Friedrich Cerha was born in Vienna (1926) and studied music at the Vienna Academy as well as philosophy and German at the University of Vienna, where he received his Ph.D. in 1950. He also spent the summers of 1956, '58, and '59 in Darmstadt, attending the courses in new music there. In addition to his activities on behalf of new music as a founder of die reihe and the project "Wege in unsere Zeit" (Ways into Our Time, 1978), Cerha has also pursued an interest in early music. He founded the Camerata Frescobaldiana, an early-music performance ensemble, in 1960, and has edited several editions of 16th- and 17th-century music, including works by Frescobaldi, Andrea Cima, and Giovanni Antonio Leoni.
Cerha's works as a composer reflect a wide range of influences including neo-classicism (the Divertimento Homage à Strawinsky, 1954), serialism (his chamber and orchestral music of the late 1950s), and expressionism (the opera Baal, 1974-80). Around 1960, Cerha theorized a new technique, which he called Klangflächenkomposition (sound plane composition). How the technique worked is demonstrated in Mouvement I-III (1959) and Spiegel I-VII (1960-61), in which Cerha used different combinations of several constant sonorities to produce the overall effect. In the mid-1960s, Cerha began to incorporate elements of earlier styles in his music - Baal, for example, has been described as recalling Alban Berg's operas Wozzeck and Lulu. Cerha is known as well for his orchestration of the third act of the latter work, which Berg left unfinished at his death in 1935.
Cerha composed the Acht Sätze nach Hölderlin-Fragmenten (Eight Movements after Hölderlin Fragments) for string sextet in 1995. The Arditti String Quartet, joined by violist Thomas Kakuska and cellist Valentin Erben, gave the premiere in Cologne in March 1996. Cerha takes his inspiration from the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), with each movement based on a fragment of Hölderlin's poetry. The composer has provided the following remarks about the piece:
"In 1994, I reread all of Hölderlin and noted numerous speech-melodies that arose from the verses. Because I did not want to set the texts as songs, I increasingly stylized these melodies. When I received the commission for a string sextet, an ensemble that corresponded very much to the kind of sound I wanted to present, I set about developing my speech-melodies into musical movements. This process soon proved itself to be too restricting and the result was too short-breathed. So I went back to my speech-melodies again, but used them in a very free, highly stylized way - especially in the final movement, which, in its monomaniacal musical power, is totally independent of the text's inflection.
"In the end, I pose the question to myself: Is it useful, or sensible, to give the listeners and the performers the texts that inspired me in the first place, especially since this is in no way program music. I have done it, because I see it as a guide to the emotional content of each movement and also out of fairness. I would not want to keep such an important source for my work secret."
-- John Mangum is the L.A. Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.