Eberhard Blum.org | Tribute
Prof. Jörn Merkert
Tribute to Eberhard Blum
Delivered at the 42nd General Assembly of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, on 2 November 2013
Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu
If you ever heard Eberhard Blum perform the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters, you’ll be unable to get this, its first line, out of your head and are likely to have it worm its way from your memory to your mind‘s ear without warning, while you're driving or taking a shower.
Surely, there was no one better suited to recite this piece of ur-music, which has since become a modern classic of the 20th century and which he performed over a hundred times from 1975 onward—often at the Akademie on Hanseatenweg—and recorded twice for CD.
We first met at the end of the 1970s, when I invited him to perform the Ursonate at the Kunstforum Rottweil, which I was then overseeing in addition to my work at the Nationalgalerie. That was when I first got to know him as an extraordinary flutist and performer of New Music, as lively as he was passionate. After that, we never lost sight of one another. When I made the move from the Akademie to the Kunstsammlung NRW [The art collection of North Rhine-Westphalia], in Düsseldorf, in the mid-1980s, I invited him to design and realize a series of concerts to be held in the Collection‘s new building, in January 1986, which wafted the fresh breeze of unheard-of music to the ears of the audience in Düsseldorf: from Morton Feldman, Hans Otte, and John Cage to Japanese shakuhachi music and Phasen [Phases], a visual–acoustic composition of his own and his wife’s, Ann Holyoke Lehmann. After that, I invited him to collaborate on projects at museums as often as possible, above all, beginning in 1987, at the Berlinische Galerie, where he put together “Positionen der Moderne” [Positions of modernism] with Varèse, Schwitters, Stockhausen, Boulez, Xenakis, and Feldman for [my] new presentation of the museum’s collection; then, for the now-legendary “Stationen der Moderne” [Stations of the modern], in 1988, a musical program of “Stationen der musikalischen Moderne” [Stations of musical modernism], which brought to performance compositions by Schoenberg, Webern, Busoni, Duchamp, Hindemith, Schwitters, of course, again, Giacinto Scelsi, and many others.
New York, 1978 Photo credit © Klaus T. Moser
I will not now list all the other concerts and concert series that he realized under my auspices at the Berlinische Galerie and other museums. But Eberhard, and those he worked with at these museums, loved producing his concerts for an audience all the more keen on and attentive to those productions for their rarity at such ordinarily “music-free” locations.
I trusted him, in every sense of the word, “blind”—both from the point of view of a museum director and as one who, at the time, turned a rather deaf ear to contemporary music—and I could rely on him completely: on his professionalism as a performing musician; on his ability to conceive a perfectly thought-out program in dialogue with visual art; and, especially—through his international ties to musicians each and all in a class of their own—upon his winning over, time and again, the best and the best-suited performers for the occasion: Nils Vigeland, for piano and celesta, or Jan Williams, for percussion of all kinds, to name just two of the many masters of their art from across the world closely, and loyally, associated with Eberhard. But there was something else as well, something crucial to concerts at museums, and that was Eberhard’s ability to communicate and connect with an audience little versed in so-called New Music; to encourage people to listen with open ears and eyes wide with wonder. For this, I awarded him the Stiftung Preussische Seehandlung’s Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge Prize for Unconventional Advancement of the Arts, at the Berlinische Galerie, in 1995.
For, at the time, it was still something of an anomaly to present music of the 20th century and New Music to non-specialist listeners. When it was played at all at the classical music establishment’s usual venues, “only” concert-goers already well-grounded in the material and with “well-scrubbed” ears turned up. Most dared not tread there. And if and when such music was broadcast on the radio, usually in the dead of night, “normal” music enthusiasts tuned it out. I was not much of an exception myself. Why didn’t my appreciation of music extend beyond Schoenberg, when so much of Classical Modernism had begun with Kandinsky and Der Blaue Reiter? Truly a somewhat scandalous state for the director of a museum to find himself in. And there were many, indeed, very many others in the same situation. Through his work, Eberhard Blum inspired me to finally come of age musically. Museum-goers, too, gratefully took him up on this offer, for through visual art, they were used to being confronted with supposed, or actual, provocations and, as such, no strangers to eye-rubbing. Which made them willing to open their ears as well—not in a concert hall, but within the familiar confines of the museum. I’ll never forget how, late one evening, at intermission during one of the “long nights” at the museum that took place, in January 1989, as part of the series “Stationen der musikalischen Moderne,” a green-haired punk sitting in the museum’s café said to his purple girlfriend, about a concert of Feldman’s music, “F—king A, what? Spending the night in a museum, listening to New Music!”
I don’t feel myself proficient enough to do anything more than roughly sketch Eberhard Blum’s musical vita. He was born on 14 February 1940, in Stettin. After the city was bombed in 1944/45, he and his mother had to flee, by a roundabout route, to Stralsund, where he grew up. His father never returned from the war. In the autumn of 1960, he fled yet again, this time to West Berlin, where he was immediately able to begin his studies as a flutist with Aurèle Nicolet, at the Hochschule für Musik. And it was Nicolet as well who, in 1962, first suggested he visit the International Summer Courses for New Music, in Darmstadt. From there—and ever alive to a painstaking study of the distinctive craft and demands of contemporary music—he rapidly launched into a variety of activities and concerts with new and experimental music, soon founding the Gruppe Neue Musik Berlin, together with another of our members, Erhard Grosskopf.
In 1971, he met Morton Feldman, who was then living in Berlin on a grant from the DAAD [German academic exchange program]. And it was through Feldman that Eberhard Blum came to spend a number of years at the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, throughout the 1970s, and where he was often later to return. Nils Vigeland, Jan Williams, Morton Feldman, and Eberhard Blum made up the ensemble Morton Feldman and Soloists, which devoted itself primarily to Feldman’s late work, even after his death in 1987. To quote from the eulogy Blum’s friend Volker Straebel delivered at his funeral, on 5 April 2013: “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. … Eberhard often seemed to me to be the Conscience of New Music.”
But why am I reviewing his musical vita? For Eberhard Blum was by no means—as one might have expected—a member of the Music Section of this Academy, but of the Visual Arts Section. From 1980 onward, he worked also as a visual artist. More precisely, as a draftsman. And as such, the members elected him to our Section, in 2004. For there is indeed something special about his drawings. To the first, fleeting and untutored glance, they may well appear to be but another variety of abstraction, here and there gestural, for the most part strictly constructive, many disposed toward the concrete. Most of them, however, derive from and visually reflect or exemplify concepts and principles of New Music. The open-endedness of chance plays an important rôle in them, as does the serial, and as do decidedly temporal processes and contradictory states of the indeterminate, or the simultaneity of the asynchronous—which is, after all, a characteristic of the visual image. But Blum especially liked to execute a drawing according to self-imposed rules, rules of a game that were to be strictly observed: to employ, for example, only acute or only right angles, or exclusively diagonals and curves to describe a closed and continuous form. His drawings always follow a definite concept; whereas their outcome is unforeseeable, even to the artist himself. Indeed, the results are as varied and as surprising—even for Eberhard Blum—as those of the designing hand of Nature herself. Or the realization of a score.
In 2001, Eberhard Blum ceased all musical performance activity and dedicated himself exclusively to his visual work, as he battled against ill health. He leaves behind not only more than 30 recordings on CD but—in sheer number alone—a monumental graphic œuvre, from which many a treasure has yet to be raised. On 5 March 2013, having suffered greatly, Eberhard Blum departed us forever.
Rinnzekete bee bee nnz krr müü ?
ziiuu ennze, ziiuu rinnzkrmüü
rakete bee bee.
From the German by Ann Holyoke Lehmann