Haack [Haacke, Haak, Haake], Friedrich Wilhelm

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Huber, Nicolaus A.

(b Passau, 15 Dec 1939). German composer. He studied composition in Munich with Bialas (1964–7) and worked with Riedl in the Munich electronic studio. After participating in Stockhausen's composition workshop Ensemble at the 1967 Darmstadt summer courses, he concluded his studies in Venice with Nono. In 1969 he was appointed to a post at the Folkwang-Hochschule, Essen, where he became professor in 1974.

In his works from the mid-1960s Huber sought a purification of musical language that would give listeners a renewed intensity in their engagement with music. His critique of serialism, with its simultaneous organization of multiple parameters, and the failure of composers to take into account human behavioural patterns led him to adopt ‘principles’ rather than ‘series’ as the starting points for his compositions (vonbis …, 1966; Traummechanik, 1967). For musical coherence to result only one parameter need obey the operative principle, which is highlighted by the freer treatment of other parameters. In Informationen über die Töne E–F for string quartet (1965–6), for example, Huber limits his pitch material to emphasize the notes E and F, changes in duration, timbre, volume and octave position contributing new information about these two notes, while other pitches simply form an aura around them. E and F, thus freed freed from their ‘Phrygian’ implications, are able to stimulate new modes of listening.

While Huber's approach to musical material was defined in relation to Stockhausen, he took from Nono an acute historical awareness, coming to view styles and compositional methods not simply as techniques at one's disposal, but as elements which carry residues of particular historical contexts. The influence of Marxist historical and dialectical materialism is particularly evident in his second compositional phase, beginning around 1969. In Harakiri for orchestra and tape (1971), for example, Huber offers a critique of the crescendo as an element of bourgeois music of the 19th century, with its teleological connotations of build-up and climax: in this work the eruption expected after one minute of steady crescendo is replaced by recorded crashes of thunder over the loudspeakers. The ‘critical compositions’ of this period therefore not only confront listeners with a purified form of musical material, but also propose ‘progressive’ changes in listening attitudes.

The concept of ‘critical composing’ embodies an element of destructiveness. In contrast, Huber's conception of ‘rhythm composition’, explored from the mid-1970s onwards in such works as Darabukka (1976) for piano, Dasselbe ist nicht dasselbe (1978) for small drum, Vor und zurück (1981) for oboe and Trio mit Stabpandeira (1983) for viola, cello and double bass, sets out to inherit and ultimately transcend the positive aspects of the past. Here basic rhythmic models serve as generators of all layers of the composition. In Morgenlied for orchestra (1980) the form, as well as the changes in harmony, density, volume and tone colour, largely correspond to a Cuban rhythmic model, the guaracha. Huber also incorporates within this work elements with overtly political significations: martial rhythms, a song of the French Resistance and an anti-Vietnam protest song.

After the mid-1980s, not only did hope of revolution fade, but it was also generally accepted that there was no longer a working-class public open to music with those kinds of ‘progressive’ meanings. Huber reacted to this by reflecting anew on musical material. Relieved of his obligation to purify music from bourgeois traditions of expression, the material at his disposal increased. While a reference to a ‘bourgeois’ composer such as Robert Schumann would have been scarcely conceivable hitherto, his third creative phase, dating from the mid-1980s, includes two pieces that reconsider works of Schumann under late 20th-century conditions. Demijour for oboe, cello and piano (1985–6) is an examination of Schumann's Zwielicht op.39 no.10, and Air mit ‘Sphinxes’ for chamber ensemble (1987) grew out of his fascination with the ‘Sphinxes’ from Carnaval.

Huber also made new terrain accessible for musical thought. The orchestral work Go Ahead (1988), opens with a 14-note melody, whose six modified repetitions each omit the first and last notes of the previous statement. Using this rational procedure Huber achieves something irrational: the listener becomes disorientated, and this disorientation induces a kind of listening ‘which shrugs its shoulders’. The principle of repetition, previously abnegated, brings about a disturbance of coherence; change does not mean variation, but something qualitatively new, which calls for a ‘desubjectivized listening’. This preoccupation with discontinuity is taken up again in En face d'en face for orchestra and tape (1994), in which Huber confronts the listener with various possibilities for the ‘multiple portrayal of a thought/train of thought’ and so presents something coherent and continuous, but with ‘no main and subsidiary ideas … , nothing that blends, no narrative elements etc.’. It is always a question, paradoxically formulated, of bringing out the mysterious, the strange, the alienating through composition. In To ‘Marilyn Six Pack’ for orchestra (1995) he aims to salvage for music the notion of ‘repetition as non-connection’ which is directly presented in Andy Warhol's famous silk-screen The Six Marilyns (Marilyn Six-Pack) (1962). The work is ‘really a project, which is made up of three piece-spheres’: the original; a recorded ‘filter version’, which is broadcast over loudspeakers of varying quality; and a recording of the original in a ‘version folded in time’ (as three superimposed parts). Huber distinguishes several possibilities for combining these three versions in performance.

Huber's fourth creative phase, beginning in the mid-1990s, was signalled by a radicalization of the concept of ‘aural unpredictability’ already apparent in his treatment of repetition in the third phase. In Als eine Aussicht weit … for flute, viola and harp (1996) sheets of crumpled tracing paper ‘open out noisily’ of their own volition over prescribed periods of time. The ‘tarrying in front of the landscape which always remains the same but which changes unceasingly’ (Huber) to which Hölderlin's poem Der Herbst refers is materialized here as a musical space in which the nature of the sound is independent of the will of composer or performer. Just as ‘unintentional’ is the ‘prolonged crashing about’ of a wooden music stand or chair specified in bar 182. In Disappearances (1995) for piano Huber considers the question: ‘What does the piano make from and after the touch of the pianist (and vice versa)’? ‘To disappear’ also means, for example, ‘to become absorbed into another sound, to influence a principal sound by colouring it using a barely audible one, to lead the listening away from the rhythm of each note's moment of attack’. Although in Disappearances sounds are to some extent left to themselves, this does not signify a renunciation of musical expression. The work's title also expresses an ‘extreme human and political bitterness’, recalling the ‘human beings who disappear in inhumanity, torture, concentration camps, gas chambers’. The new chiaroscuro, which characterizes his third and fourth phases of creativity, is therefore not the servant of a politically blind, postmodern irrationality. His later works take nothing back from his implicit critique of the attitudes and methods of certain postmodern composers in the Vier Stücke (1986) for orchestra and tape. Instead they invite a sharpening of the sense of hearing, which makes possible new aesthetic discovery and political consciousness.



Parusie – Annäherung und Entfernung, orch, tape, 1967; Harakiri, small orch, tape, 1971; Lernen von, 1977; Morgenlied, 1980; Sphärenmusik, 1981; Nocturnes, 1984; 4 Stücke, orch, tape, 1986; Go Ahead, 1988; En face d'en face, orch, tape, 1994; To ‘Marilyn Six Pack’, 1995


Choral: 2 Chöre (P. Celan), 1965; Versuch über Sprache, 16 solo vv, Chin. cymbals, Hammond org, db, tape, 1969; Sein als Einspruch (G. Benn, R.M. Rilke), 8 solo vv, 1997; Ach, das Erhabene … betäubte Fragmente, double choir, 1999

Other vocal: Gespenster (B. Brecht, P. Maiwald), spkr + 1v, orch, tape, 1976; Tote Metren, B-Bar, ens, 1989; 3 Stücke, 1v, orch, pf, 1990–91; Offenes Fragment, S, fl + pic, gui, perc, 1991; Covered with Music, S, fl, accdn, perc, db, 1997

chamber and solo instrumental

8 or more insts: Mimus, 2 hn, 2 tpt, 2 trbn, b tuba, 2 perc, pf, 1965; 6 Bagatellen, 10 insts, tape, 1981; Air mit ‘Sphinxes’, 15 insts, 1987; Seifenoper, 8 insts, 1989; Mit etwas Extremismus, 7 insts, 5 boxes, 5 caskets, 5 drawers, 5 tape recs, natural objects, 1991; An Hölderlins Umnachtung, 15 insts, 1992; Eröffnung und Zertrümmerung, 12 insts, tape, 1992

2–7 insts: Informationen über die Töne E–F, str qt, 1965–6; Chronogramm, cl, vn, vc, pf, 1966; von … bis …, vn, hmn, pf, perc, 1966; Traummechanik, perc, pf, 1967; Epigenesis I, 4 rec, 1967–8; Epigenesis II, rec, tape, 1967–9; Epigenesis III, str, 2 perc, 1968–9; Versuch zu ‘Versuch über Sprache’, improvising insts, tape, 1970; Trio mit Stabpandeira, va, vc, db, 1983; La force du vertige, fl + pic, cl, vn, vc, pf + perc, 1985; Demijour, ob, vc, pf, 1985–6; Doubles, mit einem beweglichen Ton, str qt, 1987; Töne suchen einen Autor, variable insts, wind machine, 1988; Herbstfestival, 4 perc, 1989; Ohne Hölderlin, db, pf, 2 or more tables, 1992; Don't Fence Me In, fl, ob, cl, 1994; Als eine Aussicht weit, fl, va, hp, 1996; Bagatelle mit Klosprüchen, fl/cl, cl, vc, gui/hp, perc, 1996

Solo inst: Spekrale, pf, 1964; Rituale, org, 1965; Sonata, vn, 1965; Darabukka, pf, 1976; Dasselbe ist nicht dasselbe, small drum, 1978; Presente, trbn, 1979; Solo für einen Solisten, vn, 1980–81; Vor und zurück, ob, 1981; Aus Schmerz und Trauer, a sax/B-cl/basset hn, 1982; Turmgewächse, hp, 1982–3; Der Ausrufer steigt ins Innere, vc, 1984; Auf Flügeln der Harfe, accdn, 1985; Clash Music, cymbals, 1988; Beds and Brackets, pf, opening doors and windows/tape, 1990; Statement zu einem Faustschlag Nonos, pf, 1990; First Play Mozart, fl, 1993; Disappearances, pf, 1995; Mit Erinnerung, bn, 1996; … in die Stille, vc, 1998

mixed media

Aion, 4-track tape, scents, 1968–72; Anerkennung und Aufhebung, 4 films, 3 2-track tapes, mirrors, 1971–2; Banlieue, speaking chorus, sound props, tape, gui, synth, perc, 1972–3; 4 Politrevuen, 1976–80; Eröffnung und Zertrümmerung, ens, tape, 1992

Principal publishers: Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel

Principal recording companies: Col Legno, Koch/Schwann


‘Kritisches Komponieren’, Neue Musik (1972), 37–8 [special issue]

‘Von und über Nicolaus A. Huber “Gespenster”’, Neuland, ii (1981–2), 51–66

‘Über konzeptionelle Rhythmuskomposition’, MusikTexte, no.2 (1983), 5–8

‘Gedanken zum Umfeld der Tonalität’, MusikTexte, no.5 (1984), 3–7

‘Erfahrungen mit Fortschritt’, Was heisst Fortschritt?, Musik-Konzepte, no.100 (1998), 37–8

Durchleuchtungen: Texte zur Musik 1964–1999, ed. J. Häusler (Wiesbaden, 2000)


KdG (G. Stäbler)

U. Dibelius: ‘Gesellschaft als Partner und Modell: zum Komponieren von Nicolaus A. Huber’, Musica, xxvi (1972), 338–41

M. Spahlinger: ‘Das Starre – erzittert: zu Nicolaus A. Hubers “6 Bagatellen”’, MusikTexte, no.2 (1983), 15–18

H.-W. Heister: ‘Konspiration und Agitation: ein Versuch über die “Sechs Bagatellen” für Kammerensemble von Nicolaus A. Huber’, Melos, xlvi/2 (1984), 37–83

H. Lachenmann: ‘Magier und Chirurg: über Nicolaus A. Huber’, MusikTexte, no.20 (1987), 15–16; repr. in Musik als existentielle Erfahrung: Schriften 1966–1995, ed. J. Häusler (Wiesbaden, 1996), 284–6

U. Dibelius: ‘Nicolaus A. Huber’, Moderne Musik II: 1965–1985 (Munich, 1988), 77–80

S. Orgass: ‘Über musikalischen Ausdruck’, Positionen: Beiträge zur Neuen Musik, no.17 (1993), 30–36 [interview with Huber]

F. Silecki: Das Politische in den Kompositioen von Helmut Lachenmann und Nicolaus A. Huber (diss., U. of Bonn, 1993)


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