de en

Wolfgang Rihm in Darmstadt

Without any doubt Wolfgang Rihm can be viewed as one of the most important, most played, most listened to and most discussed composers of our time. Rihm’s oeuvre today comprises more than 500 works, and on March 13 in 2022, this exceptional artist celebrated his 70th birthday. On this occasion, we are looking into the IMD archive to review his time at the Darmstadt Summer Course, which began 52 years ago.

In 1970, the year in which the Summer Course floundered in the post-68 turmoil and subsequently changed from an annual to a biennial event rhythm, Wolfgang Rihm came to Darmstadt for the first time as a participant at the young age of 18. His hometown of Karlsruhe made it possible for him to participate with a scholarship. After that he came to Darmstadt four more times as a participant, but already stood out at his second participation in 1972 with the cello piece Grat, which had just been premiered. In 1974 the pianist Cristian Petrescu then presented the first of several world premieres of Rihm’s works in Darmstadt: Klavierstück Nr. 4 had its premiere on August 6, 1974 in Studio Concert IV at the Georg Büchner School. Rihm’s early Darmstadt years in particular are emblematic of the composer’s astonishing career. In 1978, at the age of just 26, he presented his weighty, hour-long Musik für drei Streicher (Music for Three Strings), gave the programmatic and often-cited lecture “Der geschockte Komponist” (“The Shocked Composer”), and was awarded the Kranichstein Music Prize at the end of the Summer Course. The free-spirit that Wolfgang Rihm already was at that time caused a sensation. For unlike many before him, Rihm once again confidently stood by subjective compositional decisions and pleaded for freedom from constricting musical systems.

When Rihm returned to Darmstadt in 1980, he was no longer a participant, but from then on a lecturer at the Summer Courses: he took over a composition course and coordinated the composition studios. In 1982, together with Helmut Lachenmann, who was 17 years older, he gave a seminar entitled “Composers’ Dialogue Helmut Lachenmann – Wolfgang Rihm”. The different aesthetic positions of the two were clearly formulated. Rihm remembers, however, “that we always tried to enrich the other’s position through our own understanding and not just to trump it.” Until 1990, Rihm was a guest at every Summer Course edition in Darmstadt, then – not least due to a lack of time during the summer weeks – repeatedly took breaks, but returned just as regularly. In 2002, 2004 and 2008, 13 works were presented in larger event blocks, very recent ones from the beginning of the 2000s, somewhat more distant ones from the 1990s, but also again the great Music for Three Strings with trio recherche, most recently in 2016, when the series “Rückspiegel” looked back on 70 years of Summer Course history. Now that Wolfgang Rihm is celebrating his 70th birthday, he is without question an important part of the Darmstadt history, yesterday as well as today. We congratulate him very warmly!

Wolfgang Rihm: Der geschockte Komponist, Lecture at the Darmstadt Summer Course 1978 (Excerpt, in German,  B007291269)

„But I am not looking for sophistication in sound. I am looking for the rumbling in the sound. Actually, I am looking for a much less beautiful sound than you have. With the noisiness of your sonority, a much more beautiful sound actually arises than with the formal, banal philharmonic situation with me, driven into fortissimo.” (Wolfgang Rihm to Helmut Lachenmann in the seminar 1982, Discussion about the term “structure”, B016240187)

“Are there mistakes in art? Actually, music cannot be ‘wrong’: For even the violation of rules within an accepted syntactic method strategy is a moment of truth, and even possible potential for growth. Through mutation often more arises than through construction (…).” (from the lecture “Neotonalität?” 1984, part 2, B016493559)