“I probably don’t do much else. I don’t conduct. I live relatively quietly with all my disquiet...and create. OK, I also teach,” replied Wolfgang Rihm to a question about what lies behind his incredible productivity. Modestly, almost in passing, he mentions the fact that he’s an important teacher in addition to his activities as a composer. In his capacity as professor at the Karlsruhe Musikhochschule, he has come to have a major influence on the contemporary music scene. Many of his pupils have already made their name and are now themselves also driving forces of the new music. Among them is the clarinettist and composer Jörg Widmann. Wolfgang Rihm has written several works for his former pupil, whose extreme range of tonal nuances is prized by many contemporary composers.
In Vier Male (literally, “Four Blots”) for solo clarinet, Rihm explores the instrument’s wide expressive range and flexibility, its ability to sound extremely delicate or extremely aggressive, highly sensuous or rough and brittle, as well as the huge scope its slender tone offers for virtuosic experimentation. Extreme musical contrasts are the mainsprings of Rihm’s Vier Studien (“Four Studies”) for clarinet quintet, which he wrote for Jörg Widmann and the Minguet Quartet. These artists will also be performing them at musikfest Berlin.
Jörg Widmann calls the Third String Quartet his Hunting Quartet, which already seems to allude to a specific point of reference. But Widmann provides still further references: “All the string quartets I have composed so far have followed an archetypal movement form … My third quartet may be said to correspond to a furious scherzo. It develops a ‘wholesome’ dotted hunting theme (borrowed from Schumann’s Papillons) until the initially positivistic hunting gesture is splintered and finally reduced to a skeleton. At the same time, the situation of the four instrumentalists changes: the self-satisfied hunters become the hunted, the pursued. The fact that the three high strings conspire against the cello in a further (deadly) change of perspective and put the blame on this instrument is an analogy to social behaviour patterns. The playfully overwrought tone maintained throughout is barely able to conceal the seriousness that has suddenly crept into the piece.”