About Androsch


Eleonore Büning on the work of Peter Androsch

“If you don’t want to hear, you have to feel.” So says the vernacular, and this saying is as old as the world, which is full of sounds, and not just since the invention of the gasoline engine. What the vernacular says is usually funny and sometimes treacherous, as is probably often the case with folk. “Do not hear, but feel” – that means in plain language: “Divide, and rule”. This sentence differentiates the human sensory perceptions, which are actually inseparable and influence and condition each other, and plays them off against each other.

The proverb comes from a time when corporal punishment was still a proven means of education and a little spanking in the nursery was allowed; it is rooted in the educational ideal of the early nineteenth century, which is still considered the golden, romantic era in music: That is, the age of domestic music, the age of piano-playing higher daughters, the lifetime of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, Chopin, Hummel, Herz, Hünten, Liszt, and Wagner. And the plea for systematic vocal training of all Saxon and Prussian subjects, as demanded by the Leipzig scholar Friedrich Wilhelm Lindner, also comes from this age: “Teach the ear to hear, then to listen, and in the end obeying, the obedience which is due to God and conscience, will not become difficult.” Lindner wrote this in 1811, apparently assuming that the ear was a kind of socio-educational disciplinary instrument, like the cane, for example. This quotation is a nice proof that the proverb: “Who cannot hear, must feel” could also serve as a cultural-political weapon, namely for those parties with affinity to hierarchy, which Robert Schumann counted to the Juste Milieu.

One hundred years later, the Futurists around Marinetti, among them the bruitist Luigi Russolo, published their Futurist Manifesto, in which the industrial age was welcomed, glorified and praised, thus the song of the machines, speed as witchcraft, and other abominations more, which owed themselves to the technical progress, and which were to subjugate the ear, the defenseless one, in the future up to the auditory fall. Of course, the futurists and bruitists also freed the profane noise from the cage of non-music, a great deed that had consequences.  And again about a hundred years later, exactly seven years ago, “The Acoustic Manifesto” was published simultaneously in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well as in Le Figaro and the Standard, behind which stood the European Capital of Culture, the “Hearing City of Linz,” as the Linz composer Peter Androsch christened it, as musical curator of the Capital of Culture program. In this manifesto, all kinds of demands are made to reduce the acoustic pollution caused by music abuse, but also by thoughtless consumption, stupidity and waste. Overarchingly, one sentence shines out, which Androsch placed in the middle. He defines listening. He asserts, “To hear is to live.”

“Without listening, we are nothing. What we are, we are through the ear: (namely) persons. Our existence is sound, not light. Sounds, not images. Lifted up in the eternal vibration of space, flooded with the life pulse of our selves, embedded in the continuum of time. Balance, orientation and hearing unite in a trinity of perception.”

“Hearing is life”, with these three words Peter Androsch overruled at that time, 2009, the old dictum: “Who cannot hear, must feel”: If hearing is life, then life is also feeling. And what does not hear and does not feel is dead as a doornail. (At this point, for the sake of good order and to prevent misunderstandings, I would like to expressly include fellow human beings afflicted with physical deafness, e.g. Ludwig van Beethoven or Alfred Brendel, in the circle of all hearing people. Also the deaf person never really hears nothing from the outside world, rather always something. And even the deaf person from birth hears his own heartbeat and blood singing and rushing inside him, as we know since John Cage composed silence in his epoch-making work “4:33”). And to name one more witness: Luigi Nono. Nono, alarmed by the “tragedia dell ascolto”, the “tragedy of listening” in the age of technical reproducibility, had declared the recovery of listening to be a compositional top priority. For listening can open up new perspectives. Listening, “exact” listening, can change consciousness, and with it, according to Nono, knowledge of the world changes.

This is the tradition in which the artistic director, curator and music politician Peter Androsch set himself seven years ago. But what can still be heard today in the beautiful city of Linz from this great, fundamental listening lesson of Peter Androsch? Is there still the Museum of Hearing? The “Akustikon”? Are there still the Muzak-free zones?  I don’t know all that. But I do know that Androsch has not stood still since then, but rather, networking sensory perception, fusing hearing with seeing, has continued to develop his artistic phonographies. Overwriting his own scores palimpsest-like, then exhibiting his latest sound-writings at the Bruckner University in Linz a good half year ago, which also process the handwritings of others – and now: in Regensburg.

To sum up: As a cultural politician and as a music philosopher, as a conceptual artist, a dialectician, as someone who looks beyond the obvious, as a jack-of-all-trades and Till Eulenspiegel, as a subversive and as a string-puller, as someone who loves and defends the artistic freedom of others, as, no less, his own, Peter Androsch has come to my attention many times. And as such, he has achieved a great deal. So far, so good. But first and foremost Peter Androsch is a composer. No more, no less.

The first time I heard music by Androsch was in the Bruckner Year 1996, exactly twenty years ago. It was the premiere of a Bruckner opera, the first and only one to date in which Bruckner himself appears.  I remember some details quite well. The piece began with reverberations and spherical sounds, loud pianissimo fine harmonics, spreading out over a pianissimo eternity droning, and then into it banged words spoken with baritone pathos, with an “English” accent, because it was really an “angel” who was speaking, and he said: “My God, what a pig.” That was when Anton Bruckner had just arrived in heaven. It was actually more of a melodrama than an opera in the strict sense. In other words, there was a kind of soundtrack, a whole composed of stylistically diverse fragments and quotations, a differentiated, elaborate patchwork, colored with diverse instrumental colors, especially long trombone lyric surfaces are in my memory, percussion, piano, electronics and so on, in addition spoken words, as well as children’s choirs led like church bells in fourths and fifths. It was not Bruckner’s life that was told in this way. Rather, Androsch and his librettist examined exclusively Bruckner’s love life: the demonstrably non-existent one. And this is insofar important and aims at the center of Bruckner’s art, as thanks to Freud the context of elementary renunciation of drives and its sublimation in the artistic, creative has become, so to speak, a milkmaid’s reckoning. This opera is called “Carved Sanctity or Anton Bruckner and Women.” It is a tribute, a tribute that one composer paid to another, but also a persiflage, a collage, a potpourri, a machination. It was the best, because it was the truest and most independent work that I encountered in the Bruckner Year at that time; shame on Austria that the piece has never been performed again since.

Since then, I have always tried to keep up to date with what Androsch is composing. I have not heard everything. Some only on record, like the cabaret gems of Schlager and songs he produced together with Didi Bruckmayr and others. Some live, here and there. Most recently, three years ago, I experienced the opera “Spiegelgrund” in Vienna’s Parliament Hall, a chamber opera that tells of the handicapped children who were killed in the children’s ward of the Steinhof Hospital in Vienna. They were poisoned or starved to death, as life unworthy of life. Something so horrible, unimaginably inhumane, cannot be condoned as a matter of principle. So what did Androsch do? He reduced the musical means enormously and subordinated them strictly to the documentary texts, which in turn are fragmented. Prima le parole. Poi la musica. Very simple, very simple, three singers, one speaker, eight musicians, one tape recording.  (I read from my review at that time): “Thirds, fourths, much unison, again and again the ambitus is reduced to a recitative-like chant. The few composed lines of text are also laconically thinned out: Plutarch reports on the killing of newborns in Sparta, letters from contemporary witnesses, then the children’s song “Kommt ein Vogel geflogen,” whose last line, “Denn ich kann dich nicht begleiten, weil ich hier bleiben muss,” takes on a terrible new meaning. The song is in major, but Androsch puts a minor shirt on it, and suddenly you think of Schubert’s “Leiermann” or Purcell’s “Dido” or other great death music. And you hold your breath when soprano Katerina Beranova stands up and intones Belkanto variations that expand this childlike ode of loneliness into a great, world-ending lament.”

Yes, that’s how it is with Peter Androsch. As an artist, he can express great words in a musically serene way. One who means it seriously and is able to pull off this seriousness with wit. That is a great talent! Moreover, he is one who reflects in all his works, directly or indirectly, the side of the losers, the lost, the outsiders of society, the marginalized, the border crossers. L’Art pour l’Art is not Androsch’s thing. To be beautiful, to be true, to be good – that is not quite enough. Because for every note Androsch writes, there is a concrete reason that has something to do with humanity, enlightenment and the expansion of knowledge of the world. This brings me to the end of this lecture.  I would like to return briefly to what I said at the beginning about the politicization of listening and about the cultural-political string-puller Androsch. As I hope I have been able to indicate, he is identical with the composer Androsch, i.e. with himself. And you can hear that, too.

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