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HANS OTTE  

(1926 - 2007)

Hans Otte was born to musical parents; both were amateur musicians and his mother became his first piano teacher. Already at an early age Otte was recognised as a piano and organ prodigy, which resulted after the Second World War in a grant from the United States to study organ and composition at Yale University. He became a composition student of Paul Hindemith while studying the organ with Fernando Germani at the same time.

Upon returning to Germany, Otte was offered a position as organist of the church of Santa Cecilia in Rome. With that job he would follow in the footsteps of Claudio Monteverdi, but he refused, preferring to refine his piano talents instead. He therefore went on to study piano between 1954 and 1956 in his native country as a student of the pianist Walter Gieseking (1895–1956), especially known for his interpretations of piano works by Debussy and Ravel. Studying the Classical, Romantic and French ‘impressionist’ repertoire with this masterly musician strongly established Otte’s relationship with tradition, while continuing to develop his sense of l’art de toucher le piano and the musical impact of sound colour in general.

In 1959 Otte was offered a job as department head of classical music by Radio Bremen. He was the youngest person the radio station ever employed in that specific function. Otte soon founded two festivals which proved of historical importance: pro musica antiqua, dedicated to Early Music, and pro musica nova. The last-mentioned festival was fully dedicated to ‘New Music’ and became an annual event from 1959 to 1984, during which Otte commissioned and introduced many of the best composers of the twentieth century for the first time in Germany, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Olivier Messiaen. Perhaps even more characteristic, however, was Otte’s deep commitment to American music, some of which was hardly known in Europe at that time. It was Otte who brought not only Conlon Nancarrow, Terry Riley, LaMonte Young and Steve Reich to European audiences, but also such diverse musicians as pianist Keith Jarrett, and John Cage with whom he developed a deep artistic and personal friendship. Propagating such a huge diversity of styles by different composers made him fully aware of his own musical personality. Whether it was the emotional effect of minimalism that so much struck him, or the Cagean concepts of sound and silence, or the static, peaceful qualities of music from the East, Otte was amongst the first to fathom the importance of new or unknown art streams.

Hans Otte always kept composing and performing as a pianist, but his striking modesty prevented him from exhibiting himself to the world as a composer. In the latter rôle, Otte created instrumental, vocal and orchestral music, next to the creation of several multimedia installations. Many of his early works, such as Passages (1965) for piano and orchestra or Zero (1972) for choir and orchestra, were initially written in a modernist style. As is already apparent in those works, however, Otte always refused to discard tonality completely, characteristically letting traces of traditional tonality trickle through the otherwise dissonant, serialist textures.

Ralph van Raat

Role: Classical Composer 
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