Composing can be an adventure – if, like Arnulf Herrmann, you see it not simply as the execution of an initial plan, but as a flexible procedure in a field determined both by the composer‘s concepts and plans, and by often unpredictable concrete musical events. Composition becomes the creation of an area of activity in which calculated surprises are possible, in which options collide and paths diverge, although it isn’t clear where they might lead. Along with the natural mastery of the profession, a rich artistic imagination and an appetite for the unexpected, treating the musical material as an active partner in the compositional process is a prerequisite for this approach to composition.
In this respect the sounds and forms in Arnulf Herrmann‘s works attain an almost physical quality: they are warped and bent, they fragment and implode, they resemble bodies which are not only subject to a force, they, as it were, save the energy and throw it back into the musical happening. The interaction between them is inspired and controlled by the composer. The result is a multidimensional fabric of formal processes, comparable with strands of a plot which cross over, form layers, and drift apart, generating a dramatically stringent progression, without being individually foreseeable.
This interaction between precisely determined forms, the energy which acts upon them and is radiated by them, and the resultant individual formal processes is steered by a grammar which encompasses all of the composition’s parameters – from the overall form to the most minute ramifications of the detailed plan. A multidimensional compositional space emerges in which individual tonal events and the over-arching progression constantly refer to each other: each compositional decision has consequences at every level of the score. It is this interaction between the direct physical presence of the sound and its embedment in higher contexts which gives the works a direct presence and plasticity.
Arnulf Herrmann is interested in different varieties of erosive and deformational processes. In Monströses Lied for clarinet and small ensemble (2007), for example, a stable and balanced disposition literally froths over with formal elements: its parts multiply and destabilise each other, they decay and expand at the same time, the space allocated to them overflows until they finally trickle out in the remnants of a solo cadence. In the Fiktive Tänze (Volume One, 2008) on the other hand, a metric model which forms the basis for most of the movements is subject to both constant repetition and increasing erosion. Varied micro-tempi layered on top of each other and irregular metric divisions disturb the established order, gradually destabilising it until it collapses completely in the last movement, Schwieriger Tanz.
Arnulf Herrmann‘s music conveys all this in a very direct fashion; it evokes images without being mere reproduction, it doesn‘t reproduce appearances, but draws poetic richness from genuine musical questions. Listening, too, becomes an adventure.
Arnulf Herrmann im Gespräch mit der Musikjournalistin Margarete Zander