Rudolf Kelterborn was born in Basle in 1931. He belongs to the small group of Swiss composers who have made a prominent name for themselves far beyond the borders of their native country. Already in the 1950s and '60s, Kelterborn's works received international recognition and were awarded several prizes, among them the Furtherance Prize of the city of Stuttgart in 1961, the Bernhard Sprengel Prize in 1962, the Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Prize in 1970, and the composing prize of the Swiss Musicians' Association and the Arts Prize of the city of Basle (both of these in 1984).
Kelterborn studied first at the Music Academy and University of his native city; at the former, his teachers were Gustav Guldenstein and Walther Geiser for theory and composition and Alexander Krannhals for conducting, while at the universìty he studied with Jacques Handschin. Afterwards, Kelterborn studied further in Zurich, in West Germany and in Austria, taking lessons from the composers Willy Burkhard, Günter Bialas, Wolfgang Fortner and Boris Blacher and from the conductor Igor Markevitch. Later, Kelterborn took a similar path in his long career as a teacher of music theory, analysis and composition: He went from the Basle Music Academy (1955?1960) to the North?West German Music Academy in Detmold (1960?68; in 1963 he was appointed to a professorship there), then to the Conservatory and Music Academy of Zurich (1968?75 and 1980?83), where he was also head of the undergraduate and graduate departments, and then finally to the State Conservatory in Carlsruhe (1980?83). Between 1974 and 1980, Kelterborn was head of music at Swiss German Radio (DRS), and from 1969 until 1975 he was editor?in?chief of the Swiss Music Journal (the Schweizerische Musikzeitung). From 1983 until 1994, Kelterborn was Director of the Basle Music Academy. Above and beyond this, Kelterborn has enjoyed an active career as guest conductor (above all for his own works) and made a name for himself as the author of various musico?theoretical and analytical writings, also giving guest lectures in the USA, England and Japan.
Rudolf Kelterborn abandoned the neo?Baroque influences of his teachers at
an early stage, instead adopting serial techniques ? without, however, shackling
his compositions to rigorous principles. With him, structural clarity has
primacy, though a narrowly defined measure of aleatory was later allowed.
This clarity is paired with widely?arched areas of expression that are often
alluded to in the titles of his works (FourNightPieces, 1964; Phantasms, 1967;
Communication, 1971?72). The emotional directness and the scenic character
of these instrumental works show his affinity for the dramatic in music. Besides
his operas The Deliverance of Thebes (1960?62), Emperor Jovian (1964?66),
An Angel comes to Babylon (1975?76), The Cherry Garden
(1979?80), Ophelia (1982?83), Julia (1989?90) and four symphonies for large orchestra, a further constant in his oeuvre is chamber music (such as his five string quartets). Kelterborn has commented an the broad emotional spectrum of his music as follows: 'There is an arch that reaches from meditative and lyrical reservedness to dramatic expressivity, from a distancing (that is also a result of the composition and its construction) to elemental directness. The <content> of my music is decided by the often almost unbearable tension between the beauty of this world and the incredible possibilities that life offers us an the one hand, and, an the other, the fears,terrors and necessities of our time.'