Aribert Reimann - About composing

Trailer for a new opera by Aribert Reimann at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

On October 8, 2017, a new opera by Aribert Reimann was premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. In our conversation, he talks about the basics of his composing.

Abschrift Gespräch 19.08.2016
Exposé zur Installation

Aribert Reimann: In the beginning, I have to have a basic idea, a basic conception. I hear something. If I don't hear anything, I don't need to start at all. And if I read a material, or have occupied myself with it, and have occupied myself with it again and again, and nothing else comes up - then I can forget the material. But if more and more comes up, then I start making notes. Less musical notes, that too, but those are then purely compositional sequences, construction plans, if you will, verticals, horizontals, and things like that, but how the music looks, or what happens, how the curves are, I do that mostly on the basis of the libretto, and there I do that verbally, with words. So without notes, I just describe it and occasionally make hints, and then that goes through the whole piece, with these notes. And from that I know exactly, that's where it has to start, that's where it has to start, here's the instrument, the instrument, because I always think from the orchestra, always! I have never composed on the piano, because the piano sound would disturb me terribly in my sound conception of the orchestra.

1 On
So first of all I have to decide on the material, which then comes to me or not, and when it has come to me, then I deal with it longer, some years, sometimes even longer, and then I know that at some point the time has come when I can no longer think about it, and then it goes to the work of the libretto.

5 Pan libretto text with annotations on polyphonic staff sketches.
I always try, even when I've done it myself, to keep the book, the text, so concise that it doesn't obstruct the music for me, that it's just cues for the music. And when I have finished the libretto, worked on it, worked through it, made it, then I know every word, more or less, and then I forget the text again and the music emerges. And then sometimes when I'm writing, I get to certain places where I have the feeling that it's all still far too much text, gone! With Medea I went in with 30 pages, Din A 4, in the libretto, and came out with 20. So that only the very least of the text remains, which is important for the plot, and of course also for the design of the role. A role made up of vocals is boring as hell. For me, it is important that the words are such that I can also develop the individual characters with their singing structure on the basis of these words. That is the most important thing. And the voice goes seamlessly together with the orchestra, it develops out of the orchestra, it goes back into the orchestra, so that the singing structure and the orchestra are one. How the orchestra is used, how the instrumentation is, when I use woodwinds, when I use strings, and so on: that is a unity. But the text has to be so sparse that it moves the plot along, but leaves me the space, incessantly the space for the music.

6 On
The most important thing for me, the most important thing of all, was the question, why do I compose a material? Not just any material, it must have something to do with our time, it stands for something. Lear is happening today just as it did then, Medea exactly the same, everything that happens in Medea we experience around us today. It's about a migrant, ... she comes and she's not accepted.

7 Metronome, stopwatch, correction tapes ...
The most important thing for me in any case is that it is a material that concerns us all, that concerns me, that concerns everyone, not just me, that concerns us all. And that's why there was always recourse, but it was purely coincidental, to material that goes back a long way. Kafka is more or less the very closest. But what Kafka describes in the castle has long since caught up with us. Observation, constant observation: no one is free anymore, everyone knows everything about the others - before they know it! And that was something that didn't let me go at all. I don't want to photograph reality, I want to translate a reality into a material that has already existed and that always concerns us, that is timeless. That is the most important thing.

8 Constellation lion, sheep, eraser - two pans blended into each other.
It's not just the story, but there has to be a tension. When there are two people, or three, on stage, there is a tension between them, and I have to make this tension audible in the music. That's why an opera without a word, without a plot, or a word that results from the plot, is inconceivable for me, because one person on stage... if I'm already writing for opera, the singers have voices and they want to sing, and I have to implement what they say, that is, bring the words into singing, otherwise it's inconceivable for me, and then it really has nothing more to do with musical theater for me. Because as long as people are alive, they will sing, and singing between two people creates an incredible tension. And above all, what is going on in the one who is listening now, what is going on in him. When one person says something, then another person picks it up, or hears it, and what arises in him while he's listening creates insane buildings of music, and I have to make that sound.

11 On ...
Singing is a natural expression. Man was born singing, always. That goes back into the millennia and that is simply an expression, where the word is no longer sufficient, man begins to sing. It can then be without words. I have written some vocalises, without words, completely without words, because that had interested me once. And then I realized that something comes into being that doesn't necessarily need words, and yet you can do a great deal with it, but at some point it exhausts itself, that's quite clear, because a word, even if I only compose a song, there's also something behind the word. But there are also many, or some pieces of mine for voice without orchestra, without piano, only for voice alone. And I always found that very very exciting. Which now also benefits me a lot in the new work, but that's all I'll say about that.

13 On with a pan to the lace machine
My mother was a singer, she was a singing teacher, I grew up with vocal exercises, and I grew up singing. That was the first thing I heard around me. And I myself sang a lot as a boy, that came quite automatically, and since I had a voice, obviously, that was also bearable, or good - that's why I sang the Jasager in the Hebbel Theater at the age of 10, stood on stage for the first time - that was for me simply, yes, like eating and drinking, what I heard in music, like Bach and Schubert, that was my... I could also have avoided it if I hadn't wanted to, but I didn't want anything else.

18 Particell and fair copy
So score, of course, I write out afterwards, when I write it out, then I write on tracing paper and then I write in ink. That's a special... an isograph that I write it with, and then that's how I send the transparencies to the publisher. This is the copy. For now, this is just the particell. And then the transcript looks completely different.

Music examples:

King Lear
Opera in 2 parts
Claus H. Henneberg, libretto
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
RSO Berlin
Ricordo Chailly, musical direction

The Castle
Opera in two parts
Libretto: Aribert Reimann
Richard Salter, K.
Ewa Zwedberg, Frieda
Bavarian State Orchestra
Michael Boder, musical direction

For piano four hands and voice
"Look up. Heut ist der Nachraum heiter"
Rainer Maria Rilke
Aribert Reimann, Axel Bauni, piano
Christine Schäfer, soprano

Dream Spirals
for large orchestra
NDR Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, musical direction

Film by
Uli Aumüller and Sebastian Rausch

© 2016 inpetto filmproduktion berlin

Cast & Crew

Uli Aumüller