Universal Edition - Rolf Liebermann – About the Music

Rolf Liebermann

Rolf Liebermann

About the Music

Liebermann's development as a composer is reflected in a piece of contemporary history: the rebellious law student's first compositions – chansons, music for the theatre and marching songs – were performed by Liselott Wilker (= Lale Andersen) in 1933 in the Studio Fluntern in Zurich, a meeting place for emigrants. From 1940 on Vladimir Vogel taught Liebermann the necessary craftsmanship to bolster his talent as a composer, showing him the principles of dodecaphony, without trying to turn him into an adherent of a particular system of aesthetics. The first result was the Five Polyphonic Studies for chamber orchestra (première: Bern 1943). A year later Liebermann presented the public with the cantata Sodom et Gommorhe. Une des fins du monde, for baritone and orchestra (Jean Giraudoux, première: Zürich 1945). In this apologia, Liebermann underlays the text with constructivist elements, which paints an apocalyptic vision in dramatic pictures. In this work, and in Furioso for orchestra (première: Darmstadt 1947) his individuality as a composer is already very marked: the dodecaphony here functions as a framework with tonal elements and a musical language utilising even cadence-like processes.

It was his operas which made Liebermann internationally known. They are characterised by a very individual style of dodecaphony and the vocal parts show strong melodic elements. In his 'Gesang-Oper' Die Schule der Frauen (Heinrich Strobel, première:1955) Liebermann combines Baroque and contemporary elements. He uses the harpsichord "to provide a series of ironic quotations in a bitonal score, and Strobel, in turn 'alienated' the comedy by introducing the character of Molière" (Liebermann 1977). The musical forms are tailored to the happenings on stage; they never overwhelm the theatrical action. Liebermann's last work for the music theatre is Freispruch für Medea (Medea's Acquittal) (Ursula Haas, première: Hamburg, 1995) an opera in two acts. Shortly before his death he reduced the instrumentation and extended the work to three acts.

For the Swiss National Exhibition's pavilion 'Exchange, Goods and Values' he wrote Les Echanges for 156 punched-tape-driven office machines (première: Lausanne 1964). The composition for the machines on display there is based on using the principle of exchanging rhythmic structures as an element of form. Besides his use of dodecaphony and his interest in opera and experimentation, nearly all Liebermann's compositions reveal his love of jazz and dance rhythms, e.g. his Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra (1954). In his last works, such as the Violin Concerto (1994) the Piano Concerto (1995) or Mouvance, for nine percussionists and piano (1998) he contrasts rhythmic vitality and strong music-theatrical effects with terse dodecaphonic construction.