Interview for Hans-Jürgen Gerung
The first question is always the classic one: how does it start your love and interest for guitar and what instruments do you play or have you played?
My first encounter with the guitar came early, when I was just 6 or 7. My father loved it very much and I remember every time we had guests he would start playing and singing. Therefore I had a strong experience in what it means to make music. And so, my father became my first guitar teacher.
What was your musical training, with which teachers have you studied and what impression they left in your music?
My musical education began on the trumpet (the instrument I love most after the guitar – and later on I studied this marvelous instrument together with the guitar. Breath control is such an important technique in the world of brass instruments and it makes you feel with the whole body how a musical phrase works. So this helped me a lot in creating my personal art of playing the guitar for my practice was never only technically oriented. I always kept the line in my mind. My trumpet Teacher was Prof. Wolfgang Siegert – Solo trumpet player at the Theater
Fortunately my professor at the Leopold Mozart Conservatory of Augsburg, Franz Mayr-Musiol had the same approach for playing the guitar – because his main profession was playing the double bass in several orchestras (amongst others at the Münchener Rundfunkorchester)! So also for him playing the guitar means to place the instrument into the service of the big picture that we call making music.
I know that you have studied with Sylvano Bussotti … how it was to study with him?
The impact of Bussotti was enormous - especially his appreciation of arts. He’s not only one of the greatest composers of the 20th century; he’s also an extraordinary teacher. He has the rare gift to explain complex correlations in a pretty simple way (without banalizing them). Sometimes he could cut through the Gordian knot with a single word. Extraordinary! But being the student of such a charismatic personality implies the threat becoming the master’s epigone. I’d like to say that the greatest effort during my time with M° Bussotti (and the biggest profit for myself) was manifesting myself as an independent artist. And he helped a lot to peak out:
Once, during an interrogation, I explained my score studies (at that time I worked intensively on the Six Bagatelles for string quartet by Anton Webern) – Bussotti raised concerns not to exaggerate these studies: ‘It’s undoubtedly necessary to know what was and were we come from but remember, ever hour of your life that you are working with the arts from others you do not push on your own! – for this you have to weigh your worthy time; your main challenge is to create arts not to study others!’
You have played Ermafrodito, one of his most famous guitar’s score in world premiere in 2000, can you explain us this passage? I have seen the score and .. it’s like a picture .. a piece of art…
Yes, in 1999 I decided to commission a new guitar solo piece by M° Bussotti and he agreed immediately, and he wrote Ermafrodito, fantasia mitologica per chitarra and beyond that he applied a notation on the score ‘commissioned by Hans-Jürgen Gerung for his interpretation only’. Giving me the exclusive rights to be for about 10 years the only one playing that score was a great honor for me.
I think if you want to play Ermafrodito (or lots of other scores) you should know some important things beforehand.
1st Bussotti’s art often is embedded in Greek mythology. Not only as music’s concerned also his poetry (for example the poem ‘efebo, Febo lingua e abbronzatura’), his numerous paintings that he did during his activities as art director, costume designer, regisseur etc. are filled with analogies. For this you have to be sure about aesthetics of the Greeks.
2nd Bussotti’s music is (like Mozart’s) written for stage! – it’s always dramatic in a scenic sense; even if the score is solo instrumental. For this you have to create a fictitious stage setting in your mind’s eye at every phrase you play; you have to animate all the protagonists that you find in the piece.
3rd Bussotti’s music has always to do with himself, regardless of persons, things, scenes (even long ago) – for this you have to know a lot about his biography, or better you should talk to him as often as possible about the score you’d like to realize.
Ermafrodito arrived three weeks before an upcoming working session at Florence (GAMO = gruppo aperto di musica oggi) in late summer of 1999. Though we met there for composing together I was pretty sure that Bussotti would expect me to play the entire piece … and so it was! Fortunately I worked like a madman to get familiar with the score. At Florence I was confronted with the fact that Bussotti had already arranged a conference at the concert hall at the Conservatory Luigi Cherubini for an off-the-record presentation from Ermafrodito.
The world première indeed was in May 2002 at the Teatro Carignano at Turin (together with the choreographer Luca Veggetti and the dance company from Loredana Furno.)
You said ‘it’s like a picture …’ No, I wouldn’t say so. Because the graphical notation, the pictography (often used in Bussotti’s scores) is not applied in the entire piece. Bussotti uses rather let’s say, dendritical notation. This kind of notation is place-saving and also very efficient. The musical impact indeed is a greater freedom of rhythmical expression as you have to play the notated notes in the determinate space of time but how you organize the length of each note is fairly free. Compared with Bussotti’s guitar piece Ultima rara written in ‘millenocecensessantanove’ for Siegfried Behrend, Ermafrodito is more virtuosic and filled with poetical phrases – but I’d say it’s less vanguard. Ultima rara uses a really dense score (one step ahead and Bussotti would have used the pictography by force to realize his musical thoughts. Look at his Quintett Rara eco sireologico; there you’ll find lots of phrases used in Ultima rara … and there you find also a large pictographical aria. Ermafrodito however picks some of the thoughts of these two early scores (especially in the 5th movement <<Farinello>>) but the greatest deal of the score is complete new material that you won’t find neither in Ultima rara, nor in Rara eco sireologico, neither in the guitar score form Nuovo Scenario a Lorenzaccio, nor in that form Circo minore.
I’d like to say, Ermafrodito is somewhat a pocket opera for one guitar player and the theme is M° Bussotti on a walk through his life and through his garden in Genazzano, nearby Rome:
1st movement: E I fiori
We enter the RARA-gate to his Villa and the scene of an overwhelming floridity interfused by glistening sunlight takes place.
2nd movement: chitarronata
- a gay-scene with some dancing and drinking (may be similar to efebo, Febo lingua e abbronzatura cf. ‘Non fare il minimo rumore – Edizione del Girasole pag. 53)
- suddenly the thoughts went forty years back …
3rd movement: dôme épais
- the scene changes – we see the young author in the audience of an opera; given is
Léo Delibes, Lakmé: the flower Duet <
4th movement: Upupa
- Suddenly the cry of the hoopoe is hearable and brings us back in the garden.
(the Wiedehopf - as we call him in Germany - was a permanent guest in Bussotti’s garden as he told me often). With courageous steps we walk the line … but lost in thoughts.
5th movement: Farinello
- Again an opera scene – Carlo Broschi detto Il Farinello is jumping in the picture, singing nerve-racking arias.
6th movement: foto di me, fanciullo
- Again drifting in the past – a picture appears with an young artist; the whole sene in a camera oscura.
7th movement: statua
- immortal things appear – not just marble statues but also great Italian poetry. Guarini recites his famous poetry <
>>. And meanwhile the words reach Bussotti’s ear he remembers an old melody from the Sicilian Renaissance Composer Gio. Pietro Flaccomini (cf. Musiche Rinascimentale Siciliane (MRS) Bd. VI, Nr. XXIII.) – and, still walking in the garden, he takes the melody, changes it, and –forceful -together with the melody he manipulates the Guarini Text and the recreation is the genial finale:
(because he finished the score on July 23) lumimiei
mirafugge Ch’oggetto mai con
non verrete più cotanto vostro sia
giustodesío quanto sonio>>
Finally I’d like to highlight that Bussotti wrote Ermafrodito for my 10-string guitar (and its particular tuning) and only this instrument allows the necessary full sound and the sustain of the bass – basically in the 3rd movement.
Berio in his essay "A remembrance to the future," wrote: ".. A pianist who is a specialist about classical and romantic repertoire, and plays Beethoven and Chopin without knowing the music of the twentieth century, is also off as a pianist who is specialist about contemporary music and plays with hands and mind that have never been crossed in depth by Beethoven and Chopin. " You play both traditional classical and contemporary repertoire ... do you recognize yourself in these words?
Playing contemporary music for me is normal, who else but we living artists should play it? Sure, sometimes the approach in solving problems during the realization of a contemporary score might be helpful for finding solutions in old scores but that is not the reason I’m playing the music of our times.
I always found it helpful to converge to a score (irrespective whether it’s old or new) with all my knowledge, respect and heart – and then, after I’ve done all my duties, I’ll give my judgment. And sometimes the upshot was the decision not to perform the piece … after all the work I did!
I think the question is not the legitimacy of the contemporary music
What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possible to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?
Improvisation is (and was) an important field of the music and every now and then I like doing it. The great denotation during the baroque-period and earlier was remarkable (remember the improvisation-meetings between Johann Sebastian Bach and Silvius Leopold Weiss) but unfortunately it lost more and more significance. In the world of Rock- and Pop- and Jazz music it’s still alive but the results seem somewhat like interchangeable goods. Few instruments play on determinate scales- and chord-patterns and so are the results. If we understand improvisation as creare musica al improvviso we should liberate our music from all determinate systems. This could create something really new and this would ennoble these new and sudden creations as compositions born from a mastermind – not born out of the fingers. But that is a great array – also our dodecaphonic system is a determinate one … isn’t it?
What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises
The horrifying error - I consider him being the Angelus. He gave my scores always the turn to a better level – even to its best.
If you had to choose, who is your favorite composer to play?
John Sebastian Bach
I have, sometimes, the feeling that in our times music’s history flows without a particular interest in its chronological course, in our discotheque before and after, past and future become interchangeable elements, shall this be a risk of a uniform vision for an interpreter and a composer?
The risk of a musical "globalization"?
Yes it is, and what I mentioned above when you asked me what improvisation means for me applies here as well. The beats, the whole rhythm, the instrumental canon, the scales the lyrics – all seems more and more synchronized all over the world. Making music, or better making new music (and that should be our goal) means really very very strong efforts. Making music is always an extensive search – a search also to an own an individual language. By the way, it does not mean the search for commercial success.
Let’s talk about marketing. How much do you think it’s important for a modern musician? I mean: how much is crucial to be good promoters of themselves and their works in music today?
The knowledge in marketing is not only important for the modern musician – it was important all the time. After the birth of your artwork you have to look after it – help him to survive. There will never be one (no agent, no manager, no producer) that defends your art with such an enormous effort more so than you. So your job is twice: creating arts and defending arts. Too much for one live and for this we need helpful organizations that we can trust in. That’s difficult because we all are a bit egomaniacal and egomaniacs scarcely affiliate.
Which composer (or which historical movement) do you think is easiest for the non-musician listener to appreciate? Do you think they enjoy pieces that are more technically difficult or just more "flashy"?
I’d say the romantic period could be a somewhat easy door to open. This period offers an enormous amount of different music that still has strong connections to our times (autonomous form i-phone 6 and brave new world); it’s talking about love and tragedy, about outage and success; it’s virtuous and flashy as well.
Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island ...
Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa: Responsoria, => collegium vocale, Gent, 2013
Johann Sebastian Bach: Johannes Passion => Philippe Herreweghe, 1987
Munir Bashir: IRAK – l’art du ûd => Munir Bashir, 1971
Frank Zappa: The yellow shark, => Ensemble modern, 1992/93
Hans-Jürgen Gerung: aus meinem Leben => Sampler, 2014
What are your five favorite scores?
John Cage: => Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano (1946-48), Ed. Peters
Sylvano Bussotti: => ΦΑΙΔΡΑ / HELIOGABALUS (1975-81), Ricordi
Johann Sebastian Bach: => Aufs Lautenwerck, edition-gerung
György Ligeti: => Requiem (1963-65), Ed. Peters
Hans-Jürgen Gerung: => RITUS-Missa da Requiem (2002-03), edition-gerung
With who would you like to play? What kind of music do you listen to usually?
I’d like to jam with Naseer Shamma, Nigel North and STING.
Usually I listen to chamber music – basically string Quartets but also choir music, Dowland songs
(I can’t get enough of it) and of course my own music.
Your next projects?
- 20. September 2014, Basilika St. Lorenz, Kempten:
German première of my motets: ecce tu pulchra es / ecce tu pulcher es
for mixes choir and soloists.
(Commissioned by M° Stefano Sabene, Schola Romana Ensemble in 2006 / world première in 2007, Rome)
- 18. December 2014, concert hall Immenstadt:
World première of my piece I have news for you for Orchestra, Choir, various Solo-singers and Instrumental-soloists.
- piano cycles in 5 movements for the Japanese Pianist Mai Fukasawa, http://www.maifukasawa.com/english.html
When we will see you playing in Italy?
I’d really like to do a concert in Naples. I prepared a very interesting program that has a closer relation to this town because there are several pieces from the Neapolitan composers Luigi Esposito and Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa.
►Luigi Esposito, (*1962) nell'aria un madrigale (written for H.J. Gerung)
▪ for guitar
►Hans-Jürgen Gerung (*1960) La Commedia dell'arte
▪ for 10string guitar
►Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (*1566-1613) Gagliarda del Principe
▪ arranged for Renaissance lute by H.-J. Gerung
►Luigi Esposito: wanted (written for H.J. Gerung)
▪ for guitar and electric guitar
►Sylvano Bussotti, (*1931) Ermafrodito (written for H.J. Gerung)
▪ for 10string guitar
►Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (*1566-1613) Canzon del Principe
▪ arranged for Renaissance lute by H.-J. Gerung
►Luigi Esposito: Roseo velato (written for H.J. Gerung)
▪ for guitar
But ‘till now I did not find a festival organizer who was interested; maybe the year 2016 the 450 anniversary of Carlo Gesualdo offers a possibility – vediamo.