Yves Knockaert

On Analysing Wolfgang Rihm’s ‘Notebook-Pieces’

In the 1980s Wolfgang Rihm intended to find out to which extent composing in a non-system based way is possible. Therefore he had to develop new aesthetic concepts, such as considering a composition as a series of unique events (‘Einzelereignisse’) on the one hand and focussing on parallelism with fine arts on the other. His experiments in composing without preplanning, even without any sketch, resulted in, among others, the so-called ‘notebook-pieces’: directly creating the final version of a composition without reviewing possibilities. That is the case for both his Fifth and Sixth String Quartets (the title of the Sixth Quartet ‘Blaubuch’ clearly refers to the blue notebook it was written in). However, Rihm stated at the end of the 1980s: “It is impossible to make a work of art without coherence.” For my analysis, the singularity of each composition – in this case each string quartet – necessitates an individual analytical approach, in which aiming at ‘com-posed’, related elements, creating coherence, is not to be excluded. This implies that I reconsider existing analytical tools and invent new ones, but also that I have to accept ‘inexactness’ and restricted applicability of the analytical results.
With his Fifth Quartet, entitled ‘Ohne Titel’ (Untitled) Rihm clearly touches the field of fine arts. In the 1980s Rihm was interested in the concept of a composition ‘as a painting’, covering much more than the technique he described as ‘Übermalung’ (overpainting). My analytical approach will also be based on the possibility of the transfer from a painting to a musical work, both on the level of creation and perception. It cannot be a coincidence that Rihm refers to Adorno’s essay ‘Vers une musique informelle’, as a mirror for his own aesthetics. Surprisingly or not, according to Paddison, Adorno based his concept of ‘informal music’ on fine arts.