Thiele, Siegfried (*1934)
Straightforward, incorruptible - this is how Siegfried Thiele's works are often referred to. While many composers have produced countless fashionably glossy works of superficial effect over the past 40 years, Thiele has never allowed himself to be influenced by these trends.
(Werner Wolf, 1999)
Foto © by Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden
Thiele, Siegfried: Diptychon
Ensemble Avantgarde, cond. Steffen Schleiermacher
Leipzig, Gewandhaus (Germany)
|1934||Born in Chemnitz on 28 March|
|1952||Completes secondary school|
|1953-1958||Studies music in Leipzig: composition (with Wilhelm Weismann and Johannes Weyrauch) and conducting|
|1958-1962||Teaches at music schools in Radeberg and Wurzen|
|1960-1962||Further composition studies at the Akademie der Künste Berlin (with Leo Spies)|
|since 1962||Teaches at the Hochschule für Musik in Leipzig (composition, score reading)|
|1973||Founds and heads the Jugendsinfonieorchester Leipzig|
|1984||Professor of composition|
|1990-1997||Rector of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig|
|1992||Member of the Freie Akademie der Künste Leipzig|
|1996||Member of the Sächsische Akademie der Künste Dresden|
|1999||Honorary guest of the Villa Massimo, Rome|
|Career||Analysis courses and lectures in Berlin, Brussels, Dornach, Dresden, Fribourg, Gera, Göteborg, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Mainz, Paris and Rome|
Siegfried Thiele sometimes describes himself as a "Gallomaniac". Especially the language and music of France have long fired his imagination through their spirit and elegance as well as through their confessionary character and intellectual depth. While he may turn with particular interest to the works of the late-medieval Ars nova and to those of Debussy and Messiaen for creative impulses, it is not with the intent to produce historicizing stylistic copies or even post-modern showmanship. He does so to obtain stimuli for his own inspiration and to throw a bridge of sympathy to Germany's European neighbour.
"Dear, honored Master Guillaume de Machaut", wrote Thiele in a credo-like, fictitious letter on the occasion of the extremely successful world premiere of his "Hommage à Machaut" (1977), "the beautiful afterglow of great historical events shines throughout the great variety of your works, writings and compositions (...). You brilliantly succeeded in combining regularity in the ordering of time and a structure thoroughly permeated by a will for order with the action of sounds that are set into motion with imagination and meaning. The knowledge of your works has opened up to me a great multiplicity of differentiated perceptions and experiences."
In order to illustrate the topicality of 14th-century music and its amazing similarities to serial structures of the 20th century, Siegfried Thiele adapts two isorhythmic motets by the French composer in the even-numbered inner movements of his five-part "Hommage à Machaut". Here, as in the "Three Orchestral Motets after Machaut" (1972), he eschews a textual basis and adapts the original vocal parts to the orchestra. The odd-numbered movements of the work present, in their turn, a double ballad by Eustache Deschamps on the death of Machaut, which thus helps the composition accede to a remarkable synthesis of old and new.
Similar transformations of formal qualities can be observed in the four-movement choral cycle "Prophezeiungen" (Prophecies, 1986/87), in which Thiele once again confronts questions concerning the being and passing of life. In the second part, for example, he combines the melody of the song "Es ist ein Schnitter, heißt der Tod" with an admonitory, aphoristic text by Leonardo da Vinci in the style of the parody technique, while supplying the original words of this tune with an original a-tonic structure. The combination of the two settings gives rise to a rupture of the familiar harmony of the song and to musical distortions of its text, which intensifies the contents of the overall message of the work.
Another great French composer is signalized by the partial quote in the title of "Jeux pour harpe et orchestre" (1974) and the inscriptions "Hommage à Cl. D." and "Hommagissimo à Cl. D." at the end of two of the "Vier stille Stücke" (Four Quiet Pieces) for piano (1978). These two works make it clear, however, that Thiele is not only fascinated by Debussy's impressionistic use of color, but also by the monochrome intervallic studies contained in the "Douze Etudes". Sound models that can be grasped with analytic precision are elaborated into striking poses and evoke a path leading to a highly nuanced interiorization of the processes of perception.
As to their soundscapes, there are also similarities between Debussy's "Nuages" and Thiele's "Wolkenbilder" (Cloud Pictures) for Chamber Orchestra of 1977 based on the Goethe poems "Stratus", "Cumulus", "Cirrus" and "Nimbus". They lead to the closing statement: "Speech descends, for it describes; the spirit seeks to ascend where it remains forever." Since the instrumental sound flow unfolds organically in structural layers which are bound to one family of tone colors respectively, we find elements of the compositional style of Anton Bruckner and Witold Lutoslawski. From the latter, Thiele also borrows strategies for overcoming limitations of functional harmony and metrical rhythm, so that he can work with genuine alternatives in shaping the tonal layout and enhancing the comprehensibility of the form.
Thiele explored the resulting alternations of aleatorically free and metrically precisely notated passages and fused them together with dodecaphonic material for the first time in the "Proportionen" (Proportions) for oboe, violoncello and piano of 1971. Multilayered, symmetrical relationships, the systematic expansion of intervals and the analogous transposition of such relationships to groups of bars, for example, or to types of meters and sections of works all suggest a modified outlook on harmony in the tradition of Anton Webern.
"Diptychon" (Diptych), premiered in Paris in 1987 (and thus another confirmation of "French" perspectives in Thiele's oeuvre), is worked out in a similarly concise manner. In the first movement, the voice leading of the woodwinds, strings and piano produces various layers of sound which are distinguished by their degree of dissonance. The keyboard instrument strives for a harmonization of these contrasts, but cannot impose itself: they block each other and break off. After a touching cantilena, the second movement also seems to end in the same mode, whereby only an instant of hope and confidence is afforded by the six-four chord rising above it.
While it is true that Siegfried Thiele openly documents the roots of his artistic thought in verbal statements on his works and in his meticulous writings on music theory, the intrinsic importance of his ideas nonetheless remains perfectly unmistakable. These ideas are born in a constantly renewed manner by the balance between tradition and avant-garde as well as between musical vitality and constructive calculation. Just as in his work as a conductor and college-level teacher, he never loses sight of the communicative intent in his compositional activity either. In the heading of the last movement of his "String Quartet" of 1983, which is heavily colored with micro-intervals, he alluded to this communicative intent - both as performance instruction and, as it were, as a sum total of this music - with the words: "To create room, as an individual, for something to share with others".
Thiele has no patience with impersonal choices and pointless experimentation, nor with destructive protest or escapism. This is amply proven by his symphonically stamped "Übungen im Verwandeln" (Exercises in Transformation) of 1978 and, just as impressively, in his French-language vocal work "L'homme, l'univers, la pensée" (Man, Universe, Thought) of 1998 for soprano and ensemble after Blaise Pascal. The primordia connection between the two works is the concept of changing through knowledge and knowing through change. In its large-scale, four-movement concept, the string music takes shape within the process of becoming, growing and preservation primarily through the enharmonic transformation of the note a flat to g sharp and the compelling change of form from D flat major to C sharp major paired with a melody derived from modally colored runs which disperse euphoniously to the point of creating a five-part polyphonic structure. In its turn, the vocal work, written in honor of Messiaen, gives rise to an expressive space for the text through the increasingly dense solo turns of the instrumental parts. The text refers to some of the basic intellectual positions of the French composer while seeking at the same time to stimulate responsible behavior. To set this in motion, Siegfried Thiele once again uses the harp, with its purportedly ecstatic sound and fragile delicacy. Through its relationship with the lyre and its diatonic stamp, the harp arouses associations that are archetypally totally unromantic; furthermore, with the help of its penetrating clarity, it can also be considered as an emblem of the power that resides in the weak. It is also the harp which opens Thiele's instrumental version of Bach's "Art of Fugue" (1984). In this score, it becomes apparent that Thiele's roots in tradition are very deep indeed - but also that he never ceases to take an original and creative approach to it, again and again.
Christoph Sramek, 2000
(Translation: Roger Clément)
Writings from Siegfried Thiele (Selection)
Zeitstrukturen in den Motetten des Philippe de Vitry und ihre Bedeutung für zeitgenössisches Komponieren, in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1974
Bruckner und die Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts, in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1978
Bartóks "Mikrokosmos" - ein Kompendium des modernen Musik-Hörens und Musik-
Erfindens, in: Sammelband Hochschule für Musik Leipzig, 1979
Ansprache für Wilhelm Weismann. Zum 80. Geburtstag, in: Peters-Jahrbuch, 1980
Ton und Tongesellschaft, in: Sammelband "Geraer Ferienkurs", 1982
Intention und Methode einer Bearbeitung. Zur Einrichtung von Bachs "Kunst der Fuge" für kleines Orchester, in: Bulletin des Musikrats der DDR, 1985
Zuletzt Kafka, jetzt Kleist. Siegfried Thiele im Gespräch mit Claudius Böhm, in: GewandhausMagazin Nr. 41, Winter 2003/04, S. 52-54
Übungen im Verstummen – Übungen im Verwandeln, in: Zwischen Macht und Freiheit. Neue Musik in der DDR, hrsg. von Michael Berg, Albrecht von Massow und Nina Noeske (= KlangZeiten. Musik, Politik und Gesellschaft, Band 1), Köln u.a.: Böhlau 2004, S. 117-125
Monography on Siegfried Thiele
Kneipel, Eberhard: Siegfried Thiele - für Sie porträtiert, Leipzig 1990, Deutscher Verlag für Musik
Writings on Siegfried Thiele
Sporn, Christiane: Einer der Meistgespielten (Siegfried Thiele), in: Gewandhaus-Magazin, Nr. 51 (Sommer 2006), S. 31-35