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Dietrich Erdmann (Composer)

Born: July 20, 1917 - Bonn, Germany
Died: April 22, 2009


Dietrich Erdmann was a German composer. Growing up in the environments of fine arts as well as of music, he studied cello with Paul Herrmann and music theory and composition with Paul Hindemith (1931), Ernst-Lothar von Knorr (1932) and Harald Genzmer (1933). During his college years at the Berlin Musikhochschule [conservatory] between 1934 and 1938, he gained insights into different areas of orchestration while studying with Kurt Thomas (choral conducting and composition) and Walter Gmeindl (orchestral conducting). He completed his studies with an artistic diploma in choral conducting and the "private-music-teacher exam" in composition.

Already during those years, Dietrich Erdmann emerged as a strong supporter of contemporary music as the founder of the "Arbeitskreis für Neue Musik" [Focus Group New Music] in 1935. Shortly after Erdmann was drafted to the army, his father, the well-known social democrat Lothar Erdmann, was murdered in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. This event became not only very important for his political consciousness, but also for his believe that art and music should develop beyond (and not support) political agendas. This seems important also with regard to his position against the avant-garde, because most developments in avant-garde are politically motivated. During his military years (1938-1945) Erdmann - who resorted to a ruse--received two "vacations" for composition studies with Paul Höffer; he completed these studies with a final exam in 1941.

After the end of World War II (and after being held as prisoner of war), Dietrich Erdmann taught music at the Humbold-Oberschule [high school] between 1945 and 1948, and starting in 1947 at the Pädagogische Hochschule [Pedagogical University]. At the latter institution, he became the director of the music department (1949), associate professor (1954) and full professor (1968). In 1970, he became Prorektor [vice-president] of the university.

Already in 1963, Dietrich Erdmann had founded the "Studio für Neue Musik" [Studio for New Music] (as part of VDMK). In 1972, he founded the "Arbeitskreis für Kammermusik" [Focus Group Chamber Music] in co-operation with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). By order of the German government, Erdmann traveled several times to South America (1965-67) to teach music courses and give concerts. Since his retirement (1982), he traveled to concerts of his music in the Soviet Union (1989) and in the USA (1994).

Dietrich Erdmann received many awards, among others the Bundesverdienstkreuz (1987), the Johann-Wenzel-Stamitz prize (1988), the Humboldt Plaketten [Humboldt Badges] (1998) and the Silesian Culture Prize (2002). His life and work has been honored with two Festschriften (Burde 1987, Krause-Pichler/Schüler 1997).


Dietrich Erdmann was influenced by New Objectivity, Neo-Baroque and Neo-Classicism. Aside the many musical fashions since the 1920s, and aside the many compositional techniques of the avant-garde, he developed a modern music style with rich tone colors and unusual instrumentations (though with traditional instruments). Already his early compositions--like his Sechs kleine Klavierstücke [6 little Piano Pieces] (1933) - show stylistic unity and musical competence as well as individual solutions with regard to musical form. In the middle of the 1960s, he settled on a prose-like musical syntax with the emancipation of dissonances (e.g., in his Sonate for oboe and piano, 1965).

Until the end of the 1940, Dierich Erdmann's work was dominated by chamber music, but the cantata Der Maien [The May] for soprano, choir, flute, and string quartet (after a folk song, 1946) was the beginning of numerous vocal compositions (e.g., Berauschet Euch for soprano, baritone, choir, and orchestra after Charles Baudelaire, 1953). Erdmann applied the lyrical forming of melodies that he used in his vocal compositions to his instrumental music, specifically to his concertos. The Concerto for piano and orchestra (1950 / 1976) was the beginning and the first climax of his work with regard to solo concertos.

In compositions of the 1950s and 1960s, we can often find the use of church modes and neo-classical forms, for instance in his Concertino for piano and orchestra 1956. Since the 1970s, Erdmann's music is chromaticized and makes use of the concept of variation. He also started to use unconventional musical forms, clear but demanding rhythmic structures, and very fine instrumentations (e.g., in Spektrum for small orchestra, 1975, or in Musical Multicolore for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion, violin, viola, cello, and double bass, 1981-1982).

The last three decades are not only characterized by the use of unusual instrumentations but also by the use of instruments that are traditionally not much used in comparable musical contexts. He, for instance, wrote many compositions for saxophone (e.g., Resonanzen for saxophone quartet, 1984, Konzertstück for alto saxophone, string orchestra, two horns, and percussion, 1988, or his Dialog for alto saxophone and tenor saxophone, 1997).

Dierich Erdmann's oevre includes--with the exception of opera and ballet--almost all genres and instrumentations: 16 solo concertos, 12 orchestral compositions, numerous piano and other instrumental solo compositions, chamber music for string and wind instruments, as well as many songs, cantatas, and choral music.

Source: On-Line Dictionary of Modern Composers (2002; edited by Nico Schüler)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2011)

Dietrich Erdmann: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Der Komponist Dietrich Erdmann (Official Website) [German]

Dietrich Erdmann (born 1917) (On-Line Dictionary of Modern Composers)



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