Biography  |  Bibliography  |  Articles  |  Lectures  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Quotes  |  Links  

Heiner Goebbels - Biography

Heiner Goebbels (b. August 17, 1952, Neustadt/Weinstrasse) is a Frankfurt based composer and director. Not easily nestled into a strictly defined artistic category, his work decontructs the conventions of opera, theater and concert music. Often characterized as political, many of his better known works were created in close collaboration with the writer Heiner Müller. After studying music and sociology in Frankfurt, he started as a composer of 'incidental' music in the seventies, as part of the Linksradikales Blasorchester (so-called left radical brass band). In the late seventies he was part of a duo with Alfred Harth (1976–1988), and later became a member of the longstanding art rock trio Cassiber (1982–92). Parallel to this, Heiner Goebbels worked on music for theater, film and ballet.

In the mid-eighties, Heiner Goebbels began composing and directing his own audio plays and staged concerts: Der Mann im Fahrstuhl / Man in the Elevator (1987), Die Befreiung des Prometheus / The Liberation of Prometheus (1991), Tränen des Vaterlands / Tears of the fatherland (1986). He is the author of numerous theater works performed internationally in all major music and theater festivals: Ou bien le débarquement désastreux / Or the hapless landing (1993), Die Wiederholung / The Repetition (1995), Schwarz auf Weiss / Black on White (1996), Schliemann's Scaffolding (1997), Hashirigaki (2000), Eraritjaritjaka - museé des phrases (2004), I went to the house but did not enter (2008). Heiner Goebbels premiered his first opera in 2008, entitled Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten / Landscape with distant relatives.

Heiner Goebbels also created several works presented in the wider context of contemporary art. He participated in the Documenta X in Kassel with a musical theater sketch Landscape with man being killed by a snake (1997), created the sound installations Timeios and Fin de Soleil at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2000), as well as the performative installation Stifters Dinge, his first theatre piece without performers or musicians (2007).

Since 1988, Heiner Goebbels has composed chamber music for the Ensemble Modern and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and was nominated twice for Grammy awards (2001, 2004). From 1999, he has worked as a professor at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies (Giessen), and is a President of the Theater Academy Hessen (2006). In 2002, Goebbels published his first book under the title Komposition als Inszenierung (2002).

The political climate of the period and the fact that he studied sociology in Frankfurt in the 1970s, made political concerns the main focus of Heiner Goebbels' early life. The band he wrote music for was named Linksradikales Blasorchester, created in order to perform music for demonstrations and political events. The idea behind this orchestra was to bring music to the public field from which it was excluded, promoting the collaboration with a large number of people in different forms. This particular experience was translated into the method Heiner Goebbels still practices – a collaborative working method in music, seemingly impossible at that time. Another influence in Heiner Goebbels' approach to music came from Hans Eisler whose writings showed him it was possible to include in one person many interests and work in different fields, from politics, history, and mathematics to art and philosophy. The political, according to Heiner Goebbels, is not something to be applied on top of everything, in the guise of propaganda, but a search for a form that will express one's subjective experience of the political integrated into the body of the artwork.

Heiner Goebbels prefers creating works as a response to a particular situation, topic, or assignment and most of his best known works were commissions for specific orchestras and musicians. For instance, his Surrogate Cities became a highly acclaimed 90-minute composition for a large orchestra, commissioned by the Alte Oper Frenkfurth and performed by the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. Commissioned for the city of Frankfurt, it offered a portrait not only of the conditions of life in a contemporary city but also of the orchestra performing it. In this particular piece, Heiner Goebbels compares his work to the work of an archaeologist whose task is to excavate the past of this city and include different voices from its history. Nevertheless, to work with a large orchestra he sees as an opportunity to enlarge collective possibilities and translate the power of individual voices into collective action.

The integration of the theatrical experience and the compositional was one of Heiner Goebbels' concerns from the beginnings of his composing career, and in his pieces one will find words by Ellias Canetti, Søren Kierkegaard, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, or Heiner Müller next to the music by Prince, Beach Boys, traditional or classic music, etc. Nevertheless, his method is not the one of a collagist; rather, Heiner Goebbels searches for the ways in which music can create an image, and uses various elements as quotes. The eclectic nature of his pieces does not allow one to predict the next element in the performance, something Heiner Goebbels strongly dislikes. Hence, for instance, his Schwarz auf Weiss / Black on White was a theater piece created for eighteen musicians of the Ensemble Modern who were given a task of not only playing instruments, but also of playing badminton, throwing tennis balls at thunder sheets, or playing a flute to a kettle. Following this, it comes as no surprise that Heiner Goebbels uses samples of various sounds in his work, offering a new definition of a sampler – as an instrument which invents nothing, a perfect instrument of memory.

Heiner Goebbels is a Professor at the European Graduate School, where he co-teaches (with Michael Schmidt) an Intensive Summer Seminar in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.