Toni Völker


German version



Curriculum vitae

Toni Völker

1948 Born on September 13th in Lauterbach/Saar, grew up in Dinkelsbühl in Middle Franconia.
1971 Began to study at the Bavarian State Conservatoire in Würzburg
1975 Continuation of studies at the Würzburg Academy of Music (piano, music theory, composition)
1977 Studied composition and music theory at the Karlsruhe State Academy of Music with Eugen Werner Velte
1982 Concert examination KA II in composition, diploma in music theory
1983 Teaching post for music theory at the Karlsruhe State Academy of Music
1985 Teacher of composition and director of the seminar for new music at the Academy of Music in Darmstadt: since then also director of the DARMSTADT NEW MUSIC DAYS.


Searching - Aspects of my work

Starting from the point of view of late-expressive thinking, the major part of my work, in particular the chamber music, was characterized by strongly subjective expressiveness and expression up to about the middle of the 1980's; at the same time, in my compositions and parallel with them an increasing confrontation took place with other tendencies which pushed my subjective impressions more and more into the background of my thinking and my work. That which Umberto Eco described as "the sobered-up wish for art" seems to me to have triggered off this process, questioning more and more the conception. derived from the monodic tradition, of foreground and background in my compositions. The concept which is revealed only diffusely in the idea of functionality, the mutual exchangeability of foreground and background. the way the text and the context complement each other, the creation of situations of sound in which each individual tone is incorporated into the considerations which dictate the structure and in which, instead of hierarchical domination and being dominated, other kinds of relationships can come into being, led to quite a different kind of thinking which inevitably found its outlet in my work.

The consequence was a reduction of the consciousness of my own inner mental state in favour of a closer attention to more essential forces lying within the constitution of sound, colour and vibration of the tone. I began. quite consciously. to provide no more answers in my works: for example in L'ABIME (1990) for alto flute, violoncello and accordion: the fragile, quarter-tone. "impure" sounds at the beginning no langer convey a feeling of security to the listener: L'ABIME, the abyss, is continually present. but I no langer make decisions; confirmation of and response to that which the listener presumes or expects in certain places are absent.

Sciacinto Scelsi's very characteristic way of no langer limiting the existence or the identity of a note to one definitive and distinct pitch. but rather of creating an extended area of tone which makes possible a complex sound- not to be confused with a cluster- consisting of many more layers by the use of micro-intervallic glissandi and quarter-tone parallel sounds, was one of the reasons for me to occupy myself with that which can only be insufficiently and imprecisely described as "surface" or >plain". So how can I express in compositional terms that which has just been described as the annullment of the concept of background and foreground thinking- Are those dimensions of sound which were perhaps previously conceivable in terms of harmony and melody, palpable in a kind of fusion as aggregates?

No, everything which is perceptible makes a contribution to this kind of sound experience; there is no place for expressions in the sense of a singularity representing itself. everything audible contributes to making possible a process of perception which goes beyond individual sounds.

What can be the nature of such levels and plains of perception - heteregenous in themselves, but also contradictory and fluctuating? I think they are just as differentiated and manifold as their occurrence: in my works they are to be found as homogeneous, flowing ways of playing which breathe with one other, but also as ways of playing crassly hooking themselves into one another, repetetive, insistent and hardened.

Since the focal point of my thinking has for a long time been the confrontation with that which can be outlined by means of Ernst Bloch's "to be an the way<, and, connected with this, the disintegration of that which was presumed to be solid, this thinking also intervenes in the structuring of my compositions: thus, in NOMOS-Gegenbild (contradictory image), a composition for chamber orchestra. there is a section to be found, approximately 6 minutes long, which reflects this kind of flowing and essential movement: ranging from the almost inaudible to the immediately present, comprising an all levels transition, transitoriness, non-consolidation.

Starting an the basis of two groups of 3 notes (e/f/g flat and b flat/b/c), the 6 strings play a process of brightening achieved exclusively by almost imperceptible glissandi. The supply of notes is extended by adding quarter-tones above and below the 6 notes, finally resulting in 2 groups of quarter-tones consisting of 7 notes each. The glissando intervals consist only of quarter-tones and minor thirds. which are slid through in 1.5 or 9 seconds respectively.

The length of the individual glissandi is maintained. but their density increases; in addition intersections and parallel glissandi occur. The strings are stimulated to increase their density by the harp and the percussion, later by the wind too. At the climax of the curve of intensity the supply of notes used shifts into chromatic totality, nothing more is heard of the glissandi, the contradictory image is attained: the pitches are maintained insistently and are incapable of alteration. the Pressure of the bow an the strings increases, only down-bows are possible. A unified effect is achieved by bowing at the nut, a hardening effect is characteristic of the situation. Then the flowing movement asserts itself once more, but now it is no longer connected to the very smallest succession; the whole musical development ends in the return to the opening pitches of the two groups of 3 notes.

The concept mentioned above of a differentiated/heterogeneous plain can also be applied to extended sections of the string trio ININTERROTTO (1993), for example in the opening phase of the composition which develops tempestuously upwards: by tuning the third string of the violin and viola and the fourth string of the violoncello a semitone higher, the tritone becomes playable an open strings an each of the 3 instruments, and in combination with fingered intervals this gives rise to charming combinations of pitches which can be quickly reached by the players.

In this introductory phase each of the 3 instruments uses, in addition to fingered pitches rising in a linear way, combinations of open strings to a great extent (including the tritones brought about by the scordatura); this makes possible a potential of several notes an each instrument which are only minimally shifted, which results in the aural impression of an intensively realized layering of plains of sound.

In a relatively short time ININTERROTTO covers the whole area of pitch available in an upward direction. It seems to have reached its limit when the violoncello arrives by means of small steps an the note b4: however. as the cello sound dwindles almost to inaudibility, new fluctuations. interferences and different kinds of powers of assertion come into being at the extreme limits of audibility. Everywhere the driving forte is the transition, the avoidance of solidification and definitiveness, the constant state of change already mentioned in NOMOS which manifests itself in quite a different form in L'ABIME.