Schwehr, Cornelius (*1953)
Cornelius Schwehr is a deliberate, thorough worker. He creates his works in a very controlled, very precise manner, in a kind of permanent self-questioning. These works, which do not at all aim to produce a spectacular effect, are exciting precisely because of the clarity of their structural intent and the consistency of their musical elaboration. (Carolin Naujocks, MusikTexte Nr. 69/70)
© (Photo: private)
|1953||Born in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany)|
|1970-1974||Studies theory and composition under Walter Heck (Freiburg)|
|1975-1981||Studies composition (Klaus Huber), theory (Peter Förtig) and guitar(Denise Lavenchy) at the Freiburg Musikhochschule|
|1981-1983||Studies composition under Helmut Lachenmann at the Stuttgart Musikhochschule|
|1981-1995||Lectureship in music theory at the Freiburg Musikhochschule|
|1983||Scholarship from the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung of the Südwestfunk|
|1985||Scholarship from the Kunststiftung Baden-Württemberg|
|1986-1989||Lectureship in music theory at the Karlsruhe Musikhochschule|
|1989-1995||Lecturer in music theory and composition at the Winterthur Conservatory/Musikhochschule|
|since 1995||Professor of composition at the Freiburg Musikhochschule|
|since 2009||Director of the Institute for Contemporary Music at the Freiburg Musikhochschule|
|since 2010||Professor of composition and film music at the Freiburg Musikhochschule|
|Career||Cornelius Schwehr has received awards and honors at the Gaudeamus Music Week (1980), the Ensemblia Competition of Mönchengladbach (1981), the International Composers' Seminar Boswil (1982 and 1984) and the WDR Forum of Young Composers (1989). |
His works have been given world or national premieres at festivals in Germany and abroad, including Berlin, Duisburg, Geneva, Graz, Innsbruck, Saarbrücken, Stuttgart, Warsaw, Witten and Zurich.
The first thing that strikes the eye in a score by Cornelius Schwehr is the care and accuracy with which he indicates every aspect of the music. Whether he is dealing with temporal organization (duration, proportions, tempi, form) or defining the properties of individual events (register, timbre, attack, sound, dynamics, etc.), everything seems rigorously articulated. Less obvious, but equally rigorous, are the structural networks underlying every page of his scores. Functioning beneath the level of readily perceptible sound, these networks govern such aspects of the music as its predefined pitch-field sequences or metrical progressions. It is pre-compositional devices of this sort that impart, overtly or subliminally, a sense of structural coherence to Schwehr's music. By the same token, they also form a layer of resistance against which his creative imagination can strike fire and produce, ultimately, a dialectical combination of freedom and constraint. As the composer once remarked: "Every event is embedded in a network to which it owes its existence, but each defines itself in a different way."
It is in this area that the compositional outlook of Schwehr's teachers Helmut Lachenmann and Klaus Huber - reflection on and creative pre-formation of the material - found fertile soil in which it could take root. But it also reveals Schwehr's own "embeddedness" in a line of tradition going back far beyond his two mentors, a tradition roughly adumbrated by the figures of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Schoenberg and dominated by motivic-thematic development and the principle of continuous variation.
Equally crucial to Schwehr's compositional outlook is his close association with language and literature, including such writers as Jean Paul and Arno Schmidt, to name only two of the most important figures. His longstanding friendship with Christian Geissler should be viewed in this same context. Texts by Geissler are handled in a variety of ways in several of Schwehr's works, e. g. the accordion piece "aus den kamalattanischen liedern", the string trio "wer ihnen ihres nicht tanzt, spottet der verabredeten bewegung", and "Winterdeutsch" for instrumental ensemble. Arno Schmidt's dictum of a "steel scaffold of construction" finds its correlate in the pre-formation of the material favored by Huber (and by Lachenmann). Similarly, Schmidt's and Jean Paul's predilection for the "smallest detail" has left a mark on the above-mentioned meticulousness with which Schwehr notates every element in his scores. But Schwehr's relation to literature also entails a firm grasp of musical tradition - and not only in its classical and European manifestations. It is no accident that the musical processes at work such as "Do you know what it means to miss ..." or the String Trio include deliberate approach to existing pieces of music.
Nor should we overlook Schwehr's affinity to the working methods and modes of cognition associated with motion pictures. Especially important are the possibilities opened up by film editing, whether to create contrasts, to concoct fluid dissolves or to intertwine various strands of plot or theme. These techniques - and film's categorical dependence on time and pacing - may be viewed as a touchstone of Schwehr's art.
At first hearing, Schwehr's music often seems to consist of relatively small-scale, highly concentrated entities or agglomerates. Although meticulously and sensitively crafted, these entities often reveal, in their terseness and latent energy, an open-endedness to further expansion, whether in the form of repetition, metamorphosis, transition or contrast. As it happens, repetition already implies change: once music is abandoned to the flow of time, a process of metamorphosis automatically sets in. The music appears to the eye and ear in ever new guises; new points of focus can be described, and each moment is ineluctably bound up in a new web of articulations. What Schwehr actually seems to compose is motion, or at least directionality. Occasionally the motion is made manifest as a horizontal flux by a sense of immobility or hiatus produced by fermatas or rests. Sound surfaces with no potential for forward motion are relatively rare in his music; we search in vain for blatant gestures of triumph. Even its busiest moments are imbued with a spirit of restraint; and conversely, even the most minuscule event has its own forward impetus.
Frequently we discover that Schwehr works with contrasting pairs, a manner of handling musical material that ultimately derives from Beethoven's practice of contrasting derivation - that is, from the merging of mutually conditioned opposites. In order to impart definite shape to discursive processes of this sort, Schwehr draws not only on the continuous variation of pitch sequences - and, whether separately or conjointly, their rhythmic settings - but also and especially on the articulation of timbre and sonority. (Here again the two devices are often combined.) Between the "normal" sound of an instrument and its various "shadow timbres", Schwehr employs a highly sophisticated and richly textured arsenal of performance techniques that allow him, as with the aforementioned compositional devices, to place an emphasis on any given element, whether it be metamorphosis, contrast or the establishment of unifying links.
Viewed in this light, it is easy to see why Schwehr, besides producing quantities of radio plays, incidental music and film scores, has tended to focus his efforts on works for unaccompanied solo instrument or chamber-music settings, up to and including ensemble pieces. The exceptions are his orchestral piece "Lied" (1984) and its latter-day pendant, the double concerto à nous deux (1995). This latter piece, a work of far greater scope, raises new questions about the relation between soloist(s) and collective and finds its way to a novel personal idiom - and to a distinctive brand of humor.
By its very nature, composition always has to do with the medium of time and the articulation of events and elements within it. It is the traversal of articulated time - and the "naming" of each situation as it occurs - that give Schwehr's music its forward momentum and allows it to take shape as discourse and qualitative leap. Accordingly, his music deliberately calls for astute listening, for example by paying close attention to the states in which elements are reassembled. It also attempts to alter both the act of listening and the listener himself by raising his level of sensitivity, i. e. by capturing and enlarging his awareness. In this way, Schwehr and his music deliberately uphold the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is only natural that his next large-scale project, an opera with the title "Heimat" ("Home"), will take up precisely this set of problems.
Wolfgang Thein (1997)
(Translation: Roger Clément)
Nur dein Geschmack entscheidet. Über den Zusammenhang zwischen einer Getränke-
reklame und der Musik-Praxis in den Rundfunkanstalten, in: Medium 4/86
Neue Musik und Politik, Vortrag auf der Tagung "Musik und Politik" der Katholischen Akademie in Freiburg, Oktober 1989 (Manuskript)
Musik und Kommunikation, Vortrag auf dem Komponistenseminar "Musikalische Begegnungen" in Lenzburg/Schweiz, August 1991 (Manuskript)
"Auf Grund schlechten Wetters hat die Revolution nur in der Musik stattgefunden",
Vortrag in Schaffhausen/Schweiz, Oktober 1991 (Manuskript)
Einige grundsätzliche Bemerkungen zur "Entartung" in der Kunst, Vortrag im Rahmen der Veranstaltungsreihe "Entartete Kunst" des AAK Freiburg, Dezember 1991 (Manuskript)
Der Pannwitzblick. Anmerkungen zu Theorie und Praxis der Filmmusik,
in: Der Pannwitzblick, hrsg. von Udo Sierck und Didi Danquart, Hamburg 1993
Hanns Eisler um 1925, in: Visionen und Aufbrüche. Zur Krise der modernen Musik, Kassel 1994
Schubert und die Wirklichkeit, in: Musica, Scientia et Ars (Festschrift Peter Förtig), Frankfurt am Main 1995
Was macht die Kunst nach dem Ende der Kunst? Vortrag an der Universität Bonn 1997
Nicolaus A. Huber. An Hölderlins Umnachtung, in: Musik und Ästhetik 7, Heft 25 (Januar 2003), S. 60-70
Eingrenzen als Entgrenzen. Beobachtungen an „Don’t fence me in“ von Nicolaus A. Huber, in: MusikTexte Heft 108 (Februar 2006), S. 47-50
(Schwehr im Gespräch mit Carolin Naujocks): sub-version. Anmerkungen zum Begriff und seinem Verhältnis zur Musik, in: positionen 67, Mai 2006, S. 5-9
Neue Musik oder Neue Filmmusik. Zum Verhältnis von Musik und Film, in: Wechselwirkungen. Neue Musik und Film, hrsg. von Jörn Peter Hiekel, Hofheim: wolke 2012, S. 21-28
Writings on Cornelius Schwehr (Selection)
Benda, Susanne: Portrait Cornelius Schwehr, in: Badische Zeitung, 14. April 1992
Hiekel, Jörn Peter: (Nicht-)Verstehen und Überreden. Politische Akzentsetzungen in Musik, in: Berührungen. Über das (Nicht-)Verstehen von Neuer Musik (= Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung Darmstadt, Band 52), hrsg. von Jörn Peter Hiekel, Mainz u. a.: Schott 2012, S. 120-130
Naujocks, Carolin: Wirklichkeitssinn und Möglichkeitssinn. Über die Arbeit des Freiburger Komponisten Cornelius Schwehr, Sendung DeutschlandRadio Köln, Abdruck in MusikTexte 69/70, April 1997, S. 12-18
dies.: "Die Hoffnung ist eine begehrliche Erinnerung". Zum Komponieren von Cornelius Schwehr, in: Dissonanz (deutsche Ausgabe) und Dissonance (französische Ausgabe), Heft 84, Dezember 2003, S. 18-21
Nonnenmann, Rainer: „Des Wider-Spännstigen Fügung“. Zur Musik von Cornelius Schwehr, Saarbrücken: Pfau 2005 (= fragmen, Heft 46)
Thein, Wolfgang: Konzentrate, entfaltbar. Zur Musik Cornelius Schwehrs, CD-Beilagetext
hat ART 6191, Therwil 1996
Ullmann, Jakob: Lattenzaun ist Zwischenraum. Cornelius Schwehr, Sendung HR, Oktober 1996
Chanson for one female recorder flutist
for mixed choir
for string quartet and double bass
Krachend lachen die Harmlosfröhlichen auf ihrer Stange (1982)
for female voice, flute/alto flute, violin, piano and kettle-drum
QUINTUS 2 (1984/85)
da capo (1985/86)
for oboe, violoncello and piano
alles zu werden; Signale! (1987/88)
monologue for 4 percussionists and one conductor
Deutsche Tänze (1989/90)
for 5 female voices
poco a poco subito (1990/91)
for violoncello and piano
for accordion, clarinet (Es-,A-,B-clarinet) and double bass
Nachtlied (Robert Schumann) (1990)
for choir (original part), flutist, clarinet, horn, violoncello and 2 pianos
plus-minus (Karlheinz Stockhausen) (1990)
for chamber ensemble
Schwehr also wrote incidental music to numerous stage plays as well as music to films and radio plays.