Huber Conducts Rihm

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«Huber Conducts Rihm»


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Wolfgang Rihm Sphäre um Sphäre,
Vier Male.


Andreas Schablas (Clarinet).

œnm . österreichisches ensemble für neue musik – Rupert Huber.

Wolfgang Rihm, a native of Karlsruhe, occupied himself with painting, literature and music early on. He began writing music at age nine and studied composition, already as a schoolboy, with Eugen Werner Velte in his native city and later with Wolfgang Fortner. He first attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses in 1970. There followed further studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne (composition), Klaus Huber (composition) and Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (musicology) in Freiburg. His breakthrough work was the orchestral piece Morphonie – Sektor IV at the Donaueschingen Music Days in 1974. Rihm received numerous prizes and awards, including: Rome Prize of the Villa Massimo (1979), Beethoven Prize of the City of Bonn (1981), Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (2003), Federal Cross of Merit (1989), Large Federal Cross of Merit (2011), Federal Cross of Merit with Star (2014) and the European Church Music Prize (2017). Rihm’s teaching activities began in 1973, and he has been Professor of Composition at the Karlsruhe Music Academy since 1985. He lives in Karlsruhe and Berlin.

Wolfgang Rihm is doubtless one of the most successful composers of our time and can meanwhile look back on an enormous œuvre that can hardly be classified within a single stylistic direction. Early influences from the “sister arts”, a comprehensive humanistic education, initial influences from his teachers and the Schönberg school, naturally always corresponding to a strong link with the classical-romantic tradition and a very personal expressivity, result in a highly individual musical language; at times, it is refreshingly at odds with the currently dominant ideology of the New Music. Operas such as Jakob Lenz, The Hamlet Machine and Oedipus, Lieder and choral works show Rihm’s strong (essentially related to Orlando di Lasso) basis in texts, revealing a highly individual profile with his large-scale, colourful, gesturally rich orchestral pieces and wide variety of chamber and ensemble music.

Wolfgang Rihm has remained true to his compositional credo of 1974 to the present day: “My way of working is often vegetative. This gives me the possibility of following my material at places where it grows by itself – finding more than I am looking for. Composing must be open, not the form. It is important to me to compose musical works. A work, for me, is primarily a summation of expressive values whose joining together occurs because of a secondary formal decision per se. The form is itself an expressive value.”

Wolfgang Rihm stated in his programme notes (apparently arduously wrested from him) for the ensemble recherche in October 2003: “We live in a time that believes in words. Many consider music to be another form of text. Perhaps it is, but surely its text is not one made of words. Nonetheless we place texts in front of and next to the music: words, sentences, opinions. A game of meanings without consideration for what really sounds well. A composer who ‘says’ something with words about his music is a charming idiot at best; at worst an impostor. The refusal to provide a text is also a text.”
This problem is faced even more by one who writes analytical or emotionally penetrating articles about other people’s music. Think of Franz Grillparzer (“Described music is like a menu without food“) or of Alban Berg who, after his intricate Wozzeck self-analysis, asked the audience to forget everything and just go to the opera. And we are nonetheless attempting to track down the works of Wolfgang Rihm. In his own words, if possible.

Sphäre um Sphäre for ensemble (1992 / 2003)

According to Wolfgang Rihm, “text families arise over the years. Some pieces carry genetic material within them that went out into the world decades ago.” This is also quite clear in Sphäre um Sphäre (Sphere around Sphere) “or rather: it became indistinct in a clear way, for the transformation and erosion of the texts is an element of their expressive transformation, indispensable for their shape that is revealed to be in constant transformation.” In this case, the constant transformation began in 1990 with the piece …et nunc, to which a solo piano part was added in the second version; this solo part was then “released” (Nachstudie – Post-Study), before it became Sphäre nach Studie and finally “as in the medieval parody masses”, an integral component of Sphäre um Sphäre in 2003 – “in which new sonic spheres around sonic spheres formulate themselves around the ‘old material’.

The way I express this is intentional and conscious: ‘they formulate themselves’. For my task seemed increasingly to be that of a helper who enables growth potentials to correspondingly develop their autonomy. Sphäre um Sphäre therefore stands at the final point, so far, towards which the ‘old’ genetic material from the early 1990s developed after having embarking upon its initial path.” (A second path led to a large series of orchestral works.) The correlation with the work series Über die Linie (Above the Line) is also important to Rihm: “it is bound to the phenomenon of the melodic pull, the melic flow.” And: “the purest and perhaps most radical is the unreachable quality that constantly ‘escapes’ in the middle of these attempts, as well as the decisive question: how and whither does the energy continue to flow? It gradually succeeded in liberating itself from of a sequence of vertical (‘cuneiform’) settings, something like the surface of singing. Compositions like Sphäre um Sphäre are also to be understood when viewed from this idea. Also.”

Vier Male Pieces for clarinet in A (2000)

Four times? Simply four times clarinet solo and still four times (German: Male) in the sense of Denkmal (monument), Grabmal (tomb), whatever. With these pieces, Rihm constantly leads the clarinet in A to the limits of its sonic space by means of extreme gestures – high registers, sharply contoured dynamics, alternations between triple piano and triple forte. The clarinet soli can be heard as a “course of lines”, as the “stroke of a brush”: the Vier Male are “not so much the development of a germ cell as the trace of a searching movement” (Ulrich Mosch). The four movements are different: the first one is indicated “Freely, not quickly”, the second “Very slowly, as if from far away”, the third “In urgent agitation” and the fourth “Slowly” – indications that are reminiscent of those of Robert Schumann or Gustav Mahler, probably not purely by chance.

Séraphin–Sphäre for ensemble (1993–1996 / 2006)

The most recent work by Wolfgang Rihm included here, premiered in 2006, is another example of the constant transformation of themes for the constantly renewing “harmonies of the spheres” (Kepler). For Séraphin–Sphäre is based on a stage work premiered in 1993 in its first version and in 1996 in its “second state”: Séraphin. Versuch eines Theaters (Séraphin. Attempt at a Theatre) for voices (without texts) and instruments based on the manifesto of the same name by the French theatrical visionary Antonin Artaud (1896–1948), frequently called the “Father of Performance”, founder of the “Theatre of Cruelty” – not theatre as action, but theatre as action itself. The source of Artaud’s inspiration, Charles Baudelaire’s (1821–1867) “Séraphin” essay on theatre in the “artificial paradise” of a hashish intoxication, was the godfather of this music theatre far removed from conventional opera. In Séraphin–Sphäre the further developed worlds of “Séraphin” are linked with those of the “Sphären”.

Let us leave the last word to Wolfgang Rihm: “When I now leave again the superficial surface of this text about a programme in order to return to the essential realm of compositional work, […], am I now doing this as an idiot or as an impostor? Let us be merciful and concede to me a mixtum compositum: I do it as a composer.”

Gottfried Franz Kasparek
Translation: David Babcock

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