Cologne School (music)

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In music, the Cologne School is a loosely associated group of composers and performers of the generation that came to prominence in the 1970s, who lived and worked in the city of Cologne, Germany.

Cologne City in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Cologne is the largest city of Germany's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the fourth most populous city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. With slightly over a million inhabitants within its city boundaries, Cologne is the largest city on the Rhine and 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. Centered 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.



Most of the Cologne School composers had studied in Cologne during the 1960s with Vinko Globokar, Mauricio Kagel, Karlheinz Stockhausen, or Bernd Alois Zimmermann, at either the Kölner Hochschule für Musik und Tanz, the Rheinische Musikhochschule  [ de ], or at the Kölner Kurse für Neue Musik, organised by Prof. Hugo Wolfram Schmidt at the Rheinische Musikhochschule between 1963 and 1968 (Kapko-Foretić 1980 , 50; Stockhausen 1971 , 196; Custodis 2004 , 138–42).

Vinko Globokar Slovenian musician

Vinko Globokar is a French avant-garde composer and trombonist of Slovene descent.

Mauricio Kagel music composer who lived mostly in Germany, born in Argentina

Mauricio Raúl Kagel was a German-Argentine composer notable for developing the theatrical side of musical performance. He spent his last fifty years in Germany, dying after a long illness at the age of 76.

Karlheinz Stockhausen German composer

Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. A critic calls him "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music". He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic music, for introducing controlled chance into serial composition, and for musical spatialization.

There is some disagreement about how to define the school and who its central figures are. One of the earliest writers on the Cologne School observed that a large proportion are foreigners, and chose to focus on seven non-German composers as representative: Ladislav Kupkovič from Slovakia, Péter Eötvös from Hungary, Bojidar Dimov  [ de ] from Bulgaria, Daniel Chorzempa and John McGuire, both from the United States, Mesías Maiguashca from Ecuador, and Clarence Barlow from India ( Kapko-Foretić 1980 , 50).

Ladislav Kupkovič was a Slovak composer and conductor.

Péter Eötvös Hungarian composer and conductor

Péter Eötvös is a Hungarian composer, conductor and teacher.

Daniel Walter Chorzempa is an American organist and architect.

Seventeen years later, another writer identifies Barlow and three other composers, Gerald Barry (Ireland), Kevin Volans (South Africa), and Walter Zimmermann (Germany) as the central figures in the first wave of the group, and sees Stockhausen, Kagel, the Hochschule, and the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (through its electronic music studio, new-music concert series, commissioning of new music, and its commitment to innovative programme-making both in TV and radio) as the key agents that produced this group. According to this view, later important arrivals included Chris Newman, Claude Vivier, and John McGuire, but their approaches were in many ways at odds with the aesthetic of the earlier group ( Fox 2007 , 27–28, 40).

Gerald Barry (composer) Irish composer

Gerald Barry is an Irish composer.

Kevin Volans South African/Irish composer

Kevin Volans is a South African born Irish composer and pianist. He studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel in Cologne in the 1970s and later became associated with the Neue Einfacheit movement in the city. In the late 1970s he became interested in the indigenous music of his homeland and began a series of pieces which attempted to combine aspects of African and contemporary European music. Although Volans later moved away from any direct engagement with African music, certain residual elements such as interlocking rhythms, repetition and open forms are still detectable in his music since the early 1990s which takes a new direction more redolent of certain schools of abstract art. He settled in Ireland permanently in 1986 and was granted Irish citizenship in 1995.

Walter Zimmermann is a German composer associated with the Cologne School.


One performer particularly associated with the Cologne School is the pianist Herbert Henck  [ de ; fr ; ru ; ja ]( Fox 2007 , 30).


Several institutions founded in Cologne in the late 1960s and 1970s are associated with the Cologne-School composers. These include the Gruppe 8 (Georg Kröll  [ de ], Heinz Martin Lonquich  [ de ], York Höller, Manfred Niehaus  [ de ], Hans Ulrich Humpert  [ de ], Rolf Riehm, Peter Michael Braun  [ de ], and Bojidar Dimov), founded in early 1969 and disbanded in August 1972 ( Custodis 2004 , 186), Feedback Studio (Johannes Fritsch, David C. Johnson, and Rolf Gehlhaar), founded in 1970 ( Custodis 2004 , 188–89), the Beginner-Studio (Walter Zimmermann), founded 1977 ( Custodis 2004 , 190), and the Oeldorf Group (Péter Eötvös, Mesías Maiguashca, and Joachim Krist, together with the cellist Gaby Schumacher), founded 1972 and active until 1979 (Custodis 2004 , 189; Kapko-Foretić 1980 , 54).

York Höller is a German composer and Professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik Köln.

Rolf Riehm is a German composer who wrote stage and orchestral works as well as music for ensembles and solo instruments. He began as an oboist and music teacher and was later a professor of music theory at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main for several years.

Johannes Fritsch German musician

Johannes G. Fritsch was a German composer.

A related term, Cologne School of Electronic Music, is sometimes applied to the previous generation of composers who worked mainly in the electronic music studio of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in the 1950s and 1960s, including Karlheinz Stockhausen (Anderson 2013; Butzmann 2003; Enders 2011 , 78; Reese 2008 , 100, 112; Schabbing 2008 , 177).

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Further reading