Lachenmann brings out long new opus for 8 horns and massive orchestra

Lachenmann brings out long new opus for 8 horns and massive orchestra


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2018

It’s asparagus time in Munich and there are long evenings to fill.

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra won ovations last night for a new work by Helmut Lachenmann, which must have cost the GDP of a central African nation to rehearse and perform.

Lachenmann, 82 and obscurantist as ever, writes at his own dimensions. The work lasted 45 minutes.

Peter Eotvos conducted. The audience rose cheering to its feet, doubtless with admiration, possibly tinged with relief.



  • John Borstlap says:

    It was an entire Lachenmann programme, so: no laughing matter:

    It can be assumed that the hall had filled with the fans, longing to be reassured of their being at the moral right side of history. Not a musical audience.

    Even when L treats ‘music’ as a joke (German humour):

    …. he does so conceptually, with political mocking of the musical tradition which ‘created World War and holocaust’, turning a caricature of music into his speciality of sonic art.

    Usually, L’s works explore the spooky shadows and anxiety effects of nihilism:

    Why? He wants to liberate his listeners from the thick crust of conventional hearing that thinks that music is something special:

    • Don Ciccio says:

      “Even when L treats ‘music’ as a joke (German humour):

      German humor or not, I laughed so hard! This is a ridiculous and ridiculously cynical piece!

    • The Irish Border says:

      As we say in Ireland, that was simply monotonous.

    • Jerome Hoberman says:

      “Not a musical audience.” — I know composers who were in the audience. Real composers who invent, not just people who reproduce things.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Well, what does that say about those composers?

        • Jerome Hoberman says:

          You seem to have stopped reading and typed your reflexive retort before getting to the last sentence.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I carefully read the last sentence and for some reason, the same reflex came out. Maybe it is the sentence……

            Composers on the lookout for something that lets itself quite easily be reproduced, will find in Lachenmann a hughe treasure trove. Real composers interpret material and give it the stamp of their own personality, they filter it through their own life experience and personal taste. However Lachenmann imitators stamp and stamp and stamp, whatever produces difference, does not add to the result, because patterns of pure sound have an abstract quality about them. That is why Klangkunst is so poor in comparison to music: you can write Klangkunst with different patterns but that does not make them personal or special. There is no expressive, psychological dimension to them.

            The formulation ‘real composers who invent’ suggests the postwar ideology which focussed upon the creation of new sound material, instead of personal interpretation within a traditional framework. Since Klangkunst only operates on the material surface – pure sound and its patterns – that was also the only level upon which something different than what was fashionable yesterday could be developed. At the time, it was transgression which was the hallmark of invention and creativity. We know that this is nonsensical: in art, it is the personal interpretation of material that counts and on that level – the level of psychology and expression – the widest range of artistic quality can be experienced. Since Klangkunst has no psychological, personal level, personal interpretation is not possible, and hence its aesthetic range is very narrow, if it is there at all. In fact, at its best it is a decorative art. Nothing wrong with that, but it is not the same as music, and where it is claimed as ‘the’ music of ‘our time’ is is merely totalitarian ideology.

            Example: It has been custom within modernism in the fifties and sixties to look down on Shostakovich with contempt, he was ‘only repeating things of the past’, while Boulez and Stockhausen really did invent. But B and S developed new sounds, not new music, while it has meanwhile become obvious that Shostakovich has turned his examples into his very own musical language, immediately recognizable after a couple of bars. Hence his entering the regular repertoire. B and S created a totally different art form, and in comparison with music like Shostakovich a very poor one, however differentiated their material. So, ‘invention’ and ‘repetition’ are, in music and in Klangkunst, not simple labels but cover a complex and differentiated debate. Maybe you should read a bit about these things….

  • Paul Silverthorne says:

    I want to hear it, I’ve had such good experiences working with this lovely man and playing his extraordinary music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      This may wet your appetite:

      Especially recommended by the Society for Wholesome Digestion Processes:

    • Brettermeier says:

      “such good experiences working with this lovely man”

      I’m not into his music, but he really is a nice and funny guy. Completely not what I expected.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Also Hitler seems to have been really charming privately.

        • AnnaT says:

          John, going full Godwin over this is pathetic.

        • Brettermeier says:

          “Also Hitler seems to have been really charming privately.”

          Did I miss some context here?

          • John Borstlap says:

            People can do terrible things and still be charming to other people.

          • Brettermeier says:

            “People can do terrible things and still be charming to other people.”

            That’s still no context. Example:

            If I wrote to you, out of context (like you did here), “Eat more vegetables!” the addition “Because it’s healthy!” doesn’t help context wise.

            If you want to say something, please do so. But context is needed. (Except it’s funny, that always ok.)

          • John Borstlap says:

            To explain a bit of context, more gründlich: artists, or self-acclaimed artists, who offer thoroughly negative and aggressively nihilistic ideas, as Lachenmann has done and apparently still does – albeit in another way – don’t contribute to culture but present underming gestures of culture. Lachenmann wants to freeze Stunde Null, the moment after WW II when music should begin anew from scratch and has to be ‘invented’ from a blank slate with every new piece. Lachenmann has often declared that ‘music is dead’, in the footsteps of Nietzsche who claimed that God had died, and had only scorn for what had remainded of classical music. He wants to liberate audiences from the thick layer of preprogrammed, conventional hearing, i.e. musical understanding, and hear music as mere sound and its many patterns. In his opinion, the classical music world is a mere human construct, randomly created for convention’s sake, and that it has to be broken-down.

            That is, in the European context and especially in the context of German history, quite understandable for a short moment after the war, but it is crazy after half a century and as anti-cultural as the nazi’s were, in their own way. So, what Lachenmann presents to the musical world is a sinister, negative idea which has nothing to do with music. That such a man can also be charming and friendly, does not in any sense diminish the nastiness of his work, and that so many people are fooled by such charlatanerie, out of ignorance and as an expression of a need to be ‘modern’ and ‘of their time’, is merely very sad – certainly in Germany where the central performance culture (of ‘entirely dead music’) is of a very high standard. Amusingly, this type of ‘modern music’ is very oldfashioned, in the wrong sense.

            I apologize for this cumbersome explanation, there is an entire cultural debate behind such phenomenae, so it is a bit of a context in the style of what the French call ‘esprit de l’escalier’. (If this also needs an explained context, that will be for another time.)

          • Brettermeier says:

            Thank you for providing context, this is most helpful.

            I’ll have to admit, I cannot stand Neue Musik or anything that sounds like it regardless the name or the composer. But I do not think that one representative is able to do damage to music as a whole.

            If Lachenmann thinks that music is dead; that is his opinion. But it’s just one opinion. I kind of never agree with the composers I met. But that never was a problem (and I always stated that I kinda hated their music). Most of the time we parted ways after an interesting talk with new perspectives on things. Time well spent.

            I, too, think that there’s no need for a complete “reboot” (= no tonality, weird pseudo-intellectual structure (Fibonacci etc.)) We completely agree here. So please, write something fun and show that music is alive! Like Haydn’s op. 33.3 or Beethoven’s op. 18.5. Or even Antheils SQ no. 3. Just prove Lachenmann wrong. Simple as that.

  • JoBe says:

    45 minutes isn’t long… Did you listen to Reinhold Glière’s 3rd symphony as conducted by Harold Faberman? Superb!