Personalities | Bernd Alois Zimmermann | Modern Era | Opera

1918–70, German

Attracted to the avant-garde, Zimmerman composed only one opera, yet it is one of the most powerful German-language works of recent years. The four-act Die Soldaten (‘The Soldiers’) premiered in Cologne in 1965. Zimmermann travelled outside Germany just once, when he was sent to France during the war. Here, he familiarized himself with the musical scores of Stravinsky, Honegger, Poulenc and Milhaud. On his return in 1942 he decided to study traditional composition with Jarnach, a former pupil of Busoni, but by 1950 he was using Schoenberg’s 12-tone techniques.

Throughout the 1950s, he searched for a unique style. However, unlike Stockhausen and Boulez, who wanted to break with the past, he liked to explore aspects of Western culture. He blended acoustic and electronic sound, film, pre-recorded tape, dance and mime, in order to define his pluralism. Zimmermann’s vision for Die Soldaten of 12 scenic onstage areas had to be modified for practical reasons, so he used a set consisting of five levels, sometimes staging three scenes simultaneously, involving different times and places. The originality of these techniques has frequently been emulated, but not yet surpassed.

Introduction | Modern Era | Opera
Major Operas | Die Soldaten by Bernd Alois Zimmermann | Modern Era


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