Killmayer Hölderlin Lieder

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Killmayer Hölderlin Lieder

  • Hölderlin Lieder: first cycle
  • Hölderlin Lieder: second cycle
  • Hölderlin Lieder: third cycle

The German composer Wilhelm Killmayer (b. 1927) set some 43 of Holderlin's poems between 1982 and 1991. All come from the extended period (1805-43) when Holderlin was mentally unbalanced or, as Killmayer would prefer to think of it, possessed by a special ''understanding of reality''. Killmayer's own understanding of musical reality is also special. As he declares in the notes with these discs, ''to me, the music of the future will not be complex'', and he has responded to what he regards as ''the ethereal purity'' of Holderlin's language with a rejection of ''artful tension and virtuosity'' in favour of a simplicity free of ''ambition... and progressiveness''. The aim, evidently, is to lay the foundations for the music of the future, even at the risk of appearing to indulge in pale imitation of the music of the past.
That Killmayer's work does not seem totally futile may be ascribed primarily to its unselfconsciousness. His use of tonality and consonant harmony is not that of the pasticheur, nor that of an obsessive anti-modernist labouring to recreate the vanished world of nineteenth-century song. If anything, Killmayer's is a style that tends to escape close association with actual models, even though hints of a whole range of composers from Schubert to Hindemith can be teased out. In any case there are moments of dissonance, and unusual textural dispositions (for example at the very end of the third cycle), which seem to acknowledge certain specifically twentieth-century developments. Yet, just as Holderlin constantly returned to the theme of the seasons, in the manner of variations on a primal theme, so Killmayer normally focuses on simple chordal and melodic patterns, not to create an atmosphere of expressionistic anguish, but to suggest a calm, joyous acceptance of the inevitable. Even if Killmayer's belief in simplicity is itself simplistic, then, the consistency and clarity of his compositional language command respect.
So too does the performance by Christoph Pregardien and Siegfried Mauser. Pregardien has an ideal smoothness and evenness, with enough power in reserve for the occasional moments of drama. Above all, he is not tempted to counter Killmayer's aesthetic by over-pointing of the texts. The recording as such is rather on the dry side, but what may deter potential purchasers most is that the Holderlin texts are given in German only.'

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