Bernd Alois Zimmermann - Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

Bernd Alois Zimmermann - Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

Zimmermann: Requiem für einen jungen Dichter (1967/69).

Claudia Barainsky (soprano), David Pittman-Jennings (baritone), Michael Rotschopf (speaker I), Lutz Lansemann (speaker II), Tschechischer Philharmonischer Chor Brno (chorus I), Slowakischer Philharmonischer Chor (chorus II), Europachorakademie (chorus III), Eric Vloeimans Quintet (jazz quintet), Jan Hage (organ), João Rafael (sound direction) and Holland Symphony o.conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky.

Opus Classical wrote the following about this CD:

"Live recording: 23 June 2005, Concertgebouw, Haarlem.

If there was a composer to whom Arnold Schoenberg's adage "Art kommt nicht von sollen, sondern von müssen" applied, it was his German colleague Bernd Alois Zimmermann. For Zimmermann, his life depended on it, and not just proverbially. This emerges conclusively from a letter to conductor Michael Gielen following the emergence of the Requiem for a young poet, being the opus christened at West Deutsche Rundfunk in December 1969, three months before his self-selected death, under the supervision of the same Gielen:

"In größter Not! - Es gibt Aufführungen, die stattfinden müssen, selbst unter schwersten Bedingungen, weil der Zeitpunkt der Aufführung von elementarer Bedeutung für die geistige Existenz des Komponisten ist. Das ist hier der Fall. Erinnere dich an 1965: das war auch der Zeitpunkt, wo das Stück kommen musste, sonst wäre es nicht gekommen. Ich meine Those Soldiers. Bei dem Requiem herrschen zwar ganz andere Bedingungen, aber die Wichtigkeit ist noch größer, die tatsächliche Wichtigkeit! (Ich schreibe das nicht deshalb, weil ich in einer Verfassung bin, wie ich es nie in solchem Ausmaß war, sondern weil einfach ALLES davon abhängt - und das ist ein objektiver Tatbestand.)"

'Stream of conciousness'

Indeed, there is no work by Zimmermann that comes next to his music drama Those Soldiers is as demanding as its Requiem for a young poet which is unique in its kind and should without delay be counted among the kind of compositions that can only be written once and do not qualify for any copy. To cite just two diverse examples, one can think of the monodrama Erwartung by Arnold Schoenberg and the orchestral work Atmosphèresby György Ligeti. These are, in short, creations that not only impose their own laws but also make up a universe in their own right. The plurality of events seen in Zimmermann's Those Soldiers is the starting point, the Requiem for a young poet deepened on another plan. Unlike the aforementioned music drama, in which the play of the same name by Sturm und Drang poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz - whose extremely alternately visionary and sombre state of mind is phenomenally shaped in the novella Lenz of Georg Büchner in a way that makes the protagonist of that same novella related to Zimmermann - in this unprecedented death mass, there is not one story, but numerous stories. These overlap and have their origins in speeches by various politicians, poets, philosophers and witness accounts, which ultimately lead to what the composer has not without reason called a 'Lingual' or a piece with and about speech, in which context the concept of speech must be understood very broadly and includes both spoken language and that of music. Texts from different times, but also borrowings from various compositions from the past (such as from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth symphony and the final scene from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde) and the then present. The way this complex of musical and textual relations takes hold can be seen as a resounding counterpart to James Joyce's still ultimately experimental novel Finnegans Wake. What both works of art have in common is that elements from the past and present, as well as from reality and the mythical, are ingeniously interwoven and may or may not clearly surface according to the principle of the so-called 'stream of conciousness' technique. This amounts to depicting a seemingly disjointed stream of thoughts, feelings and moods, an approach often expressed in fragmentary sentences.


As several such layers of text (and, in Zimmermann's case, simultaneously occurring musical events) are unleashed on each other, numerous associations can arise, resulting in turn in a seemingly infinite number of interpretations and meanings. A simple example from the Requiem for a young poet may clarify this: during a few times in this work, The Beatles' famous song passes by Hey Jude the revue, including once in the vicinity of all kinds of German National Socialist tirades that could make the words be construed as 'He Jew'.

The score of this work is unprecedentedly demanding. Three choirs, a Jazz combo, electronics, organ, not to mention a multi-channel reproduction of the tapes compiled by Zimmermann. The performance history is therefore quickly told. Gielen, who thus first performed the work in 1969, also signed for the Dutch premiere at the 1971 Holland Festival. Since then - counting the above production - three releases have appeared on CD. The first concerns the Wergo recording of a 1986 performance by the WDR forces conducted by Gary Bertini and came out in 1989. Six years later, a rendition by the Südfwestfunk in collaboration with choirs from all over the world under the direction of Michael Gielen made its appearance on Sony. In contrast to Bertini's very low-tension approach, Gielen's vision, after all someone who was traditionally familiar with the piece, was a progression of interest. Unfortunately, however, that rendition is no longer available.

Physical impact

For this reason alone, the brand-new new live recording - immortalised at the Concertgebouw in Haarlem on 23 June 2005, the performance in question of which marked the actual opening of the newly restored building - on the prestigious Cybele label may be greeted with the greatest possible enthusiasm. But not only for this reason, because I have no hesitation in regarding this production, the result of close cooperation between the Internationale Koorbiennale Haarlem, the KRO and the Kunststiftung Nordrheinwestfalen, as the definitive one. On this occasion, the two quadrilateral tapes specially produced by the composer for the premiere planned in 1969 were restored to their original state. A tour-de-force because the ravages of time had damaged these tapes considerably, a shortcoming that proved to have had certain adverse effects on the intelligibility of the spoken word. However, due to the exemplary manner in which Volker Müller and João Rafael have restored, resynchronised and digitised, there is no longer any sign of the earlier objections. But that is not all, because during the performance in Haarlem, not only was the spatial arrangement of the various ensembles done entirely in accordance with Zimmermann's intentions, the quadrangular tapes were moreover performed through eight loudspeakers scattered across the hall, so that this awe-inspiring score in a formal sense has, in its deepest essence, only on that occasion sounded for the first time as its creator hovered before his eyes.

Ergo: while previous performances did not go beyond conveying the helicopter effect, in this case - and certainly if the whole thing is listened to in surround setting - one obtains a completely truthful impression of standing in the landscape. As a result, the intentions of Zimmermann's apocalyptic sound cataracts come across so penetratingly to the listener that the total leaves an almost corporeal impact. The balance between the events on stage and in particular between the choir and the soloists who excel in their breakneck vocal feats on the one hand and the information distributed via the eight loudspeakers on the other is so perfect that an almost completely successful simulation of the concert event becomes reality. If anywhere 'surround' is functional, it is here: Zimmermann's Requiem is made for it, so to speak.

Moreover, the presentation of this CD, with partly never-before-published photos and other illustrative material, is of an incomparably erudite standard. Not only does the booklet contain an extensive and extremely detailed introduction by Patrick van Deurzen, it also contains a complete text score from A to Z plus the times on the CD in which they appear. As far as I am concerned, therefore, this grandiose Zimmermann monument deserves to be widely praised without reserve."

Bernd Alois Zimmermann - Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

Bernd Alois Zimmermann - Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

Zimmermann: Requiem für einen jungen Dichter (1967/69).

Claudia Barainsky (soprano), David Pittman-Jennings (baritone), Michael Rotschopf (speaker I), Lutz Lansemann (speaker II), Tschechischer Philharmonischer Chor Brno (choir I), Slowakischer Philharmonischer Chor (choir II), Europachorakademie (choir III), Eric Vloeimans Quintet (jazz quintet), Jan Hage (organ), João Rafael (direction of sounds) and Holland Symfonie under Bernhard Kontarsky.