On Rolf Riehm's 80th birthday

On Rolf Riehm's 80th birthday

On June 15, 2017 Rolf Riehm celebrated his eightieth birthday. The two most recent monographies have been dedicated to his life and work as part of the “edition neue zeitschrift für musik”. In the following we present to you the preface written by Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich.

Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich: „in anderen Räumen. Der Komponist Rolf Riehm“ (In Other Spaces: Composer Rolf Riehm)

Arbeit am Mythos (Work on a Myth) – This formulation, employed as title of Hans Blumenberg’s best-known book, could also easily be used to designate the fundamental intentions of composer Rolf Riehms. Particularly in his compositions tailored to the stage, Riehms increasingly used material rooted in the antique—such as the genesis myth surrounding Zeus, Chronos and Kairos as well as the “existentialist” motive of the lifelong journey of Odysseus (with the latter also from the viewpoint of Franz Kafka). In two epic works from very disparate periods of his life (and multiple smaller works), he presents the sirens as embodiment of an age-old depiction of pernicious and alluring femininity (Das Schweigen der Sirenen; Sirenen – Bilder des Begehrens und des Vernichtens)—speaking of an obsessive persistence in his formation of and adherence to a spiritual world all his own. Riehms’ sustained occupation already early on with the content of fairy tales (Machandelboom) in all their timeless, provokingly sinister forms, however, also led to the bloodstained gravity of his immense mythical epics. Given all this, it may be astounding to know that Riehms, who grew up in the Catholic tradition, did not seize upon the opportunity to take up a more “confessional” (that is to say, more resolutely spiritual) music within his oeuvre but rather, in a deconstructivist manner, as it were, took apart musical material, grinding it, thoroughly fragmentalizing it and combining it into something non-dogmatically definable, at its essence new (always, incidentally, avant la lettre—that is to say, before deconstructivism came into fashion). Hence Riehm—who strongly sympathized with the virulent events surrounding the revolutions that swept through politics, life and culture around 1968 (also resulting in his membership in the Sogenannte Linksradikalen Blasorchester)—was anything but a fanatical leftist. The proximity and distance Riehms took to contemporary phenomena calling out for narration to spell out its underlying significance (also when it came to the compositional “avant-garde”), his playful dealings with it as well as his clear identification with it cannot be disjoined. At the same time, Riehms’ artistic physiognomy, rather than protean in nature, proved to be gruff and obstinate.

Born in Saarbrücken in 1937, Rolf Riehm, oboist and school musician, instructor in theory and composition, spent the greatest portion of his life in Frankfurt-am-Main. There, in 1964, he co-founded the relatively short-lived Frankfurter Vereinigung für Musik (which already dissolved again in 1970), becoming the focal point of a circle of musicians that focused a nearly esoteric energy on unconventional musical experiences that went beyond the “great” musical undertakings and distanced themselves from the doctrines of Darmstadt. Franz Liszt, often underrated within his historical context, became a household name, attaining a godlike status within this musical circle and remaining a point of interest and reference for Riehm as well. Riehm, notwithstanding a continuously growing amount of public recognition and prestige, held a special attachment to the Frankfurt region, a “home” to be understood not as provincial and small-minded but rather as an arena thoroughly cosmopolitan in its cultural outlook.

Riehm Monographien

Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich (Hrsg.): in anderen Räumen. Der Komponist Rolf Riehm. Symposion, 16. September 2012 Alte Oper Frankfurt am Main, Mainz 2015 | More

Marion Saxer (Hrsg.): Rolf Riehm. Texte, Mainz 2014 | More

composer profile: Rolf Riehm

Photo: Stefan Forster