Research seminar: ‘Silent Terrains: Purity and Play in Post-war German Poetry and Music’

Wednesday 23 November 2016, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Martin Iddon (University of Leeds)

In the immediate post-war years, the arts in defeated Germany seemed to have a shared moral purpose in coming to terms with the past. The effacement of nineteenth-century ideals of personal freedom and individual expression, in such a context, seem to provide a challenge to the sorts of literatures and musics promoted by the Nazi state. Along with a suspicion of the ‘great genius’ school of artistic production went a form of writing across multiple art forms which involved a fragmentation and dismemberment of the semantic elements of the art forms to make, ostensibly, elements ‘mean’ just what they ‘are’ and nothing more. Identical in this sense, poetry and music too contained forms of relationship to the past: Eich’s early post-war period (ca. 1946–47) contains hidden structural elements of a sort which Goethe would have recognised; Stockhausen’s first major success, Kreuzspiel (1951), conceals a relationship of sorts with the make-up of jazz combos. In short, Trümmerliteratur seems to have been translated into what might have been called Trümmermusik. Yet the translation is imperfect, and not in the commonplace that a literal translation may well not be all that accurate. The time of the translation, too, is vital. What I suggest here is that, first, there is something radically different between the Trümmerliteratur of the first few post-war years, when Germany was still in almost all senses under the military government of the occupying powers, and the sorts of serial trends in music which began to develop around 1950, a division which might be marked by the first legal actions of the Adenauer administration, most importantly the 1949 amnesty act, which sits, literally and symbolically, between the literature and the music of the ruins.


Martin Iddon studied composition and musicology at the Universities of Durham and Cambridge, and has also studied composition privately with Steve Martland, Chaya Czernowin, and Steven Kazuo Takasugi. His musicological research has largely focussed on post-war music in Germany and the United States of America. As a composer he has worked with numerous ensembles and performers, across Europe, North America, and Australasia, including Ensemble SurPlus, Ensemble Modelo62, Either/Or, ekmeles, the Kairos Quartett, 175 East, note inègales, Eva Zöllner, Catherine Laws, and Rei Nakamura. His music has been featured on the Österreichischer Rundfunk, Radio New Zealand and on BBC Radio 3 and is published by Composers Edition. He has lectured at Leeds since December 2009, having previously lectured at University College Cork and Lancaster University. 

Location: Sally Baldwin D Block - I/D/003