Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Requiem für einen jungen Dichter

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COMPOSERS: Bernd Alois Zimmermann
WORKS: Requiem für einen jungen Dichter
PERFORMER: Vlatka Orsanic (sop), James Johnson (bar), Christoph Gründ (organ); Alexander von Schlippenbach Jazz Band, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Cologne Radio Choir, Stuttgart Radio Choir, Slovak Chorus Bratislava, Bratislava City Chorus, SWF-SO Baden-Baden/Michael
The idea behind the German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Requiem for a Young Poet (1967-9) is bold: to reflect what the notes call ‘universalist aspirations’ in a large-scale, multifaceted work for huge forces. The method, too, is striking: choral settings of the Latin Requiem are offset by tape collages involving everything from Beethoven to the Beatles, plus a live jazz band.


Even such extravagant forces are, however, abandoned for long periods in favour of speech, both live and recorded. The opening forty minutes are dominated by spoken texts both poetic and political – many in German, sometimes combined, but sometimes audible – from Wittgenstein and Pound to Dubcek and Neville Chamberlain. Three poets who took their own lives – Mayakovsky, Esenin and Bayer – seem to provide what focus there is for a commentary on 20th-century history that led, by cruel logic, to Zimmermann’s own suicide the year after he completed the Requiem.


It may seem unfair on a composer some consider a neglected genius (as well as to the commitment of, notably, the conductor Michael Gielen here) to say that Berio’s Sinfonia, this work’s exact contemporary, does a similar job much better. But Sinfonia has in abundance what the Requiem lacks: individuality, dramatic timing and cohesion amidst the chaos. Zimmermann, sadly, doesn’t repay his listener’s sympathy and patience with much musical reward. Keith Potter