And the richest composer prize on earth goes to…

And the richest composer prize on earth goes to…


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2014

… yawn … Wolfgang Rihm.

The prolific German composer, 62, was awarded $100,000 today for IN-SCHRIFT, a 15-minute work for which he has already been handsomely rewarded when commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic for the 50th anniversary of their concert hall.

Rihm is probably the busiest living German composer, with commissions to last him three lifetimes.


There must surely have been a more exciting work of new music premiered somewhere during 2013-14 for the Grawemeyer judges to consider.

Nominations for the alternative Grawemeyer?


  • Martin says:

    I just asked myself if I have ever heared a piece by this composer which I am eager to hear again?
    The answer is a resounding NO!

  • W White says:

    I was certain this article would be about Andrew Lloyd Webber.

  • Gabby Cadaver says:

    I haven’t heard In-Schrift 2 (the piece that won the prize — Slipped Disc should perhaps clarify this), but I have heard its predecessor, In-Schrift, from 1995, which is a rather unappetizing blend of minimalism and horror movie rumblings. Alternative nominations (assuming that we are talking only about German composers)? Aribert Reimann, Christfried Schmidt, and (possibly) Isabel Mundry. If you extend the list to composers not born in Germany but living there for a long time, an obvious addition would be Gloria Coates.

  • Luk Vaes says:

    Much would depend on the criteria that the University of Louisville decided to apply to the nominees. Maybe it was something on the line of “let’s give some money to a poor composer so that, maybe, he can take some lessons”?

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    Rihm is the only interesting composer working today who is a refreshing presence in a world where simple tonal-ism seems to be rearing it’s ugly head again in the Academy. I for one applaud their decision to give him this reward, but he deserves double this amount!

    • muslit says:

      ‘tonal-ism’ has been rearing its head for quite some time now. rhim is actually old-hat.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        Muslit, I am not a big fan of Rihm either, but you must understand that your opinion would be worth a whole lot more if you actually knew how to spell the man’s name.

    • Richard Dubugnon says:

      Mr Boring, are you one of those Atonallahs ? If tonality has an “ugly head” for you, that counts for minimum 5 centuries of music which has proved its worth… It’s a fact now that the exclusive avant-garde nihilists got it all wrong : post-serialism was not the only possible future for music. Luckily, nowadays there is room for everybody ! except for narrow-minded fanatics whom we are tired of.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed…. and not only narrow-minded fanatics but utterly unmusical people who cannot tell the difference between a squeeking gate and a Beethoven symphony. The new music territory is populated with many such people.

        For people who have missed this:

      • Boring Fileclerk says:

        If having a proper musical education is being “narrow-minded”, then I guess I am, as are most of the greats of music’s past, and future.

        • Richard Dubugnon says:

          OK Mr Boring, ( what a telling nickname you got to yourself ! ) let’s see how properly educated you are by revealing yourself !

  • JAMA11 says:

    Are we talking about the Grawemeyer Award here? Norman doesn’t actually say.

    Should this award be limited to composers whose music Norman approves of?

  • Urania says:

    I do not care…this poor planet is runing behing….history will tell…..200 years from now…then I might sit in a different cosmos, certainly the music will sound different…

  • John Borstlap says:

    Maybe ‘In-Schrift 2’ is better than nr 1. In nr 1 Rihm tries to write more musically than in his older works: more tonally, but in the same time anxiously clings to the conventional fragmented gestures that have become the utter cliché in ‘new music’ since 1945, spastic uncontrollable jerks with some kitchen sink equipment thrown-in for effect. What does the music ‘say’? The pretentious, but empty dreariness of modern city life.

    His recent ‘Lichtes Spiel’ for violin and orchestra is better: not wanting to offend Mrs Mutter too much with Nachkriegschuldbewältigungsmusik, he turned to an aesthetic reminiscent of the early 20th century, when music was still rooted in tradition.

    Since there is nothing better around, or: nothing better that has caught the eye/ear of committees desperate to give some meaning to the pot of money entrusted to them, it is people like Rihm who greatly profit from the crisis of contemporary music in the West.

  • william osborne says:

    The purpose of the Grawemeyer Award is not to grace the composer, but rather for Grawemeyer to reward itself by buying a famous composers name. This sort of self-promotion tells us something about the sensibilities of the “elite” University of Louisville.

    To further the irony, the Louisville Orchestra filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and now works with only 55 low paid musicians and 16 part timers. And Louisville ranks 457th in the world for opera performances per year. Never mind, buy yourself some association with famous composers. We’re all so impressed…

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      You’re just ticked off because your own career as a composer went nowhere.

      • william osborne says:

        As most readers know, “Michael Schaffer,” is the pseudonym of a German in Berlin who claims to be a real person, and who deeply resents my articles and commentary about sexism and racism in German-speaking orchestras–especially the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics. The poor fellow is sensitive about anything that might tarnish his Vaterland’s image of superiority…

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          The above is still my real name, no matter how often you say it isn’t. I am German, but I don’t live in Berlin, I live in the US. You must realize that it just makes you look more and more ridiculous every time you say that, as if that was even relevant in a forum in which many post anonymously – which I am not a big fan of myself, that’s why I started using my own full name rather than just my first name.

          I don’t “resent” your articles. I think these are important subjects. But I also think you are a completely irrelevant person, a failed composer who just wants to abuse these and related subjects to draw attention to himself. And who often gets his facts wrong. That doesn’t help.

          You must also understand that your very low attempts at smearing me – and others who have disagreed with you here – as a racist and nationalist just make you look even more ridiculous, and that these primitive ad hominem attacks reveal much more about your true character and your lack of class than you seem to realize.

          But thanks for at least getting my name right this time.

      • John Borstlap says:


  • Eric says:

    Let’s not be blase about respect for contemporary music. Sure, we all may not like everything out there, but this award is a significant achievement for a composer few really know. I hope it means a little more attention to his oeuvre.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The reason composers like Rihm are relatively unknown to the wider music audience, is not because there are not enough prizes awarded to contemporary composers, but because new music after 1945 created its own sphere, separated from the central performance culture, and breaking away from its fundamentals. Rihm’s works will never, ever, be part of the repertoire of the central performance culture as the music of Britten and Shostakovich have become, simply because Rihm never accepted the mentioned fundamentals and always wanted to be part of the ‘modern gang’. His flirtations with older aesthetics are like someone occupying a small and uncomfortable hotel room and occasionally peeping into the luxury bride suite – although his small room is paid for extremely generously. But somehow it is not so nice to stay there and the view is deplorable (it always rains at that window).

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    I found the following work by my admired composer Kancheli most interesting than any of the silences of Rhim. I hope to no disturb anybody but I rather prefer to imagine that in Lousiville nobody had the chance to listen to it. And you?

    So if Kancheli never had the chance to be awarded with Styx do you think any of the composers recently awarded deserves the prize?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Beautiful piece. Of course this piece deserves the prize that went to Rihm, who could never write anything like that.

      Prizes are, in general, not for original and able artists but for the conventional ones who conform to some broad consensus related to the establishment.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Styx by Kancheli – yes, a great piece, I played that in an orchestra myself a few years ago.

  • Richard Dubugnon says:

    why not give it to my Helvetia – Alpine flight, commissioned by Verbier Festival, with the Verbier Festival Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano ?

    I personally could do very well with $ 100.000 it would help feed my family. Because one doesn’t say it often enough, it is almost impossible to make a living as a contemporary composer, no matter what, “tonal oder atonal” !

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Did you seriously just nominate yourself?

      • Richard Dubugnon says:

        just joking, mate 😉 I think a good composer should remain poor

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          I think we can arrange that. I can give you a prize – without prize money, of course, after all, we don’t want to spoil you! I have to make up an award first though.
          I wouldn’t want to name it after myself, that’s a little pretentious, so I am thinking about naming it after my dear friend (see above) William Osborne.
          Of course, I will have to watch the video first, so I can’t promise anything at this point.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wolfgang Rihm is a titan of contemporary composition. He has deserved this prize for years and finally been recognized for his extraordinary talent. It’s a shame to see so many haters on here but I guess music that challenges convention has always drawn harsh criticism.