Winner of the 2013 Composition Award: Bernd Richard Deutsch

“I tend towards a certain liveliness using many notes”, says Bernd Richard Deutsch, defining his basic approach to composing. His music, indeed, often sounds extremely virtuosic, but the word “notes” as such also deserves attention in the case of the Austrian composer, born in 1977. Because – more so than many of his contemporaries – he initially works with sonorous tones as a material basis. “My point of departure are sounds and rhythms. Noisy, percussive passages are an exception. I did write very noisy pieces during my studies, but concentrating solely on noises never really satisfied me.” The fact that listeners can find their bearings in Deutsch’s music also has to do with another, important aspect, in terms of which the composer is equally deeply rooted in tradition. “I didn’t get rid of time or meter. You can hear time changes in my music. In new music, the time often merely serves as support, but in my work it also has a function, even if the music sometimes floats. I love aleatoric passages with rhythmical flexibility to a certain degree. Yet tempo and rhythm are very important to me.”

In this regard, however, Deutsch finds it crucial to continuously achieve surprise effects, mainly building on familiar patterns, which he subsequently likes to carry to extremes or distort. “Humour and irony play an important role in my music.” When composing his works, he tries to strike a balance between foresighted planning and spontaneous decisions, whereby the music can, of course, also take on a life of its own. “At the beginning of the composing process, I always try to make an outline that describes the entire course. Naturally, I already have certain sound concepts, but they can change while I compose. I’m surprised myself, when the work gains dynamics I hadn’t imagined before.” So occasionally a piece can literally be turned upside down during the composing process. Deutsch has repeatedly worked with the golden section or ratio, and other proportions and sometimes even several superimposed grids of golden sections, such as in subliminal for orchestra (world premiere: 20 January 2012 in Tokyo, 2nd Prize at the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award, European premiere: 15 November 2013, WIEN MODERN). “The piece functions according to the proportions of the human body and was supposed to have five parts”, Deutsch explains. “In the end, though, it turned out to be only four: legs, arms, but no head. So it’s actually a torso. The energy had grown too much to stick to the original plan. It happens again and again with me that confrontations with preliminary directives arise during the work process.” If the composer himself is surprised, then the audience also has a good chance of encountering unexpected turns.

Text: Daniel Ender

About the Music

Dr. Futurity for Ensemble (2012/13)
Composition Award 2013

“I don’t believe in program music”, says Bernd Richard Deutsch, after elaborating in a very vivid manner on the extra-musical ideas that inspired his ensemble piece Dr. Futurity (2012/13). What the composer finds most fascinating about the eponymous science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick (1928-82) and his other books is that “the author only pretends to describe a far-away world. In reality, he talks about his own world with its capitalist and consumerist excesses the whole time”. Although Dick’s novels were an important source of inspiration, Deutsch doesn’t consider his work to be “directly based on these books, but rather connected with them atmospherically. But this doesn’t need to be more closely defined or known for the understanding of the piece”. And yet, the title sets the direction for how to listen to the composition.

Deutsch has also added titles to the three movements of Dr. Futurity that once again give cause for associations. The first movement (... trip – from Mars to here) is a shimmering set of pulsating repetitions, scale sequences and beats, is polyrhythmic and has depth of focus through dynamic gradations within the sound. Waves of ascending and descending runs pass through it and form an element that connects it with the other movements, revealing a surprising connection in spite of conflicting characters. With Chimaera, which uses rainsticks and string flageolets to evoke an unreal atmosphere, haunted by a long double-bass solo as well as a strange oboe d’amore cantilena. And, finally, with Red Alert!, in which alarm sirens wail in a grotesque and surreal manner, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock and his favoured composer Bernard Herrmann.