Sadly, Gerhard Lampersberg's death a decade ago was barely noted in
the media. This commemoration may be rather belated. However, as only the
second monograph of Lampersberg's music on CD, it must be welcomed by anyone
interested in post-war Austro-German music, especially those with ears
attuned to the musical rarefication of the so-called Second Viennese and
Darmstadt Schools. The first disc, incidentally, was a potpourri similar to
MDG's that came out shortly before it on Österreichischer Rundfunk's
own label (CD3138). Before that there were two 1980s LPs on the German Insel
Hombroich label, with which Lampersberg was closely associated.
Lampersberg (originally Lampersberger) was something of a
controversial figure, at least for his time. Garrulous, argumentative,
pretentious and, according to Gitta Honegger's biography of his
protégé, the well-known Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard
('Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian', Yale 2001), a flamboyant,
almost decadent homosexual. Bernhard himself was, and still is, a polemical
figure in Austrian literary circles. In 1957 Lampersberg and his wife,
wealthy patrons of the arts, took him under their wing, and indeed under
their roof. Bernhard repaid their support with the libretto to one of
Lampersberg's operas, but their relationship soon soured, with unsavoury
results. As Honegger's book makes clear, both Bernhard and Lampersberg were
bisexual and Bernhard had an affair with the composer and his wife. This,
"according to eye witness accounts, led to bizarre scenes of
melodramatically declared and denied passion, emotional breakdowns, and
Gerhard Lampersberg's heartbroken descent into alcoholism and drug
addiction, culminating in the abrupt breakup of the friendship in 1960."
Thus the inclusion on this recording of two sets of songs after
texts by Bernhard is somewhat ironic. In the accompanying notes, Eberhard
Blum and Friedrich Cerha coyly make no mention of the above episode in the
life of their friend Lampersberg. Blum notes that Bernhard's novel
'Holzfällen - eine Erregung' (usually translated into English as
'Woodcutters'), published in 1987, relentlessly ridicules Lampersberg and
his wife, thinly disguised as "the Auersbergers". "Loathing, contempt and
venomous backbiting suffuse Bernhard's descriptions of the musician's work",
writes Blum, yet he has clearly not read Honegger's book, as he is "unaware
of any specific incidents that might have led them to quarrel and Bernhard
to feel obliged to compose this mean-spirited assessment of his one-time
friends." The Lampersbergs filed a lawsuit against Bernhard for defamation
of character and prevented the book's sale in Austria for a few months,
although this had the inevitable consequence of drawing massive public
attention to it.
With regard to Lampersberg's music, certain general points may be
observed. Firstly, he is a miniaturist: none of these works lasts longer
than nine minutes, whilst no single movement goes more than a few seconds
over two. In fact, the ten featured works are divided into 61 tracks, which
gives an average movement length of only a fraction over one minute.
Moreover, silence plays a significant role: most of these pieces can be
characterised as concatenations of quiet stasis punctuated by sudden,
sometimes strident outbursts. At this point it may be noted that MDG's
recordings, though crystal clear, have been made at an extraordinarily low
volume, only a small percentage of which can be accounted for by the
engineers' need to accommodate the loud, shriller moments.
The combination of this fragmentary nature and Lampersberg's atonal
or dodecaphonic idiom inevitably calls to mind Webern or Boulez, and an
appreciation of their artistic aims is virtually a prerequisite for
listening to Lampersberg. The aptly named, flexi-membered Ensemble
Avantgarde have the experience of several recordings of modernist music for
MDG already, and here present the composer in the best possible light.
Soprano Julia Henning and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher are particularly
impressive, the latter pictured in the booklet with flautist/annotator
Eberhard Blum and the diminutive Lampersberg in a photo from 1986.
The track-list reproduces Lampersberg's capital-less titles. The
translation of Cerha's rather 'luvvy' text is stilted in places, as in: "it
all premiered in a barn nearby the manor". The notes themselves would have
been enhanced by a more objective account of Lampersberg's life and
certainly by some discussion of his recondite music.
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