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Febel, Reinhard

*3 July 1952 Metzingen

1979 begins studies of composition with Klaus Huber
1979 scholarship from the Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung of the Südwestfunk
1980 Beethoven-Prize of the city of Bonn; composition prize at the composition
seminar Boswil (Switzerland)
1982 participant at the courses for computer music at the IRCAM in Paris
1983 commissioned work by the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich: the chamber opera "Euridice"; lectures, seminars, concerts in Argentinia, Uruguay, Chile and Peru arranged by the Goethe-Institut
1984 scholarship from the Villa Massimo in Rome; prizewinner of the Steinbrenner Stiftung in Berlin
1985 commissioned work by the youth orchestra of the european community; first performance of "Sinfonie" at the Donaueschinger Musiktage
1987 film music to the television film "Der Zauberbaum" (The Magic Tree) after the novel by Peter Sloterdijk
1988 first performance of the opera "Nacht mit Gästen" (Night with Guests) after Peter Weiss at the opera house in Kiel, prizewinner of the Stamitz-Award; record production of the Deutsche Musikrat; commissioned work by the Bundesjugendorchester to their twentieth anniversary
1989 professor for composition and music theory at the academy of music in Hannover; beginning of co-operation with the librettist and director Lukas Hemleb ("Sekunden und Jahre des Caspar Hauser" - Seconds and Years of Caspar Hauser, first performance 1992, Dortmund, and "Morels Erfindung" - Morel's Invention, first performance 1994, Dortmund)
1992 artist scholarship from Niedersachsen
1993 study visit in Cameroon and South Africa
1994 lectures in Wellingston and Auckland (New Zealand) and in Riga
1995 teaches composition in La Paz (Bolivia) and at the CEAMC, Buenos Aires
1997 workshops and lectures in Houston, Taipai and Kyoto
professor for composition at the Mozarteum, Salzburg
2000 guest lectures at the Hecettepe University, Ankara
since 2000 piano duo for four hands together with the pianist Isabel von Jakubowski
2001 guest lectures at the University Natal, Durban
2002 guest lectures at the Conservatory Skopje, Macedonia.
2003 World premiere of "Wolkenstein" at the Philharmonie Berlin. Guest lectures at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
2005 guest lectures at University of Edinburgh, University Stellenbosch/South Africa and CEAMC Buenos Aires. Master Class in Composition at Salzburg Summer Academy.
2006 guest lectures at the Conservatories in Udine, Italy and Sevilla, Spain.
2007 world premiere of chamber opera “Gespensterhaus” at the Toihaus Theater in Salzburg
2008 master class at the Presjovem Summer Course in Cordoba, Spain; guest course at the conservatory of music in Sevilla, Spain
2009 composition course at the Ensembleakademie in Frankfurt; world premiere of the three chamber operas “Morde in Bildern” at the Kiel Opera House as well as “Giftiger Fisch,” the first collection of short stories 
2011 guest course at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (Musikhochschule Frankfurt), master class at the Riga Conservatory, Latvia; as well as “Die alten Samurai,” novel.
2012 opera direction debut: “Morde in Bildern” at the Mainfranken Theater Würzburg; as well as “Der Klang des Verbotenen,” a novel on Domenico Scarlatti
2013 guest at the Kyoto City University of Arts
2014 research period for a new novel (“Krähenschrei” – released in 2018) at the Austrian embassy in Tokyo
2015 guest classes and guest lectures in Riga, Lettland; Kyoto, Japan; and Daegu, South Korea; “Schöpfung Plan B,” the second collection of short stories 
Since 2017 in progress: “Purpursegel,” opera based on the novel of the same name by Alexander Grin; “Slumberland,” a cycle for six pianists and ensemble; “Krähenschrei” (2018), novel about the Zen monk Ikkyu Sojun; master class at the Niccolò Picinni in Bari, Italy; composition course at the Conservatoria di Musica Sevilla, Spain; composition commission “dispassion” for the Ensemble Plural in Madrid, with world premiere in 2019 



Photo: Shahriyar Farshid

Reinhard Febel: A Portrait 

by Rainer Nonnenmann (2003)
Translation: Richard Toop  

Reinhard Febel moves between generations, cultures, styles and boundaries. Whereas the representatives of “New Simplicity” in the 1970s rejected organized conceptions of structure and material as having been done to death by serialism, Febel sought to unite historical-critical considerations of material, and constructivist structuring, with sonic and formal processes that could be experienced and understood directly. That applies to his early works like the Sextett (1977), as well as later ones like the Fünf Stücke (Five Pieces) for string quartet (2000). In contrast to his contemporaries, who sought to revitalise tonality as a closed system or neo-romantic style, taking their orientation from Schubert, Mahler or Berg, Febel made his own discovery of Helmut Lachenmann’s dialectical structural thinking, and accordingly was concerned to deliberately create frictions between new sound structures and existing traditions, styles and forms. Moreover, he always regarded tonality just as neutral material, which should be available to be used equitably alongside other techniques from the repository of relatively ancient or recent music history.  

Instead of the rigorous atonality of serialism, or regressive composing ‘within’ tonality, what he propagated was a post-modern approach to composing ‘with’ tonality, which moved beyond the avant-garde ideology of progress without lapsing back into traditional musical languages. Instead of the post-war avant-garde’s exclusivist concept of material, he put the case in many essays for inclusive composing. The supposedly objectively necessary tendency of material at the start of the 20th century to change irreversibly from tonality to atonality is something he rejected as arbitrary, along with its socio-philosophical legitimation; instead, he advocated a universal opening-up of narrow avant-garde concepts of history and material.  

This pluralistic way of thinking was expounded in many of his pieces. For example, the musical process of Charivari (1979) was shaped as a temporal projection of actual music history, from Dufay’s vocal polyphony via baroque fugal technique, classical quartet writing, late romantic opulence and Anton Webern’s pointillist style, to the textural composition of Luciano Berio and György Ligeti. His chamber opera Euridice (1982/83) was related, with varying degrees of proximity and distance, to the eponymous key work in operatic history by Jacopo Peri, dating from 1600. In the Variationen für Orchester (Variations for Orchestra) (1980) he unfolded a tonal song as his model, and the Konzert für Schlagzeug (Concerto for Percussion) (1981), using exaggerated accelerations, he pushed sequences of falling fifths so far that the thoroughly tonal material gave rise to atonal structures. In the Étude d‘exécution transcendante for fourteen instruments (1979), his subject matter – the emergence and disappearance of tonality and atonality – is expounded through an arch-formed sonic process that circles around an extended B major chord; in Innere Stimmen (Inner Voices) (1982) he quotes Robert Schumann’s Humoreske Op. 20, and in the third of the Drei Lieder (Three Songs) for female singer, female speaker, piano and tape (1982), using a montage of short excerpts from various works by J.S. Bach, W. A. Mozart and Johannes Brahms, he created a sequence of falling fifths starting from B minor, which descends treatment of the fingering hand and the bow hand leads to extended passages of rhythmic-melodic patterns. In the Sinfonie (1985/86), a shimmering, pointillist sound continuum arises from the fragmentary splitting-up of tonal chords throughout the whole orchestra.  

However, in contrast to minimalism, Febel is always aiming at a wealth of spontaneous inspiration, emotionality, and the depiction of extra-musical, sometimes epic-dramatic content. It is for this reason that he sought new ways of dealing with language and text. In Das Unendliche (1984) he handled two vocal parts quasi-instrumentally, whereas the orchestra was treated in a manner analogous to speech, with types of articulation corresponding to consonants and vowels. He did similar things in Joker for soprano and five instruments (1986) and Auf der Galerie for eleven strings (1985), where the formal, syntactical and semantic structures of the eponymous text by Kafka are transposed into a quasi-narrative sonic process, “like a film soundtrack”. Instead of making speech musical, music is to be turned into speech. Further instrumental and vocal works show Febel’s pronounced musico-dramatic interests; the programmatic scope of his pieces is sometimes supplemented by instructions concerning the handling of space, movement and lighting, as in Winterreise (1992), Die vier Zeiten (1993), Capitaine Nemo (1999) and Wolkenstein (2002).  

Early on in his career, Febel was already looking at musico-dramatic conceptions. To date he has completed seven operas. Whereas his first stage works Euridice (1983), David und Gollert (1987) and Nacht mit Gästen (1987/88) were still largely orientated towards an epic-dramatic operatic aesthetic, in Sekunden und Jahre des Caspar Hauser (1991/92) and Morels Erfindung (1993/94) he works with various levels of reality, time and sound, and in Beauty (1995/96) with procedures involving epic alienation and distancing. For the ‘science fiction opera’ Lichtung (2000), inspired by the static cinematic language of Andrei Tarkovsky, he developed an unconventional dramaturgy involving unreally separated levels of music, song, text and plot. He is currently working on the ‘children’s opera’ Herr Daunander und Glotze (2002/03) and the ‘boxing opera’ Die sieben Feen (2003/04), which inhabit the boundaries between play, opera and musical.  

At the beginning of the 1990s Febel became familiar with non-European music, and thought a lot about its rhythmic structures and their physical effect. His musical experiences during travels through Africa and South America were directly reflected in compositions like the finale of the Vier Stücke (Four Pieces) for violin and orchestra, as well as some pieces from Piano Books I-III (1986-94) and the Percussion Book (1994/95). By analogy to his composing “with” tonality, he now composed not “in” but “with” rhythm, metre, tempo and pitch. Instead of fixing the individual parameters for a whole composition, in the Sonatas 1-7 for piano (2000-02) and Maelstrom for two pianos (2002), he subordinated them to dynamic processes. Continual processes affecting glissandi, time and tempo mean that even static structures and repetitive patterns – such as the model for the Fantasie über ein Thema von Franz Schubert (Fantasia on a theme by Franz Schubert) for orchestra (1997) – are constantly in motion, constantly changing. Whereas, in the first of the two pieces Sculpture / Motion Picture for nineteen strings (1998), isolated notes – analogous to observing a sculpture from all sides – are accelerated and projected onto the temporal process, in the second piece, increasingly accelerated movements fuse together into a generally polyphonic texture. This approach is further developed by Febel in Sphinxes for orchestra (2003).