Friday, December 28, 2007

Hans Otte, 1926-2007

Another passing this month was the German composer, pianist and radio producer Hans Otte. Born in 1926, Otte studied with Paul Hindemith and Walter Gieseking. He recorded Hindemith's Four Temperaments for piano and strings back in the 1950s, but made his primary career as a composer. There isn't much information about him readily available in English, but apparently he was strongly influenced by Cage. This influence is audible in his most well-known work, the piano cycle Das Buch der Klänge (The Book of Sounds).

A set of twelve pieces, The Book of Sounds is one of the great works of piano minimalism. For some of the pieces, Otte defines a rhythmic pattern on a particular chord at the beginning, then merely notates the notes that change in the chord. "It is up to the player's creativity to introduce the sound figures which are to be repeated with such diversity that their nature develops freely" (from the introduction in the score). The set follows Cage's suggestion, and lets the sounds be themselves, filling the time and space without directing the listener's attention to a goal. The pieces are fun to play, without being overly virtuosic, and perhaps less well known than comparable pieces by Glass and Adams.

The Book of Sounds has two releases on CD, one performed by the composer on Kuckuck, and by the eclectic German new music pianist Herbert Henck on ECM. In addition, Sarah Cahill played one of The Book of Sounds at the first New Music Seance in 2007, which is available for streaming at the Internet Archive. The score is available from Celestial Harmonies, which is coincidentally right here in Tucson.

Photograph of Hans Otte by Silvia Otte.

No comments: