Moritz Eggert has been a part of the Ricordi family since 1st January 2021. His works are characterized by humour paired with great intellectual depth, socio-political engagement with universality, and immediate accessibility with a love for experimentation.
Even beyond his work as a composer, Moritz Eggert is committed to rethinking approaches to New Music. He has been the president of the German Composers’ Association since 2020 and has additionally held a professorship at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich since 2010. He runs the “Bad Blog of Musick” for the Neue Musikzeitung as well as the series “Opera für Ungeduldige” (Opera for the Impatient) for ZDF.
We are excited to embark with him on a new compositional journey informed by current events.
In his welcome video, the composer, pianist, author, singer, actor and conductor explains what the new signing means to him, and how to keep a cool head when facing the tough day-to-day life of a composer.
In the subsequent interview he reveals, among other things, how the pandemic has changed his life as a composer, his take on today’s cultural life, and what ice bathing is all about.
Part 1: Who are you?
In three words, what’s important to you as a composer?
Wild room for development. A degree of freedom. And the most important motto for me: “Why not?”
How significant is composing to your life compared to your other activities as a blogger/essayist, performer, and pianist? Why?
For me, they all flow into the same creative work. When blogging I might write about playing the piano, and when I’m composing I might be inspired to write a blog article. Even if composition is the central pursuit for me, I see my activities as holistic and mutually fruitful. I have never understood why, from some historical moment onwards, composers were only allowed to be “composers” and not also authors or musicians for example like Schumann or Liszt. I have never understood these distinctions – I am a musician, and sometimes an actor, speaker, author, whatever I feel like…
Part 2: The pandemic
What does the pandemic mean for you in this respect, and how has it changed your life as a composer?
It has made me rethink everything. 2020 was definitely not my most productive year for composing, but I don’t see anything wrong with pausing for a moment and thinking deeply about the possibilities of my own music. Silence and inner-listening are as much a part of composing as picking up the pen. In that sense, 2020 was perhaps particularly productive as many things that I had ignored in the daily grind became clear to me. But this productivity is only just expressing itself now with a delay. I’m full of beans right now because I believe you can counter what’s going on outside with something internal. You can laugh and have a good time during the pandemic too, just as you can be sad or depressed about the situation. A lot depends on yourself, you are not so much at the whim of other people as some people find themselves.
Working alone at a desk is certainly nothing new for a composer. But how has the pandemic affected every-day life for you? What has been its impact on your creativity and ways of working, and which strategies have you developed to deal with it?
You have to fundamentally understand that the temporary closure of opera houses and concert halls doesn’t suddenly mean that you are no longer a musician. True, there is a part of being a musician that is defined by performing, but it is far from everything. One is also a musician when nobody is listening; one is also a composer when sitting at a desk and voyaging through the worlds of their imagination and nobody notices. It is not necessary that the entire world watches on or applauds the whole time. We live in an age that has a collective psychosis whereby only that which is documented on, for example, Instagram or Facebook, actually happened. Which is nonsense of course, it also happens when only you or I experience it.
How do you see your role as a composer in society? Has your view been influenced or changed by the pandemic? If so, how?
I have written about this a lot on my blog – about the “silence” I mentioned earlier, which isn’t silence at all but rather a pause, as well as about what I find to be an arrogant attitude held by some artists that with art you are somehow above things and somehow “better.” All these recent sensitivities about being mentioned in the same breath as gyms or not, I've never understood. If I see myself as an artist in the middle of society, then all parts of this society are important to me, including gyms and the survival of vulnerable people in nursing homes, for example. The fact that many colleagues now suddenly think only of themselves and make heartless and cold calculations about how much more important they are in this context has shaken me greatly. On the other hand, I was impressed by many musicians who, despite the current circumstances, have remained "normal" and on whom one can continue to rely. The pandemic brings out a lot that amazes you.
How do you see the pandemic changing the importance of culture in society?
I am not at all worried about the fundamental value of culture, since culture generates its value through its content. It is down to us how “relevant” we are – no scholarship or funding can compensate for a lack of content. Culture is insanely resistant and quite capable of surviving and has already survived catastrophes quite different to the current pandemic. What does concern me however are the inevitable struggles for resources, constraints, and cutbacks in the wake of the pandemic. A lot of possibilities that have grown already could disappear, and that worries me. It Is very easy to close a theatre or an opera house; it is far more difficult to open one. The fact that we have such a rich cultural landscape is what makes our country so special – we shouldn’t throw that away lightly.
Part 3: Your music and cultural life
Last October (2020) you were unanimously elected as president of the German Composers’ Association. Where do you see is the task for both yourself and this office?
Those who know me know that being a functionary and “being important” mean little to me. I always accept such positions very reluctantly, but also know that we composers must have solidarity in order to withstand difficult times ahead. I saw it as a responsibility here not to say “no.” Through my presence as a composer who expresses himself in public and also reflects society, perhaps I can achieve one or two things – so, I take the task very seriously.
To turn back to the basic topics of composing, I’d be interested to hear which kinds of instrumental works you are primarily interested in.
To be honest, I’m interested in all instrumental genres as well as songs and vocal music. Chamber music has strengths which orchestral music doesn’t, and vice-versa. I can get by with any instrumentation, but then I’m not the kind of person to get stuck in one genre and write 20 pieces of it. I’m always curious about new instruments that I don’t yet know, and I’d also like to write a piece for 12 bagpipes and didgeridoo. I like to use electronics too, albeit not exclusively. I want to see musicians performing onstage, and I also want to experience the gestural and haptic side of music making. That’s an integral element.
Which themes interest you as a composer?
To quote Kurt Schwitters, “Every period must redeem itself, because it suffers in itself alone.” In short, I am interested in life itself along with all of its contradictions. A thus-far unarticulated feeling of a time (OUR time) that can only truly be expressed in art.
What do you think of musical theatre and orchestral life today?
It is unbelievably depressing how despondent the classical music scene still is. An ever-shrinking repertoire of the same pieces again and again, each theater having to do its own Der Ring des Nibelungen, and so on. I love Mozart’s Don Giovanni
, but I counted 14 different productions of it on one season in Germany alone. How come? It’s not like we need to travel great distances in our reasonably-sized country to see a certain production for example – fans of visual art travel to different cities to see exhibitions. Why don’t opera houses play 50% living repertoire like they do in spoken theatre? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Which concepts do you pursue?
The concept of the greatest possible lack of style and unpredictability. Fulfilling expectations has always bored me, as does the expectation not to fill any, by the way. For me composing is always a new, painstakingly-achieved possibility of freedom; I want to use that.
How do you define musical theatre? What about it interests you?
The term “musical theatre” isn’t so relevant for me. If I understand the term “opera” in the same way as the Florentine Camerata, then it’s a constantly new and entirely open concept with which I can completely identify as a composer. Unlike traditional opera goers, when I think of the word “opera” I’m not only thinking about the 19th Century, but the 16th or 21st Centuries too. And in each of these centuries opera is something completely different and always new in the sense that a group of different art forms is brought together and amalgamated by music. Even a piece with marionettes and a small chamber ensemble counts fully as an “opera” for me.
How do you differentiate your concepts from traditional opera, its form, its intention, and its ways of composition?
Tradition is never the enemy, only the traditional – the insistence upon answers already given. I love Verdi’s operas, but they don’t answer all the questions I have today. If I were to compose the way Verdi does today, I would be simply repeating the (great) answers Verdi has already given. It would be ultimately useless. Contemporary direction can make up for some of this by working with modern theatrics, visualizations, and aesthetics, but the music cannot be changed in the end – and it doesn’t need to be because the glimpse into this bygone emotional world is incredibly exciting. But when I write opera today I need to look for my own answers; I can’t find them in Verdi. That’s why each of my operas is a thrust into the new, even if there are also points of contact with the operatic tradition I love so much. But I need in any case to find my own answers, otherwise it isn’t interesting.
What makes you like to get involved in cultural life in other ways, like “Bad Blog of Musick” for example?
Because reality and our everyday also interfere in my music. I can’t sit in some splendid isolation and pretend that the world around us doesn’t exist. For me writing is an extension of composition; some things are better said with words and others better said with sound. Of course, it’s a question of type – I’m just not somebody who sits in the corner and accepts what comes to them. I’ll say something, and I like it when others do too.
Gyms used to be no-go areas for you, and sports actually unthinkable. For a few years now, you’ve been something of an extreme athlete: running marathons, climbing mountains, ice-swimming in winter. Can you shed some light on that?
That would be a longer story that would need to go all the way back to my childhood where all the fun I might have found in movement, and which in fact would naturally have appealed to me, was driven out through the most horrible and humiliating physical education classes. 10 years ago, I decided to live more healthily and took up running a little. Then a couple of years ago I came by chance across Munich’s fitness community, which is actually pretty crazy and diverse, with very nice people who I still enjoy spending time with because they motivate one another and are very positive. It has enriched my life greatly, and it seems I still need to regain some of that which Mr. K put off for me back at high school in Frankfurt. My biggest wish now is to be able to continue doing sports for a very long time. I find these competitions and tournaments a lot of fun too. I have to admit, when I won my first sports prize I was prouder than I have been with some music prizes simply because I never thought I would achieve such a thing.
The interview was conducted by Promotion Manager & Dramaturg Daniela Brendel
Photos: Mercan Fröhlich