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Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Country of origin: Germany
Birthday: March 20, 1918
Date of death: August 10, 1970

Upcoming Performances

Conductor: Joan Cerveró
Orchestra: Joven Orquesta de la Generalidad Valenciana
July 5, 2024 | Castellón (Spain) , Auditori y Palau de Congresos
Conductor: Joan Cerveró
Orchestra: Joven Orquesta de la Generalidad Valenciana
July 6, 2024 | Valencia (Spain) , Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia

About Bernd Alois Zimmermann

It is of greater significance that Zimmermann possessed a much higher differentiated musical perception and awareness than most of the composers of his time, that he was able to compose intensively ‘heard-through’ cantilenas and that he had a highly sensitive feeling for when to stand still and then continue, when to pause, when to surprise and when to consolidate. (Karlheinz Stockhausen)

Bernd Alois Zimmermann was born on 20 March 1918 in Bliesheim near Cologne. He attended the Salvatorianer College Steinfeld in der Eifel from1929 to 1936. After having passed his Abitur [higher education entrance examination], he initially commenced a primary teacher training course in 1937, but shortly thereafter transferred to the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne to study school music, music theory and composition with Heinrich Lemacher and Philipp Jarnach. In 1939, Zimmermann was drafted into military service and returned from the front three years later due to illness. He then completed his musical studies in 1947 with the music teacher examination. In 1948, Zimmermann first attended the Darmstadt Summer courses for new music, coming into contact with Wolfgang Fortner und René Leibowitz; at the same time, his Concerto for Orchestra (2nd version 1948) was first performed in Darmstadt. For financial security, Zimmermann arranged light and film music in the 1950s and composed music for school radio programmes. Zimmermann was elected as the president of the German section of the IGNM in 1956, but relinquished the post a year later after having been unsuccessful in uniting the composers of the older and younger generations. In the early summer of 1957, he was the first German composer to receive a scholarship for the Villa Massimo in Rome where he began work on the opera Die Soldaten. From 1957 onwards, he supervised a composition class and seminar for film and radio music at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. The composer devoted the final years of his life to work on the Requiem for a young poet which was given its first performance in 1969. On 10 August 1970, Zimmermann took his own life in Groß-Königsdorf near Cologne.

Although the size of his musical oeuvre is relatively small, Zimmermann occupies a key position in the history of German post-war music. He not only immersed himself in serial music and the strict concept of the Darmstadt avant-garde, but also combined these influences in a highly original manner with elements of jazz and quotations from historical compositions, thereby intriguingly anticipating the core concepts and techniques of so-called post-modernism. Zimmermann’s oeuvre includes compositions for orchestra - a Symphony (2nd version, 1953), a variety of ballet works and solo concertos - vocal works, chamber music and solo literature and electronic magnetic tape music. The Requiem for a young poet (1967/1969) can be viewed as a showcase for Zimmermann’s compositional development. The work is scored for large-scale forces including narrator, soloists, three choirs, electronic sounds, orchestra, jazz combo and organ. The texts selected by the composer range from political speeches, reports and liturgies to poems by Majakowski, Joyce, Pound, Camus, Schwitters und Bayer. The boundaries of the oratorio are pushed back towards the direction of radio play, reportage and features.

Zimmermann developed the concept of “pluralistic tonal composition” with the Sonata for cello solo (1960) and the Dialogues for 2 pianos and orchestra (2nd version, 1965). The superimposition of a variety of metres and rhythms produces a box form with differing time levels; quotations were also added. In the opera Die Soldaten (1957-1965), the technique of simulation was the central starting point (“sphericity of time”). The literary text, the play by J.M.R. Lenz, already splits open the unity of space and time: the various plot lines run parallel to each other. Zimmermann left the text of the play almost unaltered – elements of the text are additionally superimposed in a collage technique. The planned first performance of Die Soldaten in 1960 was initially postponed as the work was considered to be unplayable. The opera finally experienced its premiere at the Städtische Bühnen in Cologne in 1965: a sensational success which has continued up to the present day.

Zimmermann received a number of prizes, including the north Rhine-Westphalia Grand Art Prize (1960) and the Art Prize from the City of Cologne (1966). In 1965, Zimmermann was appointed as a member of the Academy of the Arts in Berlin.



Born in Bliesheim on 20 March
Attended the Salvatorian School in Steinfeld (Eifel)
Began training as elementary school teacher in the winter term in Bonn
Began music teachers' course at Cologne Conservatory
Labour service
Called up into the army. Took part in the Polish, French and Russian campaigns as mounted messenger and horse groom. Became ill in 1942, released for treatment in Cologne, and began studying musicology there
Resumption of studies as music teacher. Musical theorie under Heinrich Lemacher. Composition uner Phlipp Jarnach
First performances. "Scherzo Sinfonico", from "Sinfonia prosodica", "Extemporale", "Three Sacred Songs"
Music teachers' examination
First performance of "Concerto for Orchestra" (1st version)
Occasional compositions (at first arrangements, folk music, original "light music compositions, then music for schools broadcasts and radio plays, incidental and film music)
Attended Darmstadt Music Course, and took part in courses given by René Leibowitz
Married Sabine von Schablowsky
First dodecaphonic composition (2nd movement of the "Violin Concerto")
Birth of son Gereon
"Exerzitien" (2nd part of "Enchiridion"), "Symphony in One Movement" (1st version)
Birth of daughter Bettina
First performance of "Oboe Concerto" by Hans Rosbaud at Donaueschingen
First plans for a big oratorio
"Cello Concerto" (later re-written as "Conto di speranza")
"Perspectives". First performance 1956 by the Kontarsky Brothers
Zimmermann was elected as President of the German section of the ISCM, but resigned in 1957 when he failed to initiative a dialogue between composers of the older and the younger generations
Zimmermann became first composer to be awarded a scholarship to the Villa Massimo. In autumn 1957, began composing his opera "Die Soldaten". Appointed successor to Professor Frank Martin at the Cologne Conservatory, and ran a seminar for radio play music.
First performance "Canto di speranza" by Siegfried Palm
End of 1959, beginning of 1960, ceased working on "Die Soldaten".
Composed "Cello Sonata", "Dialogues" (1st version), new thoughts on planned oratorio
Awarded "Großer Kunstpreis" of North Rhine-Westphalia
Contact with Paul Pörtner
First performance of "Vocal Symphony" from "Die Soldaten". From autumn a further stay at Villa Massimo, where the composition of "Die Soldaten" was resumed
First performance of "Die Soldaten"
Birth of son Johann Jakob Wimar
Awarded the "Kunstpreis" of the city of Cologne
Further work on the oratorio
Began a new opera project "Medea" (after Hans Henny Jahnn)
"Tratto I"
Work on oratorio, now entitled "Requiem for a Young Poet". First performance 1969
"Stillness and Return", "I turned and saw all the injustices that are committed under the sun". On 10th August Bernd Alois Zimmermann took his own life



Set Descending Direction
  • Photoptosis
    Conductor: Joan Cerveró
    Orchestra: Joven Orquesta de la Generalidad Valenciana
    July 5, 2024 | Castellón (Spain) , Auditori y Palau de Congresos
  • Photoptosis
    Conductor: Joan Cerveró
    Orchestra: Joven Orquesta de la Generalidad Valenciana
    July 6, 2024 | Valencia (Spain) , Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia
  • Photoptosis
    Conductor: Joan Cerveró
    Orchestra: Joven Orquesta de la Generalidad Valenciana
    July 7, 2024 | Alicante (Spain) , Auditorio de Torrevieja
  • Konzert
    Conductor: Manuel Nawri
    Orchestra: Ensemble für Neue Musik der Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe
    July 11, 2024 | Karlsruhe (Germany) , Wolfgang-Rihm-Forum
  • Requiem für einen jungen Dichter
    Conductor: Karsten Januschke
    October 2, 2024 | Darmstadt (Germany) , Staatstheater, Großes Haus — First Night
  • Die fromme Helene
    February 11, 2025 | Hannover (Germany) , Sprengel Museum, Calder-Saal
  • Die fromme Helene
    February 12, 2025 | Hannover (Germany) , Sprengel Museum, Calder-Saal
  • Set Descending Direction