Detlev Glanert

The German composer Detlev Glanert gained renown in his own country as an opera specialist, and has gone on to make a name for himself internationally with his chamber and orchestral works. He has written fourteen operas to date, each with a strong visual element and drawing inspiration from politics to science fiction. Since 2011, he has been a composer in residence at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and has produced works for this orchestra such as Theatrum Bestiarum (2004-5),  Insomnium (2009-10) and Frenesia (2013). He writes “music you can almost touch”, exhilarating and sometimes frenetic explorations that nevertheless communicate easily to the audience.

Glanert recalls becoming fascinated by printed music as a very young child – what were these notes on the page, and how would they sound? From the age of ten, he was writing reams of notes, something that is still central to his style today. At sixteen, he was encouraged by his mentor, the composer Manfred Trojahn, to find a ‘master’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word. His father was initially against this step, worrying that his son would have no earning prospects, and would have to steal or starve. Happily he let Glanert continue on his vocation.

Glanert chose to study with Hans Werner Henze in Cologne, and was his student for four years. He chose Henze due to his love of opera, his affinity with Romanticism, and his deep respect for the past. His early musical philosophy was honed by extended conversation and long walks with his teacher, discussing opera. During these formative years, Glanert also studied with Diether de la Motte, Günter Friedrichs and Frank Michael Beyer, as well as with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood Summer Music Festival in 1986.

Glanert quickly began to make a name for himself. His vibrant first symphony was premiered at the Berlin Philharmonie in 1985, and this concert hall became a sort of second home for the composer. In rapid succession, he went on to win the Bach Prize from the city of Hamburg in 1987, a Berlin Senate Fellowship in 1988, the Rolf Liebermann Opera Prize Fellowship in 1989, and a Berlin Senate Composition Grant in 1990.

This success enabled him to embark upon large-scale, fully staged operas. His first, the short chamber opera Leviathan (1988), was eventually expanded into a three-part triptych Drei Wasserspiele in 1996. Around this time, his third symphony had already been premiered, and his instrumental works were becoming freer in form. His 1998 opera Joseph Süss was a big publicity hit in Germany, addressing the life of a Jew at court at Württemberg in the 18th century. It was his next opera, however, that brought wider commercial and critical recognition – the post-apocalyptic satire Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung (1999-2000). Glanert states that all of his music has to do with pictures, and is complete theatre – this is evident in his imaginatively staged works. 

...music you can almost touch...

Glanert’s influences encompass the past, present and future, all examining the human aspect within politics, society, and technology. He has taken inspiration from Greek and Roman myths and the Pathfinder photos from Mars. A 2000 year old tale of dictatorship is updated to the twentieth century with fresh memories of Stalin and Hitler, in his 2004/6 opera Caligula. In his opera Solaris (2010-12), he created an intense yet translucent soundscape, with psychological tension worthy of a Hitchcock movie. Based upon the novel by Stanislaw Lem, this is high science-fiction that addresses the very real concept of human solitude.

Glanert’s romantic roots are also evident, mostly so in his re-imaginings of works by composers such as Mahler, Glinka and Brahms. His 2004/5 work Four Preludes and Serious Songs, where Brahms’ songs are not only re-orchestrated but alternated with newly composed interludes, is a perfect fusion of the styles of both composers. Though his orchestral forms continue to become more free, they remain firmly rooted in harmony and pulse. Detail, subtlety and power are all created without entering the realm of the experimental.

Though he is most known for his symphonies and operas in larger settings, Glanert also written a huge number of small chamber works: string quartets, wind octets, piano pieces, songs for counter-tenor, a guitar suite, and his 1997 Kuttel-Daddel-Du Musik for barrel-organ, to name but a few. This rings true with his spirit of “trying things out”. 

In 2011, Glanert joined Dutch composers Michel van der Aa and Richard Rijnvos as composers in residence at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, for a period of ten years. The recent Frenesia (2013), an organic ‘sound-muscle’ composed at this post, is a tribute to Richard Strauss, as well as being inspired by the human body. It draws upon Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, which was in turn dedicated to Willem Mengelberg and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1898. It is this detailed, cyclical thought process that typifies the work of Detlev Glanert.

...reaching into the past whilst thrusting far into the future...

This practice of reaching into the past whilst thrusting far into the future is typical of Glanert. With his feet firmly planted in Romanticism, he re-interprets ancient tales or events in a way that is relevant to the present day. Glanert concedes that he is “not a revolutionary composer, that destroys the past in order to create his own world”. Instead, he sees himself as a musical explorer working in freedom: developing rather than imitating, or on the other hand, destroying the past. 

Glanert aims to further the future of classical music by contributing to the repertoire – bringing the past into the present by giving it a new context, thus ensuring a future. To date, he has a considerable output of orchestral, chamber, and chorus works as well as opera. He states that the most important quality when working with performers on a new work is trust and open-mindedness on both sides. It may be this that gives his work such an organic, approachable quality: an intellectualism that can still communicate easily.  

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