ALEXANDER GOEHR (b 1932 )
Born in Berlin in 1932, Alexander Goehr moved to England in 1933 when his father, the conductor Walter Goehr, left Germany. He was a contemporary of Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and the pianist and composer John Ogdon at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and he developed his personal musical language initially from serialism into a more comprehensive idiom that derives much from earlier and remoter musical traditions.
Goehr’s opera Arden muss sterben (‘Arden must die’) is an effective and provocative treatment of the English Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham. His music-theatre pieces Naboth’s Vineyard, Shadowplay and Sonata about Jerusalem have an insistence on moral themes that underlie Goehr’s thinking. The opera Die Wiedertäufer (‘Behold the Sun’), dealing with the Anabaptist capture of Münster in 1534, revives something of 18th-century musical practice, while his reworking of Monteverdi’s lost opera Arianna involves an exceptional fusion of his own style with the surviving fragment of Monteverdi’s work. His Kantan and Damask Drum draws on the tradition of the Japanese Noh play.
Orchestral and Instrumental Music
Goehr’s orchestral music ranges from a Violin Concerto to Colossus or Panic, described as a symphonic fragment after Goya. His varied chamber music includes the String Quartet No. 4 in memory of John Ogdon.
Goehr’s vocal music draws on a typically wide frame of reference, from the cantata The Deluge, after Leonardo da Vinci, to the biblical school-work Virtutes and the oratorio The Death of Moses.
On the pros and cons of writing in the shadow of Bach