Johannes Fritsch

* 27. July 1941 in Bensheim-Auerbach   † 29. April 2010 in Bonn

Johannes Fritsch was a composer, musician, publisher, studio owner, author and music teacher. From 1971 to 1984 he was the head of the New Music Seminar at the Academy for Musical Arts in Darmstadt, Germany. From 1984 to 2006 he was Professor of Composition at the Cologne University of Music and Dance (Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln).


       © Helmut Stahl                                               © Lena Fritsch   

Fritsch’s interest in music began when he was seven years old: he found a violin in his uncle’s storage room. He began violin lessons with a teacher in Bensheim and then, when his family moved to Cologne, he was taught by the principal violist of the Gürzenich Orchestra. From 1961 to 1965 Fritsch studied at Cologne University (musicology, philosophy and sociology) as well as at the Cologne University of Music and Dance (viola with Ernst Nippes, composition with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and electronic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig).

3-2 From left to right: Alfred Alings, Rolf Gehlhaar, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Johannes Fritsch, Harald Bojé, Aloys Kontarsky, 1968 (© Maria Austria)

In the following years, Fritsch taught music theory at the Cologne Conservatory of Music. From 1964 to 1970 he was a member of the Stockhausen Ensemble; he participated in many musical premieres, concert tours (e.g. the world exposition in Osaka in 1970), radio broadcasts and recordings. After returning from Osaka, Fritsch and two other former members of the Stockhausen Ensemble, Rolf Gehlhaar and David Johnson founded the Feedback Studio.

The Feedback Studio was an artists’ cooperative and soon became an important centre of communication for Contemporary Music. This was followed in 1971 by the founding of the Feedback Studio Verlag – the very first publishing house owned by composers in Germany. In the studio rooms, Fritsch organised small concerts, lectures and workshops over a period of more than thirty years. These ‘backhouse music’ concerts (Hinterhausmusiken) provided an alternative forum for contemporary and world music, e.g. from Afghanistan, Japan, India and Africa.


Fritsch’s complex musical estate consists of approximately 130 works: it covers electronic works, such as Fabula Rasa (1964) and Modulation IV (1968), as well as chamber music, ballet music, theatre and film music, organ compositions, an opera and pieces for large orchestras, including Akroasis (1966/68) and Herbstlicht (1994/1995). Fritsch described his musical influences: ‘Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives are my grandfathers; my teacher Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom I worked together closely, are my fathers. Since the 80s, Morton Feldman has somehow joined my ancestors as an uncle.’

Fritsch’s compositions could be defined by two main characteristics:
1. Fritsch’s compositions often include predetermined sound material, and various references to classical and popular music, sounds and sound systems from different cultures; Fritsch began using somewhat ‘postmodern’ techniques in the 1960s. A prominent early example is his composition for large orchestra, Akroasis (1966/68), which combines elements of music history and popular music in various modulations with found material (street organ, music-box, radio news) and new sounds.
2. Fritsch’s compositions often include improvisatory elements; this might be connected to his earlier days as a violist. An important example is Violectra (1971): Fritsch performed this energetic piece for Viola d’amore and synthesizer in different variations worldwide over 30 years.

Fritsch bei einer Aufführung von Violectra in JapanFritsch performing Violectra in Japan, 1988 (©Hiroshige Kanoh)

An important characteristic of Fritsch’s work since the 1980s is the reduction of motifs and forms to the most necessary. In doing so, Fritsch emphasizes the concept of small changes; this becomes obvious, for instance, in his ‘musical arrangement’ of texts by Samuel Becket in his musical triptych including Damals, Das Bittersüsse Büchlein and Trio vom Ende...
Although Fritsch’s compositions are very different, all of them indeed present his strong interest in new sound combinations and sound colours.

Fritsch was highly concerned with music not only in his compositions but also in his music dissemination: In 1979, 1982, 1984 and 1986, Fritsch hosted the world music conferences in Vlotho together with Peter Ausländer and the WDR (West German Broadcasting). Furthermore, he was a lecturer at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music (Darmstädter Ferienkurse) and a board member at the Darmstadt Institute of Contemporary Music and Music Education (Darmstädter Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung). Moreover, Fritsch was a founder member of the Cologne Society of New Music (Kölner Gesellschaft für Neue Musik) as well as an editorial board member at the Cologne Saint Peter Art Center (Kunst-Station Sankt Peter).
In 1966, Fritsch was awarded the Monetary Award for Music of the Federal State of North Rhine Westphalia; in 1971 he was awarded the Prize of the Paris Biennale. Since the 1970s, there followed other awards and fellowships, such as a scholarship by the Villa Massimo Rome, the Monetary Award of the City of Cologne and the Robert-Schumann-Award of the City of Düsseldorf.

In 2010, Johannes Fritsch passed away after a long illness in Bonn. After his death, the Feedback Studio and the Feedback Studio Publishing Company were dissolved. Since then, his wife Ingrid Fritsch and daughter Lena Fritsch have represented his musical estate.

For more information on Fritsch’s musical work until 2000, also see The Living Composers Project


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