Universal Edition - Wolfgang Rihm – Biography

Wolfgang Rihm

Wolfgang Rihm


Wolfgang Rihm was born on 13 March 1952 in Karlsruhe, a city near the French and Swiss borders, at a stone’s throw from Strasbourg and Basel, two of the many places where he and his music are at home. He lives there to this day in a spacious apartment not only full of books and scores – those one takes for granted – but also of paintings by contemporary artists, mainly by Kurt Kocherscheidt, the Austrian painter with whom Rihm was befriended and to whom he has dedicated a number of works.

Rihm is a composer, professor of composition at the Music Academy of his native city (where his students included Vykintas Baltakas and Jörg Widmann), a remarkable writer on music with several books to his name, including collections of his articles and interviews. He also sits on a number of influential committees in Germany and has a say in decisions affecting the working conditions of his fellow musicians.

No doubt about it: Wolfgang Rihm is a unique phenomenon, larger than life. His knowledge of music (the art and craft of composition as well as of music history from ancient times up to the present day) is vast. But he also seems to know everything worth knowing about literature, painting, architecture, philosophy and he freely draws on those as sources of inspiration. A look at the texts he has set to music is an indication of the breadth of his culture: from Homer through Hölderlin and Goethe to Rilke, Botho Strauss and Durs Grünbein.

The world he has created with his compositions which now outnumber 400 works is a veritable universe. As such, it cannot be pidgeonholed. To paraphrase the title of a well-known British film on Thomas More, he is a composer for all seasons. Rihm has written 'new music' as it is commonly called and some of his titles have become signposts in the history of post-war music. Soloists, chamber groups and orchestras programme these works as a matter of course now, they have become an integral part of the repertoire (Jagden und Formen, Chiffre-cycle, Pol - Kolchis - Nucleus). Of similar significance are the compositions which take their cue, as it were, from music of past centuries: oratorios with Johann Sebastian Bach as a point of reference (Deus Passus), orchestral pieces of Brahmsian sound and gesture (Ernster Gesang, Nähe fern 1-4), chamber music in the wake of Robert Schumann (Fremde Szenen).

Already at the age of 25, he composed a chamber opera (Jakob Lenz) that has since proved itself as probably the most often produced piece of contemporary music theatre in Germany. Jakob Lenz has been followed by a series of large-scale operas (Die Hamletmaschine, Die Eroberung von Mexico, Das Gehege, Dionysos).

Wolfgang Rihm is one of the foremost song composers of our times; his string quartets are often presented in cycles by a wide range of groups.

Rihm is a composer who puts a giant question-mark over whatever he is doing. Each new work is an answer to the question raised by the previous piece; each new work poses questions which he will seek a reply to in the composition to be written next. There come about work cycles, work families which form a web with other cycles and individual pieces. Everything is in permanent growth, work never stops, new compositions are produced, brought into intriguing relationships with other works, revised and supplemented.

If you consider that he is also a remarkable draughtsman and if you read the poem he has written for/about the trumpet concerto Marsyas, you will have to admit that Wolfgang Rihm is indeed larger than life.

1952 – Born March 13th in Karlsruhe, south-west Germany

1963 – First compositions

1968-1972 – Secondary School (Humanistisches Gymnasium); simultaneously studies in composition at the Karlsruhe Music Academy (Eugen Werner Velte);
further composition studies with Wolfgang Fortner and Humphrey Searle

1970 – Attends the Darmstadt Summer Courses for the first time

1972 – Completes secondary school studies, diploma in composition, Karlsruhe Music Academy

1972/1973 – Composition studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne

1973-1976 – Composition studies with Klaus Huber and musicological studies with Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht in Freiburg

1973-1978 – Teaches at the Karlsruhe Music Academy

1974 – Awarded the City of Stuttgart Prize

1975 – Awarded the City of Mannheim Prize

1976Faust und Yorick - chamber opera No 1 (Jean Tardieu/Frithjof Haas)

1977/1978 Jakob Lenz - chamber opera No 2 (Georg Büchner/Michael Frühling)

1978 – Awarded Berlin Art Prize Fellowship; Kranichstein Music Prize Darmstadt;
Reinhold-Schneider Prize Freiburg

since 1978 – Lecturer at the Darmstadt Summer Courses

1979 – Receives Fellowship Award of the City of Hamburg

1979/1980 – German Art Academy Fellowship at the Villa Massimo in Rome

1981 – Awarded the City of Bonn Beethoven Prize. Teaches at the Munich Music Academy

since 1982 – Presidium member, German Association of Composers

1983 – Fellowship at the Cité des Arts in Paris

1983/1986Die Hamletmaschine, opera, (Heiner Müller/Rihm)

1984/1985 – Fellow of the Berlin Science Institute, Presidium member, German Music Council

1984-1989 – Co-editor of the music journal Melos

1984-1989 – Musical advisor, Deutsche Oper Berlin

since 1985 – Professor for composition at the Karlsruhe Music Academy (successor of Professor Velte).
Member of the advisory council of the Heinrich Strobel Institute, South-West German Radio Baden-Baden

1986 – Awarded the Rolf Liebermann Prize for the opera Hamletmaschine

1986/87Oedipus, opera, (text by Rihm after Sophokles, Hölderlin, Nietzsche, H. Müller)

1987/91Die Eroberung von Mexico (The Conquest of Mexico), opera, (Antonin Artaud/Rihm)

since 1989 – Member of the Board of Directors, GEMA

1989 – Awarded German Distinguished Service Cross

1990–93 – Musical advisor to the Centre for Art and Media Technologies in Karlsruhe (ZKM)

1991 – Guest speaker at the opening ceremony of the Salzburg Festival.
Member, Academy of the Arts in the cities of Munich, Berlin and Mannheim

1994Séraphin, ‘an attempt at music theatre/instruments, voices...’ World première  in Frankfurt;
February: Big Rihm-Portrait (35 works) at the Éclat Festival, Days for New Music, Stuttgart

1997 – Awarded the Prix de Composition Musical de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco;
Composer-in-residence at the Festival Lucerne

1998 – Awarded the Jacob Burckhardt Prize of the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Foundation;
Honorary Doctorate of Freie Universität Berlin

2000 – Awarded the Bach Prize of the City of Hamburg;
Composer-in-residence at the Salzburg Festival and the Musica Festival in Strasbourg

2001 – Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Jagden und Formen
The French Ministry of External Affairs confers the title of 'Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' on Wolfgang Rihm.

2001/2002 – Large-scale celebration of the composer’s 50th birthday throughout Europe, with several festivals and concert organisations devoting series of concerts to his oeuvre. Numerous world premières.

2003 – The Ernst von Siemens Music Award goes to Wolfgang Rihm. This honour has been formally bestowed upon him on 22 May 2003 at Munich's Cuvilliéstheater.
7 November: Entry in the Golden Book of the town of Karlsruhe

2004 – 8 May: Recipient of the Medal of Merit of Baden-Württemberg/Germany

2006 – 27 October: World première  of the opera Das Gehege (after Botho Strauss' play “Schlusschor”) at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich

2009 – 2 May: World première  of the monodrama Proserpina at Rokoko Theatre Schwetzingen (Germany)

2010 – 27 July: World première  of the opera Dionysos (an operatic fantasia based on texts by Friedrich Nietzsche, libretto by the composer) at the Salzburg Festival

2010 – 30 September: Awarded the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement for the Music sectors of the Biennale di Venezia

2010 – 18 November: World première of Lichtes Spiel for violin and small orchestra at the Avery Fisher Hall New York

2011 – Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

2011 – 15 January: World première of Will Sound More for ensemble at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main

2011 – 03 April: World première of Dyade for violin and double bass at the Avery Fisher Hall New York

2011 – 22 June: World première of Nähe fern 1 for orchestra at the KKL Luzern

2011 – 09 July: World première of Eine Strasse, Lucile for soprano and orchestra at Karlsruhe

2011 – 19 October: World première of Nähe fern 2 for orchestra at the KKL Luzern

2011 – 25 October: World première of Will Sound More Again for ensemble

2011 – 29 October: World première of Der Maler träumt for baritone und ensemble

2011 – awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

2012 29 February: World première of Nähe fern 3 for orchestra

2012 13 June: World première of Nähe fern 4 for orchestra

2012 20 August: World première of „Dämmrung senkte sich von oben“ for baritone and orchestra at the KKL Luzern

2012 – receives the order Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts

2013 – 10 February: World première of Epilog for string quintet at the Eclat Festival Stuttgart

2013 – 5 April: Opening of the Wolfgang-Rihm-Forum at the University of Music in Karlsruhe

2013 – 18 April: appointed Commandeur dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres

2013 – 27 April: World première of Stille Feste for choir and orchestra in Stuttgart

2013 – 23 June: World première of A Tribute for orchestra

2013 – 20 October: World première of IN-SCHRIFT 2 for orchestra

2013 – 20 November: World première of Verwandlung 5 for orchestra

2013/2014 – Capell-Compositeur at the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden

2014 – 10 May: world première of Transitus at the Teatro alla Scala (cond. Riccardo Chailly)

2014 – 4 June: world première of Verwandlung 6 at the Philharmonie Essen

2014 – 19 August: world première of the horn concerto at the Lucerne Festival (Stefan Dohr, hn)

2014 – 25 August: world première of the Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Salzburg Festival (Tzimon Barto, pno)

2014 – 17 September: the Trio Concerto is premièred at theMusikfest Berlin (Trio Jean Paul; WDR SO Köln, cond. Jukka-Pekka Saraste)

2014 – 6 October: awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany

2014 – 6 November: awarded the Robert Schumann Prize for Poetry and Music 2014

2015 – 9 January: Gedicht des Malers (Poème du Peintre) is premièred by Renaud Capuçon and the Vienna Symphony under Philippe Jordan

2015 – 23 July: awarded the Honorary Medal of the Province of Salzburg

2015 – 15 October: world première of the Duo Concerto atCarnegie Hall (Mira Wang, vln; Jan Vogler, vc)

summer 2016 – artistic director of the Lucerne Festival Academy; resident composer at the Fast Forward Festival

2017 – 11 January: world première of Reminiszenz | Triptychon und Spruch in memoriam Hans Henny Jahnn at the Elbphilharmonie opening

2017 – awarded the Preis der Europäischen Kirchenmusik 2017

Wolfgang Rihm lives in Karlsruhe and Berlin.