Schleiermacher, Steffen (*1960)
"Once people have finally made it into a concert, they are often enthusiastic or at least they express an opinion. That is what is so beautiful with new music: it can and should even be discussed, which is no longer possible with all the autonomous masterpieces that were canonized 100 or 200 years ago."
(Steffen Schleiermacher, 2000)
Photo © by Gerd Mothes, Leipzig
Homepage von Steffen Schleiermacher
Hanns-Eisler Award of the radio of the GDR
|1960||born on May 3 in Halle|
|1968-78||member of the "Stadtsingechor" Halle|
|1980-85||studies at the music conservatory "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" in Leipzig: composition (Siegfried Thiele), piano (Gerhard Erber) and conducting (Günter Blumhagen)|
|1985-88||assistant at the Leipzig music conservatory (e. g. the subjects composition, contemporary music and non-European music)|
|1986/87||master-class student at the Academy of Arts in Berlin with Friedrich Goldmann|
|1989||foundation of the Ensemble Avantgarde |
Hanns-Eisler-Award of the GDR radio
|1989/90||studies with Alfons Kontarsky in Cologne (with a scholarship of the Deutsche Musikrat)|
|since 1990||creative direction of the series "musica nova" at the Leipzig Gewandhaus|
|since 1992||management of the festival with contemporary music in Leipzig|
|1992||scholarship of the Villa Massimo Rome|
|1992-97||diverse composition scholarships of the foundation "Kulturfond"|
|1997||stay over some months in Japan based on a scholarship of the Japan Foundation|
|1999||scholarship of the Cité des Arts in Paris|
|2000||foundation of the festival "Klangrausch" in Leipzig|
|Career||Steffen Schleiermacher lives as freelance composer and pianist in Leipzig, as pianist he is specialized in music of the 20th century, CD recordings and several honourings|
On Steffen Schleiermacher
The main characteristic of Steffen Schleiermacher's compositional art is no doubt its stupendous multiplicity. It would be futile to attempt to define a specific handwriting that runs through his entire oeuvre, or to assign the composer to a particular school. To be sure, Schleiermacher, who studied with Siegfried Thiele, Friedrich Schenker and Friedrich Goldmann, spent a great deal of time analyzing and studying the works of great 20th-century composers such as Edgard Varèse, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Helmut Lachenmann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown and John Cage. And there is no doubt that one or the other composer left their trace in his music. However, Steffen Schleiermacher is a self-assured individualist, who is neither disturbed nor disconcerted by such references. He pursues his path unwaveringly, unfettered by the restrictive debates on trends and currents.
Yet there is no doubt that Schleiermacher is obligated to modernity and its accepted standards. This applies to all of his activities: as composer, performer and artistic adviser of various concert series. As the head of the "Ensemble Avantgarde," founded in 1988, he has performed countless works by young composers of our time. As a pianist, he has been one of the most outstanding interpreters of contemporary music for many years now. He does not focus exclusively on music of today, however, but also cultivates the "classical modern" works of, for example, the Bauhaus circle, or those of the sadly neglected Russian avant-garde composers from the first half of the 20th century. Save for certain representatives of the Western tradition such as Machaut, Monteverdi and Bach, the standard classical-romantic repertoire plays no role whatsoever in Schleiermacher's musical philosophy. He is, however, fascinated by non-European (musical) cultures, such as those of Indonesia and Japan. Whoever searches in this direction will find a great deal of direct and indirect affinities.
Early European music history is articulated with palpable vividness in the "homage" work una cava di nostalgia (1996) for five voices and ensemble, in which Schleiermacher integrates many musical and textual fragments from Gesualdo's famous madrigal moro lasso as references. This "quarry of longing" is not a work adaptation but an aesthetic exploitation of Gesualdo's composition technique from a modern-day perspective. Schleiermacher transformed the dramaturgy of contrasts typical of the Renaissance master into a modern-day work concept in which tempered tuning and micro-glissandi, accentuated pulses and hovering meters confront one another while also interpenetrating and juxtaposing one another, as in the music of his historical colleague. The use of such elements of sound and gesture marked by contrast is inherent to Schleiermacher's oeuvre.
It is above all in his works dating from the 1980s and early 90s that Schleiermacher exposes this principle in the composition of consecutive block-like segments. In works such as Zeit Verschiebung (1997) for ensemble, he began turning increasingly to strategies of contrasting layers. Inspired by traditional Japanese wall paintings, this work thematizes the relationship of forefront and background. Three instrumental layers (winds, strings, piano and percussion) characterized by a gesturalness specific to each and maintained throughout the entire piece, are blended together through superimpositions to such an extent that their actual meanings are continuously shifting - a play with auditory decisions. Ostinati and other techniques of repetition are typical of this process and ensure that its structural concepts can be essentially grasped.
Indeed, rhythmic and metrical elements occupy a central role in Steffen Schleiermacher's music. Many of his works possess clearly contoured, and sometimes also very insistent, sequences of impulses which at times evoke minimal music or seem to be borrowed from pop music. In the rhythmically striking work for saxophone, piano and percussion with the allusive title Eher was für Madonna & Janet & Björk als für Nicolaus & Helmut & Hans (2000), which sets the three pop divas against the composers Huber, Lachenmann and Zender, he knowingly walks the tightrope between light and serious music, even though the atmospheric allusions of the title are barely given the light treatment that is expected.
Having fun with music as a living organism is very much a part of Schleiermacher's music. He enjoys using ironic, provocative means which nudge and tweak the Zeitgeist, knowing full well that music was never, at any time, one of the world's most serious issues. Ritual and ecstasy, entertainment and pleasure have always belonged to music - and still belong to it today. Yet they do not necessarily demand the sacrifice of artistic seriousness nor of the philosophy or action that are part of the avant-garde, even from a musico-didactic point of view, as is eloquently proven in Schleiermacher's works. With some of his pieces, the composer advances directly towards younger musicians in order to pass on to them the performance techniques of today (for example in the Zehn Kinderstücke for two identical wind instruments, 1989, or the Zwölf Klanglandschaften im Klavier, 2000).
As multi-faceted and varied as Steffen Schleiermacher's spectrum of musical communication may be, the composer deliberately eschews certain virulent possibilities. He does not work with electronic means, for example; they have simply not interested him to date. And when he does decide to use a tape, as in klavier & klaviere (1996), it is used for the overlapping of many concrete piano layers over the real piano playing. In the ensemble piece Drang Saal (2000), nothing but spoken telephone numbers are inserted via tape, so as to evoke a level of vexation affecting the instrumental part.
Schleiermacher has also hardly written anything for the musical theater, and pure vocal music occupies a very small part of his oeuvre (4 Chöre nach Trakl, 1986; Zähne for twelve voices and two percussionists, 1998; Eighty-Eighth Psalm for boys' choir, 2002). Schleiermacher's favorite setting is the ensemble with a variable combination. To be sure, he has written several impressive orchestral works and concertos (including the Musik für Pauken und Orchester, 1984/85; Keil for saxophone and orchestra, 1998; Gassen Hauer mit Nebel Horn for theremin and orchestra - without strings, 2001), but he is still more fascinated by the play with nuanced combinations of colors within the narrowest confines, preferably for musicians whose abilities he is familiar with. Many of his works, such as Atem Los for accordion and trombone (1998), Druck Luft for flute ensemble (1999), SPALT! for shakuhachi and ensemble (1999), were hand-tailored to specific performers.
In its open collectiveness, Steffen Schleiermacher's music is truly expressive; no one can venture to prophesize what is to come on the basis of the multiplicity of what he has written up to now (even the composer himself would most likely not be able to). It is strongly expressive even in the works whose gestures seem to be abstracted and concentrated, where the structural processes are compressed down to nothing but individual sounds, as in Stille und Klang for chamber ensemble (1991). It always presents itself as an effective and palpably heard interplay of well-known and less well-known parameter constellations in contexts that are uncommon and have never been heard before. Schleiermacher's music unerringly follows the route of modernity but branches out whenever it broadens into one-way streets that put one on the wrong track. It is then that he must read and interpret other road markings. This can be sharp, ironic, cocky - in other words, individual.
Komponistenporträt, in: Was Hören wir? Programmheft des Internationalen Musikfestivals Höfgen-Kaditzsch, August/September 1999, S. 66f.
Prozesse der Öffnung. Im Gespräch: Martin Smolka, Steffen Schleiermacher und Jörn Peter Hiekel, in: Jahrbuch der Sächsischen Akademie der Künste 2007/2008, Dresden 2009, S. 321-326
Writings on Steffen Schleiermacher(Selection)
Ehrler, Hanno: Tanz der wilden Männer. Noch ein böser Bube der Musik: Steffen Schleiermacher aus Leipzig, FAZ, 21. April 1997
Korfmacher, Peter: Cage und die musica nova. Multitalent aus Leipzig: Steffen Schleiermacher, in: Klassik heute Heft 12/1998, S. 18-20
Sporn, Christiane: „Hoffe, dass das Bild nie fertig wird“. […] Einige Betrachtungen zu Werken und Wirken Steffen Schleiermachers, in: GewandhausMagazin Nr. 52, Herbst 2006, S. 65-69
Stramm, Johann Walter von: Steffen Schleiermacher, in: Komponisten der Gegenwart, hrsg. von Hanns-Werner Heister und Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer, München: edition text+kritik, 36. Nachtragslieferung (Juli 2008)
Gesang des Apsyrtos (1985)
für Oboe d'amore, Viola, Kontrabass und Gitarre
Sechs Bagatellen (1986)
Konzert für Viola und Kammerorchester (1987)
Trio für Posaune, Violoncello und Klavier (1987)
für Violine, Violoncello, Flöte, Klarinette und Klavier
Musik für Kammerensemble (1990)
Auf B (1990)
Für F (1991)
für Streichquartett und Klarinette
Zu Viert (1991)
für 2 Klaviere und 2 Schlagzeuger
Musik für Violine, Harfe und Kammerensemble (1991)
Stille und Klang (1991)
Für Martin Riches (1993)
für Flöte, Klavier und Klangskulpturen
Puls Farbe Schatten (1994)
Stockend Fließend (1995)
für Oboe, Fagott, Gitarre und Viola
Holzstück mit Fell und Metall (1996)
für Blockflöten und Schlagzeug
klavier und klaviere (1997)
für Klavier und Zuspielband
... fast ... kaum ... (1997)
für Klarinette und Streichquartett
Inside the Trance Machine (2001)
für 6 Schlagzeuger
für 5 Stimmen und Klavier