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Heinz Holliger

Heinz Holliger

Country of origin: Switzerland
Birthday: May 21, 1939

Upcoming Performances

Conductor: N.N.
Orchestra: Yellow Barn Festival Ensemble
July 19, 2024 | Putney, VT (United States of America) , The Big Barn
Lucerne Festival
September 3, 2024 | Luzern (Switzerland) , Lukaskirche

About Heinz Holliger

My entire relationship with music is such that I always try to reach its limits. (Heinz Holliger)

Heinz Holliger was born in Langenthal (Switzerland, canton of Berne) on 21 May 1939. During his grammar-school education he already studied oboe with Emile Cassagnaud at the Conservatoire of Berne and composition with Sándor Veress. From 1958 he continued his studies with Yvonne Lefébure (piano) and Pierre Pierlot (oboe) in Paris. Between 1961 and 1963 he studied composition with Pierre Boulez at the Music Academy of Basel. After winning first prizes at international music competitions (Geneva 1959, International Music Competition of the ARD 1961), Holliger began to give worldwide concert performances as an oboist. Contemporary composers such as Hans Werner Henze, Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti, Elliott Carter, Witold Lutoslawski, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio wrote compositions specially for him. Among his outstanding achievements is the rediscovery of forgotten works by 18th-century composers such as Jan Dismas Zelenka and Ludwig August Lebrun.

Holliger's oeuvre covers all genres – from stage works via orchestral, solo and chamber music works to numerous vocal pieces. Almost all compositions bear testimony to a tireless search for the limits of sound and language. His music is often preceded by an intensive examination of artists' or poets' lives and lyrical texts. He has always been fascinated by artists living on the edge of society or at the edge of life. At this point, the Scardanelli Cycle (1975-85) has to be emphasized, in which Holliger turns the last poems of Friedrich Hölderlin into a cycle of 2.5 hours duration for different instrumentations. For this work, the composer was awarded the Premio Abbiati of the Biennale di Venezia in 1995. In Gesänge der Frühe for choir, orchestra and tape, premiered in 1988, Heinz Holliger combined poems by Friedrich Hölderlin with music by Robert Schumann. In the two song cycles Drei Liebeslieder (1960) and Fünf Lieder (1992-2006) for contralto voice and orchestra, he concentrated on poems by Georg Trakl. In the cycle Glühende Rätsel for contralto voice and 10 instrumentalists (1964) Holliger set verses by Nelly Sachs to music. Even poems by Christian Morgenstern were set to music by Heinz Holliger (Sechs Lieder for soprano and orchestra, composed in 1956/57, orchestrated in 2003). His orchestra song cycle Dämmerlicht (Hakumei) (2015) is based on five poems by Holliger written in the  Japanese form Haiku. In 2016 Holliger arranged Trois Chansons de France and Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé by Claude Debussy for voice and orchestra.

For the stage, Holliger wrote the opera Schneewittchen which was premiered at the Zurich Opera in 1998. The composer adapted the text from the work of Robert Walser in which, in contrast to Grimm's fairytale, the shadows of the characters meet after the actual story. The ECM recording of Schneewittchen won a Grammy Award in 2002. The examination of texts by Samuel Beckett resulted in the composition of three other short stage works: Come and go (1976/77), Not I (1978-80), and What Where (1988). In March 2018 Lunea was premiered at the Zurich Opera. The opera presents the life and person of the Late Romantic poet Nikolaus Lenau and is awarded "World Premiere of the Year" in the critics' poll of the German Magazine Opernwelt. 

Holliger's concert pieces too often refer to biographies or literary works: Concerto 'Hommage à Louis Soutter' for violin and orchestra (1993-95, revised 2002) portrays the life of the Swiss painter. In Siebengesang (1966/67) for oboe, orchestra, singing voices and loudspeaker, he incorporates a poem by Georg Trakl. Holliger has composed numerous chamber music works, including the early wind quintet h (1968), Romancendres for violoncello and piano (2003), Contrechant sur le nom de Baudelaire for (bass) clarinet (2008) as well as two string quartets and solo pieces for almost every instrument.

Holliger has been awarded many awards and prizes: the Frankfurt Music Award 1988, the Ernst von Siemens Music Award 1991, the Prix de Composition Musicale de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco for (S)irató 1994, to name but a few. In 2007 Holliger was the first to receive the Zurich Festival Award, in 2008 he received the Rheingau Musikpreis, in 2017 the Robert-Schumann-Preis of the City of Zwickau, and in 2019 the International Isang Yun Composition Award. He was composer-in-residence of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the International Music Festival in Lucerne. In April 2003 the Cité de la Musique in Paris dedicated a whole concert week to the composer, conductor and oboist Holliger. With projects such as the Basler Musikforum cofounded by him in 1987 and cooperations with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie and the Ensemble Modern, Holliger is particularly involved in the presentation of new music. In 2022 Holliger received the Robert Schumann-Preis für Dichtung und Musik for his lifetime achievement. 



Born in Langenthal (Switzerland) on 21 May
Studied oboe with Emile Cassagnaud in Berne
First compositions (chamber music, lieder, stage music)
Studied with Emile Cassagnaud (oboe), Sándor Veress (composition) and Sava Savoff (piano) at the Berne Conservatory
Final examinations at the Burgdorf Gymnasium, teacher's diploma at the Berne Conservatory
Studied at the Paris Conservatory with Yvonne Lefébure (piano) and privately with Pierre Pierlot (oboe)
First prize for oboe at the International Music Competition in Geneva
First oboist of the Basle Orchestral Society
First prize for oboe at the International ARD Competition in Munich
from 1961

Recordings and worldwide concerts as a soloist

Studied composition with Pierre Boulez
First stage work "Der magische Tänzer": the comparison of two persons and puppets between everyday life and magic results in a "break-out from private life into the universe" (Nelly Sachs)
since 1965
Professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg im Breisgau
since 1968
With "h" for wind quintet and "Dona nobis pacem" for voices, Holliger abandoned the aesthetics of absolute pitch control, starting to work with sound effects and phonetic elements as compositional material
"Pneuma": the physical experience of the breathing process, transferred to the "huge lung" (Holliger) of the wind band, drives the sound-effect music to a tonal extreme and to its physical limits: destruction (death)
since 1975
Regular guest conductor of Paul Sacher´s Basle Chamber Orchestra
Began to concern himself with Hölderlin: created the first "Die Jahreszeiten" cycle
"Come and go / Va et vient / Kommen und Gehen": multiple figures on a tripartite stage in three languages, texts by Samuel Beckett
Began to work on "Übungen zu Scardanelli" with "Sommerkanon IV"
Cycles II and III of "Die Jahreszeiten"
"(t)air(e)" for solo flute, later the focus of the "Scardanelli-Zyklus" [to be read as "taire" ("keep quiet"), "air" and "te" ("you")]
Member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin
Composition award of the Schweizerischer Tonkünstlerverein
The Scardanelli-Hölderlin works ("Die Jahreszeiten", "(t)air(e)", "Übungen zu Scardanelli") were put together in the "Scardanelli-Zyklus" as sort of a sound diary, a music which "expresses a sort of rigidity, almost of paralysis" (Holliger)
"Zwei Liszt-Transkriptionen": attempt "to translate Liszt's late works released from all harmonic chains, into my own language"
Co-founder (together with Jürg Wyttenbach and Rudolf Kelterborn) of the Basler Musikforum
Léonie Sonning Music Award of the city of Copenhagen and the Frankfurt Music Prize. Holliger donated his prize money to Greenpeace and the Ensemble Modern
Art award of the city of Basle
"Beiseit": 12 lieder after poems by Robert Walser
Corresponding member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste
"Alb-Chehr": as a Swiss German story with authentic instruments, dance elements and noisy "Geischtervolk" ("ghosts"), the "Geischter- und Älplermüsig" ("music of the ghosts and the inhabitants of the Alps") creates a synthesis of Swiss folk-music and modern tonal language
Ernst von Siemens Music Prize
"Ostinato funebre", hitherto last work of the "Scardanelli-Zyklus"
"(S)irató", monody for large orchestra [to be read as "sirató" (Hungarian: "lamentation/beailing of the dead") and "irato" (Italian: "angry")]
Composer-in-Residence of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Composition award of the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco for "(S)irat(ó)"
Premio Abbiati of the Biennale Venezia for "Scardanelli-Zyklus"
Violin Concerto
Honorary member of Wiener Konzerthausgesellschaft
Composer-in-Residence of the Lucerne Festival
World première of the opera "Schneewittchen"
Honorary doctorate of the University of Zurich
Grammy Award in the category "Producer of the Year, Classical" for the opera "Schneewittchen"
MIDEM Classical Award for the Violin Concerto "Hommage à Louis Soutter"
Composer-in-Residence at Lisboa Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian
Special Composer at the Schwetzinger Festspiele
"Domaine privé" Composer-in-Residence at Cité de la musique, Paris
Zürcher Festspielpreis
Composer-in-Residence at Rheingau Musik Festival
Composer-in-Residence at the Grafenegg Festival (Austria)
Rheingau Musikpreis
Composer-in-Residence of the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie at the festival "Klangspuren" Schwaz (Austria)
Composer-in-Residence at the Zermatt Festival
Honorary member of Schweizerischer Tonkünstlerverein
Main focus of the Salzburg Mozart Week
Main focus of the concert series "Salzburg contemporary" as part of the Salzburg Festival
Schweizer Grand Prix Musik
Theme Composer at the Suntory Foundation for Arts' Summer Festival
International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Robert-Schumann-Preis of the City of Zwickau
World première of "Lunea" at the Zurich Opera House
International Isang Yun Composition Award

Robert Schumann-Preis für Dichtung und Musik


Grand Prix du Disque 2022 for the recording of "Lunea" at the label ECM