About Alexander Goehr
The combination of mystery and transparent musical language compels attention—as did the edgy, controlled performance—even as the core meaning remained a puzzle. This was one of the best kinds of musical experiences, where one wants to hear the music repeated and get closer to the mystery at the center. - George Grella, New York Classical Review on Verschwindendes Wort (Vanishing Word)
Alexander Goehr, composer and teacher, was born in Berlin on 10 August 1932, son of the conductor Walter Goehr, and was brought to England in 1933. He studied with Richard Hall at the Royal Manchester College of Music, where together with Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and John Ogdon he formed the New Music Manchester Group, and with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod in Paris. In the early 1960’s he worked for the BBC and formed the Music Theatre Ensemble, the first ensemble devoted to what has become an established musical form. From the late 1960’s onwards he taught at the New England Conservatory Boston, Yale, Leeds and in 1975 was appointed to the chair of the University of Cambridge, where he remains Emeritus Professor. He has also taught in China and has twice been Composer-in-Residence at Tanglewood.
The year of Goehr's appointment at Cambridge coincided with a turning point in his output, with the composition of a white-note setting of Psalm IV (1976). The simple, bright modal sonority of this piece marked a departure from post-war serialism and a commitment to a more transparent soundworld. Goehr found a way of controlling harmonic pace by fusing his own modal harmonic idiom with the long abandoned practice of figured bass, achieving a highly idiosyncratic fusion of past and present.
The output of the ensuing twenty years testifies to Goehr's desire to use this new idiom to explore ideas and genres that were already constant features of his work, such as the exploration of symphonic form (Sinfonia (1979), Symphony with Chaconne (1985-86), Eve Dreams in Paradise (1987-88)). However, these years' output is also characterised by a number of ambitious vocal scores. A common feature of many of the vocal compositions of these years is the choice of subjects that function as allegories for reflection upon socio-political themes: The Death of Moses (1992); the cantata Babylon the Great is Fallen (1979) and the opera Behold the Sun (1985). There are also non-political works: the cantata Sing, Ariel (1989-90), that recalls Messiaen’s stylized birdsong and sets a kaleidoscope of English poetry, and the opera Arianna (1995), written on a Rinuccini libretto for a lost opera by Monteverdi, is an exploration of the soundworld of Italian Renaissance.
Goehr’s orchestral works include four symphonies, concerti for piano, violin, viola and cello, works for chamber, string and wind orchestra, as well as ensemble. Goehr held a particularly close working relationship with Oliver Knussen, who recorded and gave premiere performances of many works including ... a musical offering (J. S. B. 1985)... (1985), Idées Fixes (1997) and To These Dark Steps/The Fathers Are Watching (2011-12) for tenor, children's choir and ensemble. He has received numerous commissions over the years from the BBC, beginning with Hecuba's Lament (1959-61) premiered at the 1961 BBC Proms with John Carewe conducting. Schlussgesang six pieces for viola and orchestra (1996) was premiered by BBC Symphony Orchestra at the 1997 Aldeburgh Festival with Tabea Zimmermann and When Adam Fell (2011-12) was commissioned to celebrate his 80th birthday and premiered with the BBC SO, both with Oliver Knussen conducting. ...second musical offering (GFH 2001) (2001) was a Proms commission premiered by Leonard Slatkin and BBC SO, and BBC Philharmonic and HK Gruber premiered TurmMusik/Tower Music (2009-10) in a festival of Goehr's music in 2010. Many other world-class orchestras, soloists and conductors have performed his works: The cello concerto Romanza (1968) was written for Jacqueline du Pré and premiere at the 1968 Brighton Festival with Daniel Barenboim and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra premiered Metamorphosis/Dance (1973-74), Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered Colossos or Panic (1991-92) under Seiji Ozawa and Bamberg Symphony commissioned Two Sarabandes (2014) and premiered the work with Lahav Shani.
Goehr has written five operas: Arden Must Die, Hamburg 1967; Behold the Sun, Deutsche Oper 1985; Arianna, lost opera by Monteverdi, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1995; Kantan & Damask Drum, Theater Dortmund September 1999; Promised End, derived from King Lear, London 2010; and a music theatre Triptych (1968-70). His most recent contribution to the operatic medium was Promised End (2008-9), based on Shakespeare's King Lear and premiered in 2010 by English Touring Opera.
After productions of his opera Kantan & Damask Drum (1997-98) in Dortmund and London, Goehr devoted himself almost exclusively to chamber music. Through the chamber music medium he gained an unprecedented rhythmic and harmonic immediacy, while his music remains ever permeable by the music and imagery of other times and places. A series of quintets for different combinations includes Five Objects Darkly (1996), …around Stravinsky (2002) for violin and winds, and Since Brass nor Stone… (2008) for string quartet and percussion, a memorial to Pavel Haas which won a British Composer Award. Marching to Carcassonne (2003) for Peter Serkin and London Sinfonietta, flirts with neoclassicism and Stravinsky. The set of solo piano pieces Symmetries Disorder Reach (2007), a barely disguised baroque suite, was premiered by Huw Watkins and the trio Largo Siciliano (2012) for violin horn and piano was notably performed with pianist Daniel Barenboim. In addition, …between the lines… (2013) was premiered by the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, Verschwindendes Wort (2014-15) was performed by Ensemble Modern, and the quintet after “The Waking” (2016-17) was commissioned by Wigmore Hall and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and premiered by the Nash Ensemble. Goehr’s fifth quartet, Vision of the Soldier Er (2018), was premiered in 2019. Most recently, The Master Said (2016) was premiered by BBC National Orchestra Wales and co-commissioned with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and Talea Ensemble gave Double Chaconne with Gaps (2019-2020) its world premiere with Susanne Blumenthal. In celebration of Goehr's ninetieth birthday, Wigmore Hall hosted a portrait concert of the composer featuring the premiere of Combat of Joseph de la Reina and the Devil (2019-2020) and Cambridge University New Music Group in collaboration with the Britten Sinfonia curated a concert entitled 'Alexander Goehr: A Retrospective'.
Alexander Goehr is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a former Churchill Fellow, and in 1997 gave the BBC Reith Lecture. In 2019, Goehr was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in recognition of his lifelong contribution to musical culture. He is an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University, and his manuscript archive is curated by the Berlin Akademie der Künste. In December 2022, he was most recently awarded the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Works Collection.
Much of Goehr’s music is available on the NMC label, including the discs ‘Colossos or Panic’ (2012), ‘Since Brass, nor Stone’ (2003), and ‘Piano Concerto – Symphony in One Movement’ (1995), and a portrait disc of his orchestral music has been released by Naxos. Collections of his writings can be found in ‘Finding the Key’ (Faber & Faber 1998), and in ‘Fings ain’t wot they used t’be’ (Berlin Akademie der Künste and Wolke-Archive 2012).
BBC Symphony Orchestra premiere "Hecuba's Lament", op.12
Premiere of "2 Choruses", op.14 in London
London Symphony Orchestra premiere "Little Symphony", op.15
"Little Music for Strings", op.16 commissioned by Lucerne Festival and premiered by Lucerne Festival Strings
Wrote "Three Pieces for Piano" op.18 and "Pastorals", op.19
World premiere of "Piano Trio" op.20, at Bath Festival (Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin and Maurice Genron)
"Symphony in One Movement", op.29 premiered by the New Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall, London
"Sonata about Jerusalem", op.31 premiered by Israel Chamber Orchestra
Radio-Télévision Belge Chamber Orchestra perform premiere of "Concerto for Eleven", op.32
"Lyric Pieces", op.35 premiered by London Sinfonietta
First performance of "Metamorphosis/Dance", op.36 by London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall, London
"Das Gesetz der Quadrille" (The Law of the Quardille), op.41 premiere at Norwich Triennial Festival
"Sinfonia", op.42 premiered by the English Chamber Orchestra, London
"Behold the Sun" (dramatic scena), op. 44a commissioned and performed by London Sinfonietta at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
BBC Singers premiere "Two Imitations of Baudelaire", op. 47 at St John's Smith Square, London
First performance of "String Quartet No. 4", op.52 by Arditti String Quartet
Wrote "Colossos or Panic", op.55
Quintet "Five objects Darkly", op.62 premiered in Los Angeles
Wrote "Sur terre, en l'air", op. 64
Wrote "...around Stravinsky", op.72
"Adagio" (Autoportät), op.75 premiered by Nationaltheater-Orchester Mannheim
World premiere of "…between the lines…" by the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin
"Verschwindendes Wort" receives its world premiere by Ensemble Modern at The Juilliard School
Lahav Shani and the Bamberger Symphoniker premiere "Two Sarabands"
after “The Waking” is premiered by the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall
Made Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society
World premiere of "Vision of the Soldier Er" by the Villiers Quartet
Catherine Larsen-Maguire and BBC National Orchestra Wales premiere "The Master Said"
Wins the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Works Collection
World premiere of "Combat of Joseph de la Reina and the Devil" at Wigmore Hall for 90th Birthday Celebration
Talea Ensemble premiere "Double Chaconne with Gaps"
Cambridge University New Music Group joins with Britten Sinfonia for 90th Birthday Celebration concert
An Opera on the death of the wealthy Arden of Faversham in two acts (seven scenes)Composer:Media Type: BookEdition: LibrettoInstrumentation: soloists, choir and orchestraLanguage: EnglishProduct number: ED 10908-11In stock€19.00Incl. Tax, Excl. Shipping
An opera on the death of the wealthy Arden of Faversham in two acts (seven scenes)Composer:Media Type: BookEdition: LibrettoInstrumentation: soloists, choir and orchestraLanguage: GermanProduct number: ED 10908-10In stock€7.50Incl. Tax, Excl. Shipping
An opera on the death of the wealthy Arden of Faversham in two acts (seven scenes)Composer:Media Type: Sheet musicEdition: Piano reductionInstrumentation: soloists, choir and orchestraLanguage: German, EnglishProduct number: ED 10908In stock€75.00Incl. Tax, Excl. Shipping
an opera on the death of the wealthy Arden of Faversham in two acts (seven scenes)Composer:Media Type: Hire/performance materialEdition: Performance materialLanguage: German, English