Gottfried von Einem Centenary celebrated in 2018(October 2015)
The centenary of Austrian composer Gottfried von Einem is celebrated in 2018, encouraging an exploration of his output.
Raised in an Austrian diplomat’s family, though his natural father was a dashing Hungarian aristocrat, he settled in Berlin in 1937 to study with Hindemith at the State School of Music and soon found his niche in the theatre world, earning his way as a piano repetiteur. He worked for Karajan at the Berlin State Opera and Tietjen at the Bayreuth Festival and, following studies with Blacher, turned to composition with his early works attracting immediate acclaim. With daring metrical schemes, spiky rhythmic energy and a ‘forbidden’ passion for jazz, as heard in the Concerto for Orchestra, Einem lived dangerously in the mid-1940s during the final years of the Nazi terror.
In the post-war period his audacity was progressively overtaken by avant-garde developments, and his carefully crafted, essentially tonal idiom was dismissed by many, while being readily embraced by singers in his sequence of highly successful operas. Among his eight works for the lyric stage he produced definitive operatic versions of Büchner’s Danton’s Death (1947) (published by Universal Edition), Kafka’s The Trial (1950-52) and Dürrenmatt’s The Visit of the Old Lady (1968-70). The latter stagework, with its monstrous central mezzo role written for Christa Ludwig and ever-topical themes of personal revenge and the corrupting power of money, has retained its place in the repertoire: following the premiere at the Vienna State Opera it travelled widely including to the Glyndebourne Festival and San Francisco Opera, with more recent productions at New York City Opera and a collection of German houses.
Alongside his operatic works Einem was commissioned by leading orchestras, including those in Vienna, Munich, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Works for voice and orchestra saw him setting texts by Hölderlin, Brecht, Hesse, and Austrian writers including HC Artmann and Lotte Ingrisch. In his later years he turned increasingly to chamber music, not least a sequence of five string quartets written between 1975 and his death in 1996.
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Photo: Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien
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