All shall have prizes: It’s Olga, again

All shall have prizes: It’s Olga, again


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2020

The Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth has been awarded the 2020 Schumann prize, worth 15,000 Euros.

Last year, she won the Kaske Foundation‘s 10,000 Euros, along with Austria’s national order for science and art.



  • Andryk says:

    For the piddling crap she is writing!! What for!!!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      In 2011 I was at the Wiener Konzerthaus where the Philharmoniker played her “Clocks Without Hands”. I laughed all the way through it, but I admired even more that wonderful orchestra for being able to get from start to finish with polish and aplomb.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I don’t think that is a laughing matter, or something admirable, it is very sad that the VPO is prepared to sink THAT low – I wonder what the players were thinking.

  • Pianofortissimo says:


  • 18mebrumaire says:

    Don’t get too excited. 15,000 euros will just about get her a secondhand VW Golf.

  • msc says:

    I get the point, but it seems more like a case of prizes for the special chosen or connected few. My father had a saying “gravy makes gravy.” As an academic, I see this too often when it comes to grants. Choosing someone that has already had a few frees the judges from burdensome thought.

  • Austria’s pride and joy female composer and none more deserving

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s the Beethoven-style hairdo which does the trick: awaking vague recollections of some other composer.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Mrs Neuwirth is a ‘punk composer’, as she always says. This is meant as a recommendation that she, as a woman – and in spite of a Beethoven-style hairdo – is really entirely up-to-date and represents the musical reflection of our modern, enlightened, democratic times, liberated from the authoritarian demands of music, of art, and especially liberation from those silly grownup ideas about culture and civilisation. And of course such noble attempts have to be rewarded by a prize which bears the name of a 19C composer who ‘was also modern in his own time’.

    What went through the heads of the jury?

    “Eine neue poetische Zeit” strebte einst Robert Schumann an: Damit wandte er sich vor allem gegen oberflächliche Betriebsamkeit, inneren Leerlauf und ästhetische Beliebigkeit im Musikleben seiner Gegenwart. “Mit Olga Neuwirth trifft Schumann bald 200 Jahre später auf eine Geistesverwandte”, so die Jury zu ihrer Entscheidung.

    Schumann, who advocated ‘a new poetic time’, objected to the superficial hustle and bustle, inner emptiness and aesthetic arbitrariness in the musical world in his time. So, the jury claims that Mrs Neuwirth is, 200 years later, a ‘kindred spirit’.

    Let’s check the jury’s impressions:

    Now, there are three possibilities here which seem to offer an explanation of this most ridiculous of all ridiculous composition prize award abberations. Either the members of the jury had recently been released from a psychiatric institution, or they had never taken the trouble to actually listen to the works of Mrs Punk, or they had read Adorno’s ‘Philosophie der neuen Musik’ in which he explains that a thoroughly ugly time desperately needs thoroughly ugly music to make sure that music lovers would not forget and escape into the works of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and all the other dead white males who disguise the realities of life with sweet aural sedatives.

    Probably all three elements combined have been responsible for this absurdist gesture in the European heartland of classical music. It painfully shows that for some Germans in cultural circles, the fear for seeming to be ‘conservative’ or ‘rightwing’ or, worse, ‘fascistoid’, drives them to the other extreme, without realizing that they end-up exactly there where they wouldn’t want to go at any prize if they had realized what it really was.

    And that is why a type of ‘music’ which represents, as no other quasi-contemporary ‘music’, the ‘superficial hustle and bustle, inner emptiness and aesthetic arbitrariness’ of our own time, gets an award, in Germany, the birth place of some of the most remarkable musical creations humanity has ever seen.

    It would be wildly hilarious if it were not so sad. It is to be hoped that in the aftermath of the coronie there won’t be any need for such entirely superfluous idiocies who put an entire musical culture of a European nation to shame.

  • Ramesh Nair says:

    I bought as a download her short work, ‘Marsyas’, available in a variety of versions from piano to chamber. It’s a tough, knotty work that I’d recommend to those interested in contemporary work that’s the antithesis of Max Richter’s Vivaldi rehashes or note-unworthy benzodiazepines.

    The musicologist Arnold Whittall writes of Marysas as a dramatised confrontation ‘between noises ( clusters, glissandos) and textures that are harmonically focussed, ostinato-driven and stylistically allusive’.

    • Gross says:

      nobody but a “musicologist” would want to listen to “noises and textures that are harmonically focussed, ostinato-driven and stylistically allusive’.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed…. but Whittall is a notorious quasi-musicologist, someone without ears or a truly professional attitude. His books are written in a style that says, nonstop: ‘Me me me me’ – like the soprano trying-out her voice in the early morning, and he misses so many points in his writings that one wonders how he got his degrees. For instance, he claims that in the 20th century after 1918 no ‘worthwhile art can be expected to flourish’ – bye-bye Bartok, Ravel, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Prokofiev, etc. Also he never noticed any difference between music and atonal sound art. For such people it is never about music but about their career. So, of course he would advocate Mrs Neuwirth for people wanting to get the feeling that they are up-to-date, whatever the cost.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      The musicologist’s description fits an ambulance siren. Very common now-a-days.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” – Duke Ellington.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is also another famous saying, circulating in Parisian music life at the end of the 19th century, about a very conventional composer (forgot who it was): ‘There is good music, bad music, and the music of X’.

  • Seriously take in to consideration Ms. Neuwirth’s highly reputable Publishing House RICORDI. Certainly can’t hurt to have big guns behind you.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That does not mean anything. Publishing houses serve demand, from whatever direction. The demand for works like those of Mrs Neuwirth is created entirely artificially, as every publishing firm knows, and why would they bother? It is not their job to pass aesthetic judgements, because that would cost money. It is very difficult to invest in new music of which a publishing house can expect a big turnover in some future. In the past, that was easier because firms were often led by muscially-sophisticated people like Jacques Durand of the Durand firm, who published Debussy and Ravel, while they were still very controversial. He knew he could take the risk (and pay Debussy a fortune in advances which he got back later-on manyfold).

    • John Borstlap says:


      The famous German publishing house of Peters Edition published John Cage’s 4’33”, so it is rather questionable, to put it mildly, whether publishing houses add lustre to a composer’s name.