Giselher Klebe was born in Mannheim in 1925 and in 1940 entered the Berlin Conservatory with a scholarship, studying the violin, viola and music history, and composition with Kurt von Wolfurt. He resumed his studies after the war as a pupil of Josef Rufer at the newly founded Berlin International Music Institute, and, privately, with Boris Blacher. His Divertimento, Op. 1/2, for piano, had its first performance in 1947, the year of his first meeting with the composer Wolfgang Fortner, whom he succeeded ten years later as senior lecturer in composition and music theory at the Detmold North-West German Music Academy. He became a professor at the Academy in 1962. By this time he had established himself as a composer, with works performed at Darmstadt and at Donaueschingen and notable success in 1950 with his orchestral Zwitschermaschine, described as a musical metamorphosis for full orchestra and inspired by Paul Klee?s The Twittering Machine. He won various awards and became one of the most important contemporary composers of opera in Germany, with a series of works, first with his own libretti and then with texts by his wife Lore Klebe, generally based on existing literary works. Over the years he has won great distinction, with further prizewinning compositions and public honours. In 1981 he became director of the music section of the Berlin Academy of Arts, of which he served as president from 1986 until 1989.
Klebe?s Poèma drammatico, Op. 130, was written in 1999 as a homage to Verdi. It was first performed in Detmold the following year as part of the festival celebrating the composer?s 75th birthday. In this concerto for two pianos and full orchestra the composer expresses his love and admiration for the work of Verdi, a guiding influence on his music since 1950. The work includes quotations from Otello, Simone Boccanegra, Macbeth and Il trovatore, couched in his own musical language. He explains how the portrait of Verdi looks at him, as he writes, inspiring the present work.
The first and second Soggetto cavato, Op. 122 and Op. 129, use a musical term from the Renaissance. Coined by the theorist Zarlino it indicates a polyphonic subject derived from the vowels of a name, then using the traditional Guidonian syllables, ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. Klebe combines notes derived from the names of the dedicatees with those of his own name, beginning with gis (G sharp in German notation). The first of the two works, both for piano duet, is dedicated to Kurt Horres, in friendship and gratitude, and the second to Silke- Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn.
Widmungen (Dedications) consists of five solo piano pieces written to mark various occasions in the lives of the dedicatees. As with the Soggetti cavati, use is made of the letters of the various names as a motivic basis. The first, Zehnmal Fünf (Ten Times Five) was for the fiftieth birthday of the composer Johannes Driessler in December 1970. Driessler was appointed director of the Detmold Academy in 1960 and became known principally for his church music, the field to which he devoted his teaching. He died in 1998. Soggetto für Christiane und Axel Eggers was written in 1975 to mark the marriage of the dedicatees, and the third piece celebrated the sixtieth birthday of Karl Schumann in 1985. Ariette celebrated the fiftieth birthday of the composer Aribert Reimann in 1986 and also makes use of Klebe?s first name. The final dedication marked the 75th birthday of the painter and graphic artist Heinz Trökes.
Zornige Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 118, (Angry Songs without Words), were written in June 1994. The composer explains that for each of them there was a reason, clarified in the respective titles. The fifth song Kassiber (Secret Message) is a piano version of Klebe?s setting of the poem of that name by Peter Härtling, the root from which the other pieces spring.
Meine Enkelkinder und ich, Op. 140, (My Grandchildren and I) is a series of seven easy piano pieces written over a period of 21 days in October 2002, in answer to a request from Christian Köhn for music for beginners. The pieces reflect the composer?s three grandchildren, Mira, Maya and Tim Christian. Klebe wrote his Thema und 39 Variationen (Theme and 39 Variations) for the fortieth birthday of Christian Köhn. The work is continuous, united in an arch form. Its undulating course flows into a passage of great serenity, which ends the composition.
Based on notes by the composer
English version by Keith Anderson