Death of a serious German composer, 88

Death of a serious German composer, 88


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2018

The eminent Berlin composer Dieter Schnebel has died of heart disease.

An assiduous post-modernist, influenced by Stockhausen and John Cage, he applied serialist methodology to liturgical themes. He also wrote orchestral tributes to Schubert, Mahler and Janacek.


  • Guido Rückel says:

    Great Composer and a wonderful teacher!!

  • Conte says:

    He was at the Philharmonie, two weeks ago, to see the Symphonieorchester der UdK Berlin playing his “Mahler-Moment, aus: Re-Visionen II, Satz 4” (and Mahler’s 9th). Got quite some warm applause in the end of the concert. May he rest in peace

  • JoBe says:

    His “Dahlemer Messe” is a beautiful work, although slightly overblown. He was quite consciously competing with Bach and Beethoven for monumentality, and narrowly failed.

    Other 20th-century German composers have put out huge masses modelled on the “Mass in B minor” and the “Missa solemnis” as well: Wilhelm Petersen (“Grosse Messe”) and Volker David Kirchner (“Missa Moguntina”). Both very interesting, too.

  • John Borstlap says:

    His ‘Schubert-Phantasie’ (1978/1989) is interesting. It uses the 1st mvt of Schubert’s late piano sonata in G major (D 894) and adds a layer of thin string clusters over the original music, which gives an alienating effect.

    I always suspect such procedures hint at the undelying wish to compose ‘oldfashioned tonal music’ but well, after WW II ‘you can no longer do that’, certainly not in Germany because Schubert ‘belonged to the culture that produced the holocaust’. However, using ‘old music’ as an ‘objet trouvé’ and placing it in an alien context, offers generous nostalgia.

    It does sound beautiful, though.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      “Schubert ‘belonged to the culture that produced the holocaust”

      Any suggestions for further reading on this?

      • John Borstlap says:

        In his ‘In Bluebeard’s Castle’ George Steiner harps on the idea that the holocaust is the inevitable outcome of Western civilization, overlooking the simple point that morbid reactions against Enlightenment thinking don’t mean that Enlightenment in itself is therefore wrong.

        After WW II a total break with the culture of the past was seen as the only way forward in German music: hence, atonal modernism began its symbolism of being ‘on the right side of history’ because the nazis had condemned it. (Vegetarianism and an alcoholfree diet escaped that taboo, though, although Hitler was a teetotaller.) So, moralizing + modernism went hand in hand, so that ‘tonal composers’ got tainted with supposed fascist sympathies.

        The quick restoration, in Germany, of the central, classical performance culture meant schizophrenia: on one hand a museum culture which celebrated the contemporaneanity of the musical past, and on the other a new music circuit based upon the fierce rejection of that culture and everything it stood for. The humanism of the classical tradition was forgotten.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    “Schubert ‘belonged to the culture that produced the holocaust”

    . . . only he didn’t know it – didn’t live long enough.

    Since way down deep we are all Africans, you may as well argue that Africans produced the holocaust.