Carta Blanca a Friedrich Cerha

Reading time: 6 min. Friedrich Cerha

In recent decades hardly anyone has influenced the Austrian music scene as much as Friedrich Cerha. Friedrich Cerha may be best known as a composer that works with a variety of styles and repetitively inspires with new ways of composing, but yet claims to have no specific style. Besides his compositional work he is just as well known as the director and conductor of various ensembles, legendary for his tremendous efforts in (contemporary) music and its circulation, and most recently also as the head of the ISCM, teacher of composition and for the production of the III. Act of Alban Berg’s Lulu. However it is not the individual activities that characterize the great achievements of Friedrich Cerha. It is rather the persistent continuity in his dedication for music, his non-dogmatic approach and the integration of differences which distinguish Friedrich Cerha’s personality.

Friedrich Cerha’s compositional work: After the Second World War, Cerha was in close contact with the Art Club and due to his avant-garde aspirations, he received insight into the views of Schoenberg by Joseph Polnauer, while at the same time playing the works of his composition colleagues as a violinist. When introduced to the current methods of composition in 1956 – 1958 at the Darmstadt summer courses, he became very interested in serialism, as well as in John Cage’s chance operations. Thus Cerha, who constantly questioned power structures and allegiances, refused to join any educational institution and rather worked on different methods of composition, altering them according to his own ideas and letting them flow into his work. In compositions, like “Netzwerk” [in English: network] (1981), based on “Exercises” (1962-67), he lets the heterogeneity of styles exist side by side and combines avant-gardistic principal parts with historically backward regressions. In other works such as „Spiegel I-VII“ [in English: Mirror I-VII] (1960-72), he refers to a compositional method, which either forms static structures or continuously follows the musical momentum. The rise and fall of the orchestral sound in “Spiegel VII” [in English: Mirror VII] creates a powerful, seemingly organically evolving continuum of sound – sound masses, which can also be found in “Fasce” or „Mouvements“. Despite the stylistic variety of compositional means, Cerha’s works are combined by comprehensibility. It is the continuous swaying of tension, the development of singular or multiple overlapping lines which characterize the individual compositions and always manage to arouse curiosity.

Friedrich Cerha (c) Universal Edition, Eric MarinitschThere is a precise concept for the stage implementation of the compositions “Spiegel”-cycle and “Netzwerk”. The concept does not follow any strict plot but deals with the characteristics of human beings on a principle level, which Cerha describes as “world theater”. Influenced by his experiences during the Second World War when he was recruited by the German army, which he deserted and came in contact with the opposition, he deals with the “… questions about the possibilities and opportunities of the individual to deal with power …”. This is also the theme of the opera “Baal” (1974/81), the “Rattenfänger” [in English: Pied Piper] (1987) and “Der Riese vom Steinfeld” [in English: The Giant of Steinfeld] (2002), in which the attention is always on the outsiders. In instrumental works such as the violin concert or the saxophone concert, it is the ratio of an instrument in confrontation with the mass of the orchestra, which reflects the ratio of a single individual to society. In “Eine Art Chanson” [in English: some kind of chanson] or in “Keintate” he deals with the basics of poems, including parts from the Viennese group with Viennese language – again various styles run along with the tradition of the Viennese, contrasting each other, first alienated, but then find a new form.

Friedrich Cerha (c) ManningerHowever composing alone has never been enough for Cerha. Inspired by the impressions in Darmstadt, Cerha founded in 1958 with Kurt Schwertsik the ensemble “die reihe” [in English: the series]. The name of the ensemble says it all, it didn’t stick to one performance, the goal was the continuous dissemination of contemporary music. And so they offered the Viennese public works of classical modern music as well as more recent compositions – always quite confrontational, for example the performance of the Piano Concerto by John Cage, which turned into a veritable scandal. But even this could not bring the ensemble down and so it still exists to this day. In the 1980s Cerha initiated together with Hans Landesmann the concert series “Wege in unsere Zeit” [in English: ways in our time] in the Konzerthaus Vienna, which again gave the public the opportunity to get familiar with the contemporary music scene. The fact that Cerha is not limited to one style is not only valid for his compositions, but also for his career as a conductor. Thus, while working for the ensemble “die reihe”, he was also engaged in conducting the ensemble “Camerata Frescobaldiana”, which performed works of the early Italian Baroque on period instruments.

Even with 87 years, Cerha is still active and dedicated to his creative work in his hometown Maria Langegg, where he has erected a chapel. The composer with multiple interests not only composes music, but is also an active painter and sculptor. Another passion of Friedrich Cerha is – just like some other fellow composers – mushroom hunting, an activity where he can find peace for his numerous endeavors. You would think that things are now becoming more quiet around Friedrich Cerha, but this is not the case. Just recently he received a “Carta Blanca” from the Orquesta Nacional de España. During 5 days, from the 7th-12th of April 2013, six compositions for orchestra and ensemble will be performed in the Auditorio Nacional de Música in Madrid. All six compositions are national premieres in Spain.

Doris Weberberger

(translated from German)

This text was first published on austrian music export


Like a Tragicomedy (2008-2009)
for large orchestra | 20'
3 2 3 3 - 4 4 4 1 - timp, perc(4), hp, alto sax(Eb), mand, str
7/4/2013, cond. Nicholas Collon

Bruchstück, geträumt (2009)
for ensemble | 18'
0 0 0 0 - 2 0 1 0 - perc(3), hp, pno, vln(3), vla(2), vc
9/4/2013, cond. Arturo Tamayo

Quellen (1992)
for ensemble | 13'
0 0 1 0 - 1 0 1 0 - perc(3), acc, org, sop.sax, guit, str(1 1 0 0 0)
9/4/2013, cond. Arturo Tamayo

Serenade (2006–2007)
for ensemble | 17'
2 1 2 1 - 1 1 1 0 - perc, hp, mand, vln(2), vla, vc, cb
9/4/2013, cond. Arturo Tamayo

Konzert (2007–2008)
for percussion and orchestra | 35'
3 2 3 3 - 6 4 4 2 - timp(2), perc(4), hp, cel, sop.sax, str(14 12 10 8 6)
12/04/2013, cond. Arturo Tamayo, sol. Juanjo Guillem

Spiegel VI (1960, 1961)
for large orchestra | 6'
5 4 5 4 - 8 4 6 0 - timp(3), str
12/4/2013, cond. Arturo Tamayo

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