Hartwig Riedl

My Musical Life

I was born in 1940 in Hamburg, Germany. Piano lessons started at about 7, joined by the violin at the age of 13. Practicing was less my thing than exploring the fascinating black-and-white “landscape“ of the keyboard where I tried out harmonies and discovered the change of character when playing children‘s songs in different keys.

At an early stage I tried to compose little pieces: clumsy for I lacked an understanding for harmonic contexts. My insight improved through music lessons at school (cicle of fifths, sonata structure), but more by fingering myself into the reproduction of pop-songs of the 1950ies. Additional teaching in four-part setting by my piano teacher improved my attempts at composition.

I had acquainted myself a bit with the flute, clarinet and guitar, and hints here and there on musical structure enabled me – to my own surprise, as it were – to compose for my final exam in music (Abitur) a full-blown sonata for viola and piano in a Schubertian style and a Latin pop-cantata for our final class of 16 young men disposing of a trumpet, 2 clarinets, recorder, violin, double-bass, guitars and piano.

In 1962 I then wrote a suite entitled “A Voyage into France“ for our family cast: violin, flute, oboe and piano. Then, discouraged by the contemporary hostility to harmonic composition, I stopped, but took “refuge“ to transcribing J. S. Bach keyboard music for strings.

In 1984 I hit upon Erich Kästner‘s poetic cycle “The 13 Months“ which was exactly what I had always been looking for as lyrics for a cycle of songs – a Lieder-Zyklus.

For entire two years I tried out different styles until I finally cast aside any scruples and gave in to what I felt was the harmonic musical correspondence to Kästner‘s lyrics. His poetry, though, had been scorned at the time for its naiveté as being banal poetry for „every-day use“, which he countered by asking provokingly: “Why, at all, write poetry that is not useful“?

The positive reception of these Lieder, premiered after two years in 1992, encouraged me to read myself into the principles of orchestration and then compose three major pieces for the orchestra (strings, winds and trumpets, timpani) where I played the viola - among them a version of my existing „Voyage into France“. These pieces were followed by two suites for strings, a clarinet-and-strings concerto version of my viola-sonata and lately six more Kästner songs and two sonatas for recorder (alto) and piano.

All these compositions had the following principles: immediate accessibility of their character, variety, “heart“ and “wit“, a consequent and substantial “text“ for each part, and finally, “touching“ endings.

Having met Thomas Schäfer was a most lucky strike. He set my „13 Months“-cycle for 4-part choir and now is the editor of my compositions … and a very good friend.

Hartwig Riedl