Wednesday 23 May 2018

Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert

Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
The German composer Moritz Eggert has a new disc of his compositions on the NEOS label. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson and by Peter Rundel, has recorded Moritz' Muzak and Number Nine VII:Masse. Moritz's music is notable for its polystylistic qualities, using musical genres from pop to classical music and including the entire body of the sound world in one composition. I recently chatted with him via Skype to find out more.

Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
I was interested in whether Moritz deliberately thought about style when he was planning a piece, but he sees this as a tricky question - if he could give a definitive answer it would be limiting. For Moritz musical style is like a language, and he is not completely devoted to one particular one and he quotes the example of Mozart who could write in a wide variety of styles. For Moritz, technique and style are like languages, and just as we can speak a number of languages, so he embodies a number of techniques and styles.

Moritz was very influenced by Wilhelm Killmayer (1927-2017) who was Moritz's teacher at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. For Moritz, Killmayer was one of the most free-thinking of German composers of the time; during the 1980s, Moritz describes German composers as being frequently dogmatic, either belonging to this movement or that. Killmayer stood apart from this and encouraged his students to be as free as possible. And it wasn't just a mode of thinking for Killmayer's students, Moritz finds Killmayer's own music very free.

Moritz Eggert (Photo Katharina Dubno)
Moritz Eggert (Photo Katharina Dubno)
It is thinking about what a piece is about which helps Moritz decide the musical language he is going to use, and one of his idols is Stravinsky, a composer who used a variety of different languages but still each piece was clearly associated with Stravinsky. Moritz hopes that this could be the case with him, with the distinct ideas appearing as part of a whole. He does not decide in advance what style or language to use, he uses them as a means of expression.

He is critical of composing techniques which insist that something has to be here, because of the plan. And Moritz's response is why? He thinks that there is more interest for the listener if a composer doesn't follow their plan.

Listeners are an entity which Moritz takes seriously when composing, and he tries to get into their head. Of course, this is not entirely possible but you can look and listen, asking questions, 'is this necessary?', 'is this too long'. So as Moritz composes he is constantly questioning in is head. And he feels this questioning is more important than any technical decisions, he doesn't stick to the plan if it doesn't work.

Composition for Moritz is always about telling a story. He has a very clear idea of what a piece is about and he creates a linear development which takes the listener on a journey so that the end is different to the start, and you reconsider things that you have heard before.

Regarding his influences, he listens to a lot of contemporary music and cites Wolfgang Rihm, Helmut Lachnemann, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. But the composer who inspired him to become a composer was Eric Statie, a composer who was isolated yet extremely influential and whose combination of stubbornness and uniqueness Moritz finds akin to elements of Wilhelm Killmayer's life. Another composer he quotes is Charles Ives, partly for Ives exuberance and positive approach to dissonance, which Moritz finds very different from the Second Viennese School. For the Viennese, dissonance was used to depict extremes and madness, with works like Lulu and Erwartung using dissonance to depict the borders of sanity. Ives, on the other hand, viewed dissonance and note clusters as a positive thing, the more notes the more energy!

Moritz Eggert
Moritz Eggert
Moritz is also a pianist and performing is very important for him, and he adds that he has never really trusted the division between composer and pianist. He started out in the 1980s as a pianist and was told that he had to be a pianist or a composer, that he could not do both. In fact, he did, though it was very demanding doing both it was easier after his formal studies finished as he could set his own timetables.

He applies this to the younger generation and tells his students to continue to be performers too, you learn more about your pieces by playing them, whether they are boring or not! And Moritz sees us, in a way, returning to the idea of the composer/performer from the past. He also encourages his students to listen to what you are, he feels you can only write what you love. If you put on a mask to impress people then they are not listening to your inner voice. Moritz admits that it is a hard process to find your inner voice. You need to trust yourself, and as a student, you usually don't. As a teacher, he seeks out students talent and supports them, whilst challenging them in areas where they are not so strong.

Whilst not a prodigy, Moritz grew up in an artistic environment full of music, arts, film and literature. At the age of 14 or 15 music took over and became the most important thing in his life, his first serious compositions date from this period. But it was a big change in his life, he had a lot of catching up to do. Whilst he had had a good piano education, he was well behind his contemporaries who have specialised when younger.

Moritz's current major project is his opera based on Fritz Lang's film M. This premieres at the Komische Oper, Berlin on 5 May 2019. About a child murder, Moritz calls it a very Berlin story. He has three more operas in the pipeline, plus a violin concerto and a piano concerto.

Moritz Eggert (Photo Astrid Karger)
Moritz Eggert (Photo Astrid Karger)
He writes easily - sometimes, and refers to writer Neil Gaiman's comment that there is rarely a connection between how easy/hard you found writing the piece and the value of the end product. So you just have to work, and good writers are those who work when the writing isn't fun. For Moritz, a professional has to write regardless and does not question whether it is easy or hard.

That said, every new piece needs its crisis, the beginning is easy but you become unsure of everything at some point

Moritz Eggert on Disc:
  • Moritz Eggert - Muzak, Number Nine VII: Masse - available from Amazon 
  • Moritz Eggert - Wide Unclast - available from Amazon
  • Moritz Eggert - I Belong This Road I Know - available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Alan Rawsthorne - a portrait: Chamber music and woodwind concertos (★★★) - CD review
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • The story of a journey: Roderick Williams & Christopher Glynn in Schubert's Winter Journey  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic: the piano music of Robert Saxton (★★★★) - CD review
  • Philip Venables' 4:48 Psychosis returns (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden (★★★★★) - Opera review
  • Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle (★★★½) - opera review
  • Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra (★★★★)  - CD review
  • Passio: from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach (★★★)  - CD review
  • Home

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