Eberhard Blum.org | Eulogy

Volker Straebel
Eulogy for Eberhard Blum

Delivered at the memorial service held at the Waldfriedhof Heerstrasse, Berlin, on 5 April 2013. In addition, Hanns Zischler read Felix Philipp Ingold’s poem “Zukunftsmusik,” dedicated to Eberhard Blum on his 60th birthday; Mathias Niehoff read from the “Coda” of Blum’s CHOICE & CHANCE; and Rob Krier spoke of his friendship with Blum. The ceremony ended with a performance of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music by Steffen Schleiermacher and Adam Weisman, followed by a cortège to the gravesite.

Da ist zu viel da da.—Da ist nicht genug nichts drin. [1] This was one of Eberhard Blum’s favorite passages in John Cage’s 45’ for a Speaker, in Ernst Jandl’s German translation. “There is too much there there.—There is not enough of nothing in it.”  [2] In 1990, Eberhard performed this time-structured lecture in Darmstadt simultaneously with other time-length pieces by Cage for piano (Marianne Schroeder and Nils Vigeland), percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), and strings (Frances-Marie Uitti). It was the year of Cage’s second invitation to the Summer Courses for New Music, after his legendary first appearance there in 1958.

That first appearance had gone unnoticed by Eberhard, who at the time had just completed his baccalaureate, in Stralsund, and, despite also having passed the entrance examination for the Conservatory in Rostock, first had to prove himself [i.e., his solidarity with the working class] for a year as a tram conductor. His relocation to West Berlin followed in 1960. That same year, he took up his studies with Aurèle Nicolet. Two years later, on Nicolet’s recommendation, he attended a workshop conducted by Severino Gazzelloni at the Darmstadt Summer Courses.

There, he was introduced to works by Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, and Luigi Nono. Serial Music had reached its zenith, and Eberhard Blum devoted himself to developing the differentiated dynamic and rhythmic skills necessary to its performance. In West Berlin, he soon founded the Gruppe Neue Musik together with Erhard Grosskopf, Gerald Humel, and Wilhelm Dieter Siebert. Humel had already dedicated his Praeludium und Scherzo to Eberhard, in 1960—thus inaugurating the significant body of work that Eberhard Blum stimulated and, in close collaboration with its composers, brought to first performance. [3]

In the biographical notes that Eberhard sent me after we’d first met, in the late 1990s—handwritten and sent by fax, as computers and email would never be his thing—he wrote laconically: “From the Sixties, concerts of new and experimental music. Beginning in 1973, regular work with Morton Feldman. Performances of phonic works by Kurt Schwitters, John Cage, and Emmett Williams.” [4]

But in fact, from 1962 on, Eberhard actually seems to have been everywhere in the conservative Federal Republic [of Germany] where there was anything new to discover in the field of New Music. In 1968, he participated in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s group-composition project Musik für ein Haus [Music for a house, or building], in Darmstadt, which led him to propose a ten-day program of performances and readings at the Galerie Kleber in Berlin, in 1972, to celebrate, of all things, the 60th birthday of John Cage, whom Stockhausen so little esteemed. [5] In 1971, he was “discovered” by Morton Feldman, who was living in Berlin as a guest of the German Academic Exchange Service’s artist-in-residence program (DAAD-Künstlerprogamm). Feldman brought Eberhard to the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo for 1973–1976 and 1978/79.

The rest is history. The ensemble Morton Feldman and Soloists—consisting of Feldman, Blum, the composer and pianist Nils Vigeland, and the percussionist Jan Williams—was the focus of Feldman’s late work, playing concerts worldwide, even after Feldman’s death in 1987. The works that Feldman created with Eberhard in mind as premiere instrumentalist include: Instruments III (1977, premiered at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London); Why Patterns? (1978, premiered at the Meta-Musik Festival, Berlin); Crippled Symmetry (1983, premiered at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin); For Philip Guston (1984, premiered at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York); and For Christian Wolff (1986, premiered at the International Summer Courses for New Music, Darmstadt).

Beginning in 1975, Eberhard performed Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate over a hundred times (though he did not, as was incorrectly stated in an obituary that appeared in a Berlin newspaper [6], give the premiere). In addition to his work as a musician and vocal performer, Eberhard mastered the art of designing intelligently thought-through concert programs—“Positions of the modern” (1988), “Stations of musical modernism” (1989), “Stefan Wolpe and the musical avant-garde” (1990), “With other ears” (1991), “The art of the series” (1993) [7], and most recently, in 2012, together with Erhard Grosskopf, the series “On the discipline of anarchy” at the Akademie der Künste, in which he was at last able to realize his long-cherished plan to present John Cage as a composer of traditionally-notated music.

Of his work as a musician, Eberhard once said: “I always try … to see myself not as an interpreter but as an implementer. This includes all kinds of scores, from the conventionally-notated to conceptual pieces … . I simply attempt to make of the composer’s idea a reality.” And to my skeptical inquiry as to whether it might well be one of the snares of hermeneutics to reject this illusion of being able to reconstruct the composer’s intentions, Eberhard replied, with his characteristic mixture of determination and triumphant defiance: “It is an illusion. And I have dedicated my entire life to the utopia of coming close to compositions.” [8]

He had indeed. Eberhard Blum became the artistic authority in matters relating to Cage, Feldman, Brown, and Wolff, Stockhausen, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Haubenstock-Ramati, Takemitsu, Hosokawa, Grosskopf, and Fritsch. His numerous recordings are the reference recordings of his repertoire. [9]  Recently at a conference in Boston, a flutist who gave a lecture on Open Form was unable to answer a question about Haubenstock-Ramati. She said, as if it could be taken for granted: “I don’t know. Eberhard Blum would know.”

He would have known. Had he not known, Eberhard would not have performed the work in question. He always placed the integrity of the executive artist above the effect of the performative musician. “Whenever people do their worst thing, they connect it with my name.” Eberhard liked to quote this resigned statement of Cage’s whenever he himself stood up for the meticulously rehearsed performance, worked out in every detail of its presentation. Programming, stage design, lighting, printed matter (often designed by his like-minded partner, Ann Holyoke Lehmann): Eberhard understood the concert to be an aesthetic event, without letting the presentation become an end in itself. As an organizer, it was a pleasure to work with him, although his high standards were not always easy to meet. Eberhard often seemed to me to be the Conscience of New Music, a rôle that won him not only friends. But to him it was worth it. There are certainly many among us who have learned from him on many levels and owe to him many an unforgettable concert experience.

From the 1980s onward, Eberhard Blum pursued his visual work with the same intensity and consistency with which he devoted himself to music. [10] Guided by Morton Feldman’s concept of the abstract experience, Eberhard moved between the poles of intellectual conception and manual realization. He liked to recount how Feldman had once stood in his studio for a long time in front of his large-scale drawings and finally uttered just one sentence: “Eberhard, you found something.” Just as we are inclined to assume an aesthetic object beyond the individual performance in composed music, so Eberhard’s drawings seem, despite their abstract—or, if you will, concrete—form, to aspire to an aesthetic reality beyond their material presence. This is particularly evident in the conceptual works, such as the 59 Wandlungen [59 transformations] (2003), in which the colors selected for a series of vertical lines are determined by serial principles. [11] Here, Conceptual Art learns from New Music’s thinking. For Eberhard, there was no art without music.

On the other hand, for Eberhard, music was not tied to the category of accumulative and quantifiable time. With great resolve, he defended the idea of the supertemporal musical work, which ennobled the musical text and hence the music’s graphic form. Where other representatives of the avant-garde talked of “pieces,” “studies,” or “compositions,” Eberhard spoke always of “works.”

Just now, I cannot help but find consolation in the fact that, as Feldman urged in his seminal text “Between Categories” [12], Eberhard did not reduce the temporal core of music to its observance. In one fanciful notation on a musical album leaf, Eberhard set an eighth note over an infinity sign to form the numerator and denominator of a time signature. [13] How does time pass here? The rapid, flute-like leaps and phonic sounds, while mute, are present nonetheless.

In the preface to Silence, John Cage responds to the question of why he did not deliver conventional lectures but rather temporally and/or structurally composed texts: “I don’t give these lectures to surprise people, but out of a need for poetry.” [14] Perhaps it is this attitude, which Eberhard shared with Cage, that so greatly impressed me from the very first time I saw him on stage, in my early twenties: a belief in the poetic necessity that lies in abstract material, not in meaning or effect. This material reveals its essence to us, and we open ourselves to it, existentially. And, thus, it is no coincidence that in his “Lecture on Something,” Cage talks not only about structure, time, and silence, but also about life and death—from which there is no more an escape than there is from bickering neighbors or the creaking of a piano pedal:

“… So that | listening to this | music … one | takes as a … spring- | board … the first | sound that comes along | ; … the first | something springs us … | into nothing and … | out of that nothing … a- | rises … the | next something; … | etc. … like an al- | ternating current. … | Not one sound fears … | the silence that … ex- | tinguishes it. … And | no silence exists … | that is not pregnant … | … with | sound … | ” [15]


[1] John Cage: “45’ für einen Sprecher“ [45’ for a Speaker, 1954], translated by Ernst Jandl in Silence. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1987, pp. 63–157, here: 5’40”.
[2] John Cage: “45’ for a Speaker” [1954], in: Cage, Silence. Lectures and Writings. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press 1961, pp. 146–192, here: 5’40”.
[3] See Eberhard Blum: Choice & Chance. Bilder und Berichte aus meinem Leben als Musiker. Berlin: Berlinische Galerie 2008.
[4] Eberhard Blum, 12 February 1998.
[5] See Eberhard Blum: Choice & Chance, pp. 54–58.
[6] See Jens Hinrichsen: “Streiter für das Unerhörte. Flötist und Künstler: Eberhard Blum ist tot”, in: Der Tagesspiegel, 10 March 2013.
[7] See Eberhard Blum: Choice & Chance, pp. 196–219.
[8] Eberhard Blum and Volker Straebel: “Zur Interpretation Neuer Musik. Zwei Gespräche über ausgewählte Werke (I)”, in: Positionen, No. 31 (May 1997), pp. 40–45, here p. 40.
[9] See the annotated selective discography in Eberhard Blum: Recordings on CD, 1990–1997. Berlin: Private printing 1997. A selection of solo works composed for Eberhard Blum are included in Eberhard Blum: Anthology 1968–98. Berlin: Private printing 2000, 2 CDs.
[10] See Eberhard Blum: Visual Work, 1980-98. Berlin: Self-published 1998, and Eberhard Blum: Visual Work, 1992–2005, edited by Günter Braun and Waldtraut Braun. Berlin: Private printing 2006.
[11] The score for this series is reproduced in Eberhard Blum: Choice & Chance, p. 190.
[12] See Morton Feldman: “Between Categories” [1969], in: Give My Regards to Eighth Street. Collected Writings, edited by B H Friedman. Cambridge: Exact Change 2000, pp. 83–89, also in German in Morton Feldman: Essays, edited by Walter Zimmermann. Cologne: Beginner Press 1985.
[13] Eberhard Blum: Fragment für V.S., manuscript, dated 4 January 2010.
[14] John Cage: Silence. Lectures and Writings. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press 1961, p. x.
[15] John Cage: “Lecture on Something” in: Silence. Lectures and Writings. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press 1961, pp. 128–145, here p. 135.


From the German by Chris Villars and Peter Söderberg, revised by Ann Holyoke Lehmann