This naturally presupposes the small, but rare ability of self-irony together with great skill, and the pianist in ‚Quartettstücke 4‚ requires the same: he should begin fully in command -but ends18 with a claim to sole representation.“19

10. Herrmann Keller Today

Herrmann Keller was born in 1945, is a classically trained pianist, studied in Weimar and East Berlin from 1963-1971, is active primarily as a composer and improviser, and lives in Berlin.

In spring 2004 he performed a piano piece interrupted by shorter and longer pauses, during which he spoke words of commemoration for the victims of reactionary politics. The stimulus had come from a pamphlet his son had brought home from school, where the Iraq policy of the US administration under

Bush Jr. is criticized harshly. Title Mehr als 4:33 [More Than 4:33] refers to the famous piece by John Cage, in which the pianist does not play a single note during those four minutes and 33 seconds. Keller took up this idea of silence and gave it a political function.

11. Ralf Hoyer

Another figure who can be considered part of „critical composition“ in East Germany is the Berlin composer Ralf Hoyer. He was born in 1950, studied sound engineering at the Hochschule für Musik „Hanns Eisler“ from 1968-1975, worked for VEB Deutsche Schallplatten from 1975-1978, studied composition at the Akademie der Künste der DDR with Ruth Zechlin and Georg Katzer from 1978-1980, and has worked as a freelance composer since 1981.

I am including him here because the concert and subsequent discussion on 11 October 2004 included one of his works. The piece was Allgemeine Erwartung-Aktion fur 2 Klaviere und einen Schauspieler [General Expectation – Event for 2 pianos and one actor] on a text by Volker Braun, composed in 1979. It was premiered in 1980 at the second Volker Braun evening at the Berlin En­semble with Ekkehard Schall. Hoyer writes about the work: „In the text, Volker Braun uses the empty words and party catchphrases of our times and puts them in the mouth of a worker who, standing by his machine, ’starts thinking… until we lay aside our blind faith like soggy newspapers and ask: what can we really expect?‘ The piece has been performed several times, and each performance was endangered. The broadcast of a television recording, made under adventur­ous conditions during the 1984 DDR-Musiktage, was prohibited. It was impos­sible for the composer to obtain a recording; the authorities evidently feared illegal distribution. In summer 1989, the piece was finally recorded for an LP in the Lukas-Kirche in Dresden, with Jörg Gudzun and the two pianists Susanne Stelzenbach and Thomas Just, but it was never released. Formally speaking, the piece takes up the old genre of the melodrama, while in terms of compositional technique there are many details that can be attributed to Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whose writings I occupied myself intensely during that time.“20

12. In Conclusion

Let us return to the problem area sketched at the start. I quote a statement made by Frank Schneider in 1990: „Whereas the leading composers of the older generation further refined their individual styles, the music of their students

18   Translator’s note: in the original, Bredemeyer uses „Endenich,“ the name of the town in which Schumann settled, as the verb, suggesting something archaic in the manner of „endeth“.

19   Note in the score, 1993.

20 Ralf Hoyer, letter to the author, August 2004, information for the hosting of the concert on

11 October 2004.

articulates an underlying feeling of fracture and powerlessness that seems to correspond to their existential helplessness amidst the ever more dominant intellectual dearth and political apathy, to the sponsored delirium of entertain­ment and the dwindling performance opportunities. Without any truly binding models from within or without, without faith in the old doctrines of progress from the East or the West, creative subjectivity risks turning into a non-commit­tal subjectivism in which every composer satisfies his or her own personal preferences, follows privatistic conceptions and draws on the most hetero­geneous sources brought to him/her by the winds between San Francisco and Shanghai. This younger generation is showing an increasing disinterest in restricting itself to compositional criteria of the classical European tradition, or indeed a constructive critique thereof. Rather, it also articulates its disturbed relationship with it in the light – one could say – of the new post-modern, global sound experiences, for example out of interest in archaic forms, non-European models of music-making, or the boundless manipulative possibilities of com­puter-assisted creation and electronic sound production.21

Question: is this not still relevant? Is the direction taken in the past and seamlessly continued by the older generation, namely composing in a material-centered or function-centered manner that is both advanced and critical, really „out“? And can the meanwhile stale post-modern rejection of well-worn critical political positions – present-day positions are no longer identical to earlier positions – still be justified? As the contradictions in society have not dis­appeared, but are in fact becoming stronger, critical reaction on the part of the composer, at least as a thinking citizen, is in itself necessary for survival. Should this not affect one’s work as a musician?

21   Frank Schneider, 40 Jahre deutsch-deutsche Musik (footnote 3), p. 47 ff. I 184

This text is published in: Critical Composition Today, Edited by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Hofheim 2006, 171-184