Sunday, 14 March 2010

Wolfgang Rihm, Barbican and Wilhelm Killmayer

Fabulous Total Immersion Day on Wolfgang Rihm at the Barbican London, on his birthday, too. What's more the concerts are being broadcast on 3 over the next few weeks so anyone can listen, online, on demand, internationally for 7 days after broadcast. This means "real" total immersion because the best way to really get to know new works is to listen, again and again. And with Rihm, that's rewarding. One of the big, unfamiliar works is an hour long Concerto Séraphin which you need time to absorb. More on the day's concerts later and also about Rihm himself - wonderful man. (Scroll down or search for the Arditti Quartet Rihm concert.)

And Wilhelm Killmayer? One of Rihm's heroes, which makes him important. Checking Amazon, there are only a few recordings listed, but go to Schott Music, his publishers, for scores. And to JPC for many more recordings, and at much better prices than Amazon.

Why Killmayer? If Rihm thinks he's his mentor, so should others. Killmayer (b 1927) is an exact contemporary of Boulez and Henze but hardly known outside western Germany. He once quipped that he started writing more in his 60's because he got married and promptly had 3 more kids and needed the money! But seriously, his music is very good indeed. Over the next few weeks, I'll write more about him because there's next to nothing in English. (There's even a biography in German.)

Killmayer's Hölderlin-Lieder is exceptional. In fact I'd say that it's one of the best art song cycles written in the last 60 years. Since song is my big thing this is no minor praise. This is a very important cycle because it's so beautiful. Moreover, it's Hölderlin. Hölderlin's late poetry really came into its own in the 20th century, when people could appreciate the "madman ravings" as something more esoteric. Many exist only in broken fragments, so setting them to music is an exercise in writing for silence, for dislocated, disjointed expression. There are many 20th century Hölderlin settings, but Killmayer's make a virtue of their fragmentary, visionary spirit.

Killmayer even revisited Heine, and the Schumann settings in particular. His Heine-Lieder are wonderful, an extremely useful adjunct to Schumann. No CD available at the moment, but Schott should have the score. It's essential reading, because it shows how a modern composer relates to Schumann and the Lieder tradition, but reinvents it anew.

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