Matthus, Siegfried (*1934)
Siegfried Matthus manages to meet prevailing listening habits halfway without falling into compromises or clichés. For a long time Matthus was the most frequently performed contemporary composer in the GDR. He began building a broader base of listeners in the West in the 1970s. Matthus has always devoted a great deal of time to his pedagogical interests. His personal accomplishment in this domain is the "Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg" (Rheinsberg Palace Chamber Opera) which he founded in 1991. It has taken him only a few years to turn this summer festival into a highly regarded springboard for "stars of tomorrow" from all over the world.
(from the jury text of the Association of German Critics, 1998)
Photo © by Carla Arnold, Dresden
Homepage of Siegfried Matthus
|1934||Born in Mallenuppen (East Prussia) on 13th April|
|1948-1952||School studies and school-leaving exam in Rheinsberg|
|1952-1958||Studies at the Deutsche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, Composition studies under Rudolf Wagner-Régeny|
|1958-1960||Master student of Hanns Eisler at the Akademie der Künste Berlin|
|since 1960||Free-lance composer|
|since 1964||Composer and dramaturgical adviser for contemporary music at the Komische Oper in Berlin |
Collaboration with Walter Felsenstein, Götz Friedrich and Harry Kupfer
|1966-1988||Conception and direction of the Kammermusik im Gespräch series at the Komische Oper in Berlin|
|1969||Member of the Akademie der Künste der DDR|
|1972||Direction of a master class at this institution and secretary of the music section|
|1976||Member of the Akademie der Künste in West Berlin|
|1978||Member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste in Munich|
|1984||Honorary citizen of the city of Rheinsberg|
|1991-2014||Artistic director of the Kammeroper Rheinsberg|
|1996||Prize of the Internationale Theaterinstitut Berlin (ITI)|
|1998||Prize of the Verband der deutschen Kritiker|
|2000||"Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany" (1st Class)|
|2013||Louis-Spohr-Musikpreis awarded by the city of Braunschweig|
On Siegfried Matthus
Among the composers of the former German Democratic Republic, Siegfried Matthus is one of the exceptional few who began to win international attention and recognition as early as the 1970s. He owes his reputation above all to an unmistakable and consistently creative musicality, which has always unfolded by orienting itself first and foremost on individual expressive needs, and not on what the regime's ideologists for artistic matters deemed suitable. Matthus has also always shown an independence towards all the avant-garde fashions. Moreover, he has always been acutely sensitive to bold and daring sounds that challenge opera-goers and concert audiences, but that ultimately do not prevent them from understanding what he really wants to express in his music.
The many compositions that constitute his oeuvre can be assigned to the great genres which Matthus has substantially enriched. At the top of his life-long interests - and source of lasting successes - is, of course, music theater. This genre is represented by 11 operas, the first of which, "Lazarillo vom Tormes", was written in 1963. A second but hardly less important domain consists of orchestral music, illustrated by both "absolute" and "programmatic" symphonic works and a series of 13 concertos, some of which have drawn widespread attention. Then there are the large vocal works, some inspired by the theater, some by the symphonic tradition. These works are complemented by a wealth of vocal miniatures in the cantata tradition, lieder and choral songs, and chamber music for a variety of instrumental combinations. Finally, one should not forget the many examples of "applied" art - from film music to the political song - which the former pupil of Hanns Eisler repeatedly interpolated into the main lines of his oeuvre.
These broad creative currents can also be arranged according to phases of stylistic development which lasted about ten years each. The first phase, which ended in the late 1960s, was keynoted by an experimentation with the technical means of musical modernity and avant-garde. This was followed by a period of consolidation, of a kind of systematic exploitation of a personal idiom which more strongly and inwardly reflected the creative processes and expressive models of the past. Finally, the latest creative period, that of the 80s and 90s, glows with the full, mature mastery of the composer's craft. It evidences a musical philosophy which is exact in its power of expression and unerring in its disposition, which forms and shapes precisely what it wants to feel and is able to convey.
Let us try to sketch the aims of Matthus' musical philosophy a little more precisely. What emerges first is a profound need for musical images with significance, with a meaning that is both inward-looking and immediately understandable. His musical processes are based on a dramaturgy of affective fundamental values and effective emotional relationships which, despite the complexity of their musical invention, strive towards relatively terse but sensually "entertaining" effects. This strategy has been misunderstood by some critics as a compliant advocation of the post-modernist trends that are proliferating today. However, it is nothing more but also nothing less - than the perfectly "natural" process of continual artistic self-examination, a process of purification leading to a totally unrestrained clarity and comprehensibility, to an openness towards the great masters of the past and to the vast public of today - a public which the composer wishes to address and which wants to listen to him. Matthus, however, couples such outward "civility" with a subjective inner mobility, a magnificent abundance of musical phantasy and technical suppleness. Even connoisseurs of his vast oeuvre find it difficult to coin a concept that embraces all of this, or to assign it to a valid system or even to the sphere of any of the prevailing neo-expressive currents. One best grasps Matthus' musical creativity by observing his will to produce, which functions instinctively and is as impulsive as it is relatively effortless; by observing the impulse to strip himself and free himself of these very concepts, systems and currents. To be sure, Matthus understands the act of composing as intrinsically related to concepts of significance and functional criteria, but not, however, as deriving primarily from the vainglorious ambition of doggedly attaining some new style with which one can express something absolutely "unheard of". He is less concerned with technical dogmatism now that he has learned to adapt what he needs from others, to see through all dogmatic theories and use their limited significance for himself and his expressive needs.
Ultimately, his musical philosophy is orienting itself with increasing intensity on what is less a "post"-modern than "trans"-modern language of differentiated affects which are determined as unequivocally as possible; on the capacity to impress stimulative impulses onto the musical senses; and on an impassioned spawning of emotional states which are not the product of ponderous reflection and can thus be directly experienced. This explains Matthus' intense fascination with music theater - a fascination that dates at the latest from the day Walter Felsenstein invited him to join the team of the Komische Oper in Berlin. It is here, in the conjunction of art forms which mutually illuminate each other in ever varying perspectives, that his ideal of an "eloquent", "convincing" and "communicative" music finds an inexhaustible field of experimentation for real challenges and verifiable fulfillments. After a period of strenuous probing, Matthus achieved a first synthesis in 1966/67 with the opera "Der letzte Schuss" (The Last Shot), a revolutionary drama set against the searing tension between individual love and large-scale politics. This was the first work to give "Matthus" the stamp of a personal and original idiom; the first work to usher in the expressive, impassioned sound that is so typical of him. At the same time, it also embodies a "theme", a basic conflict between antithetical principles (woman/love/life - man/politics/death) which has accompanied Matthus throughout his career as a musical dramatist. The comic thriller opera "Noch einen Löffel Gift, Liebling?" (Another Spoonful of Poison, Dear?) of 1971 and the enigmatic "Omphale" of 1974, both written in collaboration with Peter Hacks, give a nuanced treatment of such contentious topics in the contrasting guises of "everyday" salon farce and "timeless" myth. An archetypal battle of the sexes collides with the destructive interests of intrusive power politics in a typically genre-specific contrast of gory, antique tragedy and fragile, visionary dream play in the two operas of the 1980s: "Judith" based on the eponymous play by Friedrich Hebbel and premiered in Harry Kupfer's production in Berlin in 1985, and "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke" (The Tale of Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke) after Rilke's famous novella, which was premiered in Dresden, also in 1985, on the occasion of the reopening of the Semper Opera. The work, first staged by Ruth Berghaus, was a great success and went on to be staged in further productions in the GDR and abroad.
In these works, Matthus conveyed poignantly human messages while at the same time opening up new musical perspectives which have been fully embraced in "Graf Mirabeau" (Count Mirabeau), premiered in Berlin in 1989 and at the same time in Karlsruhe and Essen, and "Desdemona und ihre Schwestern" (Desdemona and Her Sisters) of 1992. However, these latest developments did not proceed without a number of unpredictable elements and musical surprises, neither in the case of the afore-mentioned operas nor in that of the instrumental works. One need only pass in quick review the enormous stylistic range of the major works written by Matthus during the past years and which evidence highly different underlying concepts: for example the symphonic pieces "Tief ist der Brunnen der Vergangenheit" (Deep is the Well of the Past), the "Gewandhaus-Sinfonie", the piano concerto based on Johannes Brahms's "Piano Quartet in G minor Op. 25" (which Schoenberg had once orchestrated), and the "Manhattan Concerto". Another factor which is bound to affect Matthus' upcoming works is his new function as the successful director of the summer Opera Festival at Rheinsberg Palace (where he attended secondary school) - for Matthus, the fulfillment of a dream he has nurtured since his youth. He is now able to contribute actively in assuring theater-obsessed composers like himself that in the future they can count on fresh, professional young interpreters and on audiences that keep renewing themselves and that can enthusiastically hail the operas both of the past and the present.
(Translation: Roger Clément)
Das wundersame Land Phantásien, in: Musikforum 2 (2004), Heft 1, S. 70f.
Mit Leidenschaft und Fantasie. Siegfried Matthus im Gespräch, in: Das Opernglas 25 (2004), Heft 4, S. 28-31
Es geht mir um die geheimnisvolle Verbindung von Musik und Theater. Ein Gespräch mit Siegfried Matthus zum 65. Geburtstag, in: GEMA-Nachrichten Nr. 159 (Juni 1999), S. 31-33
There are detailed introductory texts on various concert works by Siegfried Matthus (by Ulrike Liedtke, Frank Schneider and many others, which will be provided by the publishing house on inquiry)
Neue Inhalte für die Oper: Junge Librettisten und Komponisten brauchen mehr Praxis, in: GEMA Nachrichten Nr. 162 (November 2000), S. 126f
Nachruf [auf Götz Friedrich], in: Theater der Zeit, Januar 2001, S. 83
Döhnert, Hellmut: Siegfried Matthus - für Sie porträtiert, Leipzig 1979
Gennrich, Judith: "Ich bin ein Sänger ohne Stimme". Siegfried Matthus' Kompositionsweise für die Stimme, Diplomarbeit (Ms.), Mainz 1997
Hansen, Mathias (Hrsg.): Komponieren zur Zeit. Gespräche mit Komponisten der DDR,
Leipzig 1988, darin (S. 159-188): Siegfried Matthus im Gespräch mit Gerhard Müller
Matthus, Siegfried: Libretti, Berlin 1989, darin (S. 163ff): Ulrike Liedtke: Zum Opernschaffen von Siegfried Matthus
Rode, Susanne: Dramatik und "vergnügliche Belehrung". Der Komponist Siegfried Matthus, in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 6/1989, S. 15-19
Neef, Sigrid und Hermann: Siegfried Matthus, in: Deutsche Oper im 20. Jahrhundert: DDR 1949-1989, Berlin 1992, S. 314-369
Pestalozza, Luigi: Siegfried Matthus, in: Programmheft des Laboratorio Lirico di Alessandria 1989 zur "Cornet"-Inszenierung
Rienäcker, Gerd: Zum Opernschaffen von Siegfried Matthus, in: Theater der Zeit 11/1976
Tunn-Martin, Susanne: Der Opernkomponist Siegfried Matthus. Grundlegende Aussagen zum Personalstil des Komponisten, in: Das Orchester 3/1996
Dieckmann, Friedrich: Die gefesselte Jugend. Rilkes "Cornet" als Oper einer Vision,
in: Weimarer Beiträge 6/1986
Matthus, Siegfried: Meine "Cornet"-Oper, in: Programmheft der Uraufführung an der
Dresdner Staatsoper 1985
ders.: "Cornet" oder Über die Kunst, zu erben. Ein Werkstattgespräch, in: Musik und
ders.: Über die Harmonik meiner "Cornet"-Oper, in: Musik und Gesellschaft 8/1987
ders.: "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke".
Interpretationserfahrungen, in: Wanderer zwischen Musik, Politik und Recht. Festschrift für Reinhold Kreile zum 65. Geburtstag, hrsg. von Jürgen Becker, Baden-Baden 1994, S. 403ff.
Herbort, Heinz-Josef: Von Weisheit reden und in Liebe sein, in: Gewandhaus Magazin 2/1993
on "Graf Mirabeau"
Liedtke, Ulrike: Graf Mirabeau. Oper von Siegfried Matthus, in: Musik und Gesellschaft 7/1989
Matthus, Siegfried: Ein Wüstling der Freiheit, in: Theater der Zeit 2/1989
(Anon.:) Balada "Cristobál Colón" / Matthus "Judith" In First Performances,
in: MadAminA! 2/1990
Büchter-Römer, Ute: Aspekte des Neuen Musiktheaters und Strategien seiner Vermittlung, Augsburg 1996 (Forum Musikpädagogik, Band 18)
Herbort, Heinz-Josef: Der große Dialog der Monologe, in: DIE ZEIT, 11. Oktober 1985
Siegfried Matthus: Musiktheater soll Auge, Ohr und Verstand zugleich beschäftigen,
in: Neues Deutschland, 18. März 1981
ders.: Textvertonungen und musikalischer Affekt. Gespräch mit Ulrike Liedtke, in: Musik und Gesellschaft 3/1984
Matthus, Siegfried: Beschreibung eines Zustandes. Warum komponiere ich eigentlich eine Oper?, in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 6/1989, S. 13f.
Theobald, Christiane: Gedanken zur musikalischen Form der Oper "Judith", in: Programmheft der Städtischen Bühnen Krefeld/Mönchengladbach zur Inszenierung 1986
on "Der letzte Schuß"
Friedrich, Götz: Einige Antworten auf Fragen zur Inszenierung ..., in: Stephan Stompor (Hrsg.): Felsenstein, Friedrich, Herz - Musiktheater, Leipzig 1970
Hennenberg, Fritz: Dialektische musikdramatische Verfahren in der Oper "Der letzte Schuß", in: Jahrbuch der Komischen Oper Berlin 1968
ders.: Analyse "Der letzte Schuß", in: Musik und Gesellschaft 1/1968 und 5/1968
Matthus, Siegfried: Werkstattgespräch mit Hans-Gerald Otto, in: Theater der Zeit 6/1968
ders.: Freundlichkeit und vergnügliche Belehrung, in: Musik und Gesellschaft 1/1969
Vogt, Hans: Siegfried Matthus: Der letzte Schuß, in: Neue Musik seit 1945, Stuttgart 1972, S. 370-380
on "Die Liebesqualen des Catull"
Neumann, Kirsten: "Die Liebesqualen des Catull" in Sprache und Musik. Erfahrungen mit fächerübergreifendem Unterricht in Klasse 11, in: Der altsprachliche Unterricht (1995), S. 91-109
on "Noch einen Löffel Gift, Liebling?"
Matthus, Siegfried: [Ohne Titel] und Götz Friedrich: Verdachtsmomente, in: Programmheft der Komischen Oper Berlin zur Uraufführung 1972
Hacks, Peter: Omphale. Versuch über das Libretto, in: Oper, Berlin 1975
Schneider, Frank: Bewußte Musikalisierung von Oper. Bemerkungen zum Partiturbild der Oper "Omphale", in: Theater der Zeit 11/1976
Schwinger, Eckart: Omphale oder das konträre Autorenpaar, in: Musica 6/1976
Seipt, Angelus: Zum Libretto von Omphale, in: Programmheft der Oper der Stadt Köln zur Inszenierung 1979
Dictionary Articles (Selection)
Blake, David, in: The New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Härtwig, Dieter, in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Supplement)
Liedtke, Ulrike, in: Komponisten der Gegenwart, München 1996
Schneider, Frank, in: Metzler Komponisten Lexikon, Stuttgart 1992