Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Intercomunicazione

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Sounding Now Festival
Saturday, 13 April 2019 @ 4:30pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Orchestra Hall


Contributed by Lim Wen Liang (BMus 2, YST)

Bernd Alois Zimmermann was a German composer born in March 20, 1918 in Bliesheim. He described himself as “the oldest of the young German composers”[1], and is sandwiched between two generations. He was too young to participate in contemporary music before World War I but also too old to be accepted by the avant-gardists after the war.

His musical directions align with the goals of the avant-garde. It is a consciously contemplated, comprehensive style focused on further development of music. However, his music itself arises from circumstances different than more familiar avant-garde composers.

He faced several challenges throughout his life, particularly considerable health impairments that became more pronounced in the course of his life as well as depression. This is reflected in his oeuvre. His earlier works from the 1940s and 1950s feature lighter, brighter hues. His late works have a darker, more violent sonic language. For example, Intercomunicazione (1967) and Stile und Umkehr (1970) are intensely expressive in contrast to his earlier work.

As his focus moved toward more existential concerns, he used musical means to express his opinion of futility and artistic redundancy. To him, no single idea or approach could solve the musical crisis that seemed to appear at his doorstep. This led him to explore plurality in his work through the visual artistic concept of montage and collage. He uses quotations from other existing works to form his pieces. This is sometimes manifested through direct quotations – e.g. Requiem for a Young Poet (1967-1969) – or in quotation of musical languages, e.g. Die Soldaten (1959-63). This became a trademark of his work. He coined the term “pluralistic composition” to describe the deliberate combination of extremely different sound and text quotations in contrast to the unity sought in the common practice compositional tradition.

Intercomunicazione (1967) is one of his works after 1950 that uses this concept. It is exuberant, violent and sharp at moments, playing around with simple material in imaginative ways. The dark undertones echo his single-minded pessimism and supposed futile plurality. The cello and piano play antithetically to each other with equal force making the title somewhat ironic.

This work also makes use of a dual, simultaneous conception of time strata in which durations, as well as pauses are in a relationship which correspond to a translation of the tritone interval into the time domain. This is perhaps what Zimmerman devoted most attention to: the musical design of time.

Conflict and violence from this idea are palpable in the work, as the two musicians according to Zimmermann, “incompatible with each other, try to communicate. But the data exchange fails.”[2]

[1]http://brahms.ircam.fr/bernd-alois-zimmermann(translated)

[2]https://www.morebooks.de/store/gb/book/zimmermanns-intercomunicazione/isbn/978-3-639-15632-4

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