Bernd Alois Zimmermann

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Bernd Alois Zimmermann (20 March 1918 – 10 August 1970) was a German composer. He is perhaps best known for his opera Die Soldaten , which is regarded as one of the most important German operas of the 20th century, after those of Berg. [1] As a result of his individual style, it is hard to label his music as avant-garde, serial or postmodern. His music employs a wide range of methods including the twelve-tone row and musical quotation.

<i>Die Soldaten</i> opera by Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Die Soldaten is a four-act opera in German by Bernd Alois Zimmermann, based on the 1776 play by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. In a letter accompanying his newly printed play that he sent to his best friend, the German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder, Lenz described himself as “an enigma to even his most precious friends,” while saying of the play, “Here, into your holy hands, the piece which carries half of my existence. [The ideas it contains are] true and will remain so, even if centuries may walk contemptuously across my skull.”

Alban Berg Austrian composer

Alban Maria Johannes Berg was an Austrian composer of the Second Viennese School. His compositional style combined Romantic lyricism with twelve-tone technique.

Avant-garde works that are experimental or innovative

The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.



Zimmermann was born in Bliesheim (now part of Erftstadt) near Cologne. He grew up in a rural Catholic community in western Germany. His father worked for the German Reichsbahn (Imperial Railway) and was also a farmer. In 1929, Zimmermann began attending a private Catholic school, where he had his first real encounter with music. After the National Socialists (or Nazis) closed all private schools, he switched to a public Catholic school in Cologne where, in 1937, he received his Abitur, the German equivalent of a high school diploma.

Erftstadt Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Erftstadt is a town located about 20 km south-west of Cologne in the Rhein-Erft-Kreis, state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The name of the town derives from the river which flows through it, the Erft. Carl Schurz, a German revolutionary, American statesman and reformer, and Union Army General in the American Civil War was born in Erftstadt-Liblar on March 2, 1829, as was Joseph Kentenich, a Catholic Priest of the Pallottine order and founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, on 16 November 1885. He is also remembered as a thinker, theologian, and educationalist.

Cologne Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and its 1 million+ (2016) inhabitants make it the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. The largest city on the Rhine, it is also the most populous city both of the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Region, which is Germany's largest and one of Europe's major metropolitan areas, and of the Rhineland. Centred on the left bank of the Rhine, Cologne is about 45 kilometres (28 mi) southeast of North Rhine-Westphalia's capital of Düsseldorf and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Bonn. It is the largest city in the Central Franconian and Ripuarian dialect areas.

Abitur is a qualification granted by university-preparatory schools in Germany, Lithuania, and Estonia. It is conferred on students who pass their final exams at the end of their secondary education, usually after eleven, twelve or thirteen years of schooling. In German, the term Abitur has roots in the archaic word Abiturium, which in turn was derived from the Latin abiturus.

In the same year, he fulfilled his duty for the Reichsarbeitsdienst and spent the 1937/1938 winter semester studying pedagogy at the Hochschule für Lehrerausbildung (lit. University for Teacher Training) in Bonn.

Bonn Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

The Federal City of Bonn is a city on the banks of the Rhine in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with a population of over 300,000. About 24 km (15 mi) south-southeast of Cologne, Bonn is in the southernmost part of the Rhine-Ruhr region, Germany's largest metropolitan area, with over 11 million inhabitants. It is famously known as the birthplace of Ludwig Van Beethoven in 1770. Beethoven spent his childhood and teenage years in Bonn.

He began studying Music Education, Musicology and Composition in the winter of 1938 at the University for Music in Cologne. In 1940, he was drafted in the Wehrmacht (the German Army) but was released in 1942 due to a severe skin illness. After he returned to his studies, he didn't receive a degree until 1947 due to the ending of the war. However, he was already busy as a free-lance composer in 1946, predominantly for radio. From 1948 to 1950, he was a participant in the Kranichsteiner/Darmstädter Ferienkursen für Neue Musik (lit. Kranichstein/Darmstadt Vacation Course for New Music) where he studied under René Leibowitz and Wolfgang Fortner, among others.

Musicology Scientific discipline whose content is the practical and theoretical study of music

Musicology is the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music. Musicology departments traditionally belong to the humanities, although music research is often more scientific in focus. A scholar who participates in musical research is a musicologist.

Musical composition aesthetic ordering and disposing of musical information

Musical composition, or simply composition, can refer to an original piece or work of music, either vocal or instrumental, the structure of a musical piece, or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called composers. Composers of primarily songs are usually called songwriters; with songs, the person who writes lyrics for a song is the lyricist. In many cultures, including Western classical music, the act of composing typically includes the creation of music notation, such as a sheet music "score," which is then performed by the composer or by other instrumental musicians or singers. In popular music and traditional music, songwriting may involve the creation of a basic outline of the song, called the lead sheet, which sets out the melody, lyrics and chord progression. In classical music, orchestration is typically done by the composer, but in musical theatre and in pop music, songwriters may hire an arranger to do the orchestration. In some cases, a pop or traditional songwriter may not use written notation at all, and instead compose the song in their mind and then play, sing and/or record it from memory. In jazz and popular music, notable sound recordings by influential performers are given the weight that written or printed scores play in classical music.

<i>Wehrmacht</i> unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

In 1957, he received a scholarship to spend time at the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome. He also assumed the position of Professor of Composition (from Frank Martin) as well as Film and Broadcast Music at the Cologne Music University. In the 60s, he received more attention and success as a composer (including a second scholarship to the Villa Massimo in 1963 and a fellowship in the Academy of Arts, Berlin), especially after his opera Die Soldaten (The Soldiers) finally premiered in 1965. The opera had previously not been performed due to the enormous number of people required and the musical difficulty—the Cologne Opera had considered it "unspielbar" (not performable). The composer's depressive tendencies increased to a more physical level, compounded by a quickly deteriorating eye problem. On 10 August 1970, Zimmermann committed suicide at his home in Königsdorf near Cologne – just five days after completing the score of his last composition, Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht das geschah unter der Sonne. [2] At the time, he was preparing another opera, Medea, after Hans Henny Jahnn.

Villa Massimo award

Villa Massimo, short for Deutsche Akademie Rom Villa Massimo, is a German cultural institution in Rome, established in 1910 and located in the Villa Massimo.

Frank Martin (composer) Swiss composer

Frank Martin was a Swiss composer, who lived a large part of his life in the Netherlands.

Academy of Arts, Berlin national German academic institution for the advancement of the arts

The Academy of Arts is a state arts institution in Berlin, Germany. The task of the Academy is to promote art, as well as to advise and support the states of Germany.


In his own compositional growth, he took his place in the progression of new music, from which the German composers were mostly separated during the Nazi regime. He began writing works in the neoclassical style, continued with free atonality and twelve-tone music and eventually arrived at serialism (in 1956). His affection for jazz can sometimes be heard in some of his compositions (more so in his Violin Concerto or Trumpet Concerto).

Neoclassicism Western art movements that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome

Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of classical antiquity. Neoclassicism was born largely thanks to the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, at the time of the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its popularity spread all over Europe as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, laterally competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.

Atonality Music that lacks a tonal center or key

Atonality in its broadest sense is music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality, in this sense, usually describes compositions written from about 1908 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used, and the notes of the chromatic scale function independently of one another. More narrowly, the term atonality describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. "The repertory of atonal music is characterized by the occurrence of pitches in novel combinations, as well as by the occurrence of familiar pitch combinations in unfamiliar environments".

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

In contrast to the so-called Darmstadt School (Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, etc.), Zimmermann did not make a radical break with tradition. At the end of the 1950s, he developed his own personal compositional style, the pluralistic "Klangkomposition" (German word referring to the compositional style that focuses on planes – or areas – of sound and tone-colors). The combination and overlapping of layers of musical material from various time periods (from Medieval to Baroque and Classical to Jazz and Pop music) using advanced musical techniques is characteristic of Klangkomposition. Zimmermann's use of this technique ranged from the embedding of individual musical quotes (seen somewhat in his orchestral work Photoptosis) to pieces that are built entirely as a collage (the ballet Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu). In his vocal works, especially his Requiem for a Young Poet, [3] the text is used to progress the piece by overlapping texts from various sources. He created his own musical stance using the metaphor "the spherical form of time". [4]



  1. Andrew D. McCredie and Marion Rothärmel, "Zimmermann, Bernd Alois", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  2. "Bernd Aloïs Zimmermann". Dictionnaire de la musique (in French). Larousse. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  3. Davis, Peter G. (May 3, 1999). "Look Back In Angst". New York magazine. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
  4. 'Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Germany (1918–1970)' UbuWeb (Accessed 28 May 2006)


  1. Much of the content of this article comes from the equivalent German-language Wikipedia article (retrieved May 28, 2006).
  2. 'Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Germany (1918–1970) UbuWeb (Accessed May 28, 2006)
  3. McCredie, Andrew D. (with Marion Rothärmel): 'Zimmermann, Bernd Alois', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed [May 28, 2006]), Grove Music

General purpose


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