German composer Günther Becker was born in 1924, two years
before Hans Werner Henze, four years before Karlheinz Stockhausen
and six years after Bernd Alois Zimmermann. As a boy he showed
musical talent on the accordion. As an adolescent he was sent
to the Eastern Front in World War II. When he made it back,
despite suffering severe frostbite, he was sent out again
to Italy, where he was taken prisoner by the American forces.
After the war he studied music in Karlsruhe and composition
privately with Wolfgang Fortner. In Heidelberg he worked as
pianist for ballet classes and in a satirical cabaret. Later
he continued his studies with Fortner at the Detmold Academy.
In 1956 he went to Greece as music teacher and private tutor
to Prince Constantine. He kept in contact with the West-German
music scene, visiting and lecturing several times at the summer
courses in Darmstadt. After the military coup of 1968 he left
Greece and returned to Germany, and founded the live electronic
music group MegaHertz. He taught composition and live-electronics
at the Robert Schumann Institute in Düsseldorf, where he took
on the mantle of Milko Kelemen and attracted a body of pupils
from around the world. Becker retired from teaching in 1989
and moved as a freelance composer to Bad Lippspringe, where
he died in 2007.
Becker disowned his youthful compositions and distanced himself
from the earliest of his published works. He left the dodecaphonic
classicism of Schoenberg and the epigrammatic style of Webern
and turned to a new style around 1960. His interest in electronic
music obviously influenced his instrumental writing. Linear
thinking is replaced by multi-layered procedures, as introduced
by Ligeti in the sixties. Becker kept one aspect of the hard-core
avant-gardism of Darmstadt alive: his music is highly dissonant
and there are no concessions to the listener.
label Cybele has taken Becker under its wing with love and
care. This CD is the fifth in their effort to issue the complete
music of a composer, who, despite his importance, could hardly
be labelled a public favourite. So far four titles have appeared:
Portrait – Cybele 660.202 (2CD); Miscellaneous works
by the Notabu.ensemble – Cybele 360.201; Electro-Acoustic
Music – Cybele SACD 960.401; Magnum Mysterium - Cybele
SACD 960.402. It is certainly telling that a piece such as
Magnum Mysterium has had precisely three performances.
That live performance from 1980 was issued in 2004, carefully
upgraded to SACD. The same goes for the three pieces on the
electro-acoustic CD, making that issue highly interesting
for students of this repertoire in its pre-digital phase.
The CD at
hand is a brand new affair: a pure 5 channel super audio recording,
made in 2008 and containing the complete works for organ.
Martin Schmeding plays the 2004 Sauer organ (III/65) at the
Evangelische Auferstehungskirche in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel.
This instrument bears the name ‘Felix Mendelssohn’ Europa
organ. Its concept was largely developed by Oskar Gottlieb
Blarr, composer, and organist of the Neander Church in Düsseldorf.
The result is an organ in which the horizontal reed stops
of Spain, the principals and tremulants of Italy, the cornets
of France and the mixture stops of Germany are unified in
a single instrument. Its compass has been extended by a large
variety of overtone stops, for instance a blues fourth (1
1/7’ + 16/19’).
titles on this CD cover a period of almost a quarter century,
beginning in 1969, with what has become Becker’s best known
composition, Meteoron for organ, percussion and two-track
tape recording. Meteoron was written one year after
Becker left Greece, and sounds like a fond farewell. In it,
Becker reacts to recent avant-garde developments in organ
writing, as witnessed in Ligeti’s Volumina and Kagel’s
Improvisations ajoutées. These new techniques include
unusual handling of the instrument, such as switching the
wind machine on and off during play, and manipulating the
sound by opening stops halfway. Becker does not apply any
of these techniques; he remains true to traditional playing
- if one could call it that - as did Olivier Messiaen, another
great modernizer of organ music in the twentieth century.
the name of the main monastery located among the gigantic
Meteora boulders in western Thessaly. Byzantine monks chanting
hymns for Pentecost provide the raw material for the tape
tracks. Organ and percussion are equal partners and build
a monolithic structure out of big granite boulders of sound.
The dry heat and the sun-drenched landscape are almost palpable.
It has proven to be an important addition to the repertoire,
now forty years young and taken up by several organists.
mémoire de Josquin dates
from 1975 and uses very clear quotations from a number of
masses by this composer. These quotations function as interludes
in a structure that once again is built much like multi-layered
electronic music. Drei kleine Orgelstücke originated
as interludes in a concert of sacred music to commemorate
the wooden sculpture ‘Mother and Child’ by Hans Schweizer.
They are subtitled Meditation I, Litanei and
long hiatus Becker returned to the organ in 1993, with Interpolationen,
a free toccata of sorts. Here Becker combines fast passages
of linear sound with great washes of layered clusters.
Messiaen’s Livre d’orgue sometimes springs to mind.
It is a highly virtuosic piece, premiered by Werner Jacob,
who also introduced audiences to Meteoron.
organist of the Neanderkirche in Düsseldorf, has made several
fine recordings for Cybele. He is aided and abetted by the
label’s driving force, Ingo Schmidt-Lucas, who has captured
a beautiful and true-to-life sound image in stellar super
audio sound. Schmeding is also involved in a definitive registration
of the complete organ works of Franz Schmidt - not to be missed.
Here he delivers what must certainly be the benchmark recording
of this thorny, but ultimately very rewarding repertoire.
Certainly, Meteoron will prove to be a classic in the
repertoire for organ and electronic sounds.
by Dominy Clements