Copyright © Markus Brönnimann 2015-2022
Markus Brönnimann Flötist

Personal thoughts on

musical topics


How should a good concert programme be constructed?

I like programmes that have an inner coherence, in which a common theme can be followed throughout different pieces of music. I also find it rewarding when works from the 20 th and 21 st centuries are juxtaposed with older music. This antithesis makes it possible to hear old works with “new” ears, and new music with “old” ears. In every concert programme, I try to play at least one work from the late 20 th or early 21 st century. It strikes me as important that music should not only be perceived from one aesthetic angle, but rather be an expression of the present day. Music that speaks of our modern condition is contemporary music. To concern ourselves with the musical present is worthwhile and opens up new perspectives. Yet engaging with new music can also be uncomfortable at times. Some pieces even leave you baffled. I also like to programme “outsiders”; composers who, for whatever reason, have not received the recognition they deserve. I count amongst these Joseph Martin Kraus, Wilhelm Stenhammar and Erwin Schulhoff, for example. Ultimately, a programme has to be designed in such a way that even a listener with no interest in historical or extramusical correlations can be offered a diverse mix of good quality music.

What is the purpose of arranging and what is the appeal of this occupation?

Arranging is a creative undertaking with music that for once does not involve an instrument, and whose result remains forever visible in black and white. The trigger for my own work in this field was my involvement with Ensemble Pyramide. The sextet’s unusual combination of instruments meant that there were hardly any original compositions for the group, apart from our occasional commissions, and so we increasingly sought to expand our repertoire with quality works that already lent themselves to the sound of our instrumentation. Through my arranging, I have learned a huge amount about the individual instruments that is now of constant benefit to me. Instrumentation can be seen as a technical exercise, which guarantees a certain degree of success if building upon an already successful composition. Unlike composing, one is not forced to make every single decision oneself, and the effort is rewarded by the fact that there is an actual demand for what is being created. We have performed some arrangements with Ensemble Pyramide several times, and it is very satisfying that an exercise of this kind can have such a practical purpose. As a flautist, I am very aware of the limits of my repertoire, and take a mischievous pleasure in every opportunity to enrich it with another valuable work. In this way, I have become a close companion of many older composers, and am constantly fascinated how near it is possible to get to the thought processes of a long deceased composer by transferring one of his works, note for note, into another medium. I am frequently irritated, however, when reputable musicians and concert promoters turn up their noses at the mention of the word “arrangement”. I experience arranging as a dynamic and creative interaction with music history that proves that these pieces continue to speak to us.

Is composition the natural and logical continuation of arrangement?

The challenge of composing is considerably greater than that of arranging. To stare at a blank piece of paper and create a work out of nothing is a situation that can fill you with fear. On the other hand, classical musicians find themselves in the unnatural situation of only ever having played music thought up and written down by others. These were mostly the giants of the past, who set the bar correspondingly high. Nonetheless, I find it very worthwhile to once pose the question, “What does my own music actually sound like? Is there even such a thing?” You don’t need to measure your first attempts at composition against Beethoven, but equally that doesn’t mean that everything has already been said. Musicians, too, live in a world of specialisation. Performer, composer and musicologist are completely separate professions. My wish would be for these distinctions to become permeable once more, as in Baroque times when every good musician was able to compose a simple piece. Today there are very few performers who set themselves that double challenge. I admire them hugely. Since writing a couple of pieces of my own, I now see the works of other composers from all periods through different eyes. On one hand, my respect for their creative powers and their unfathomable labour has grown even more, and on the other hand, I can contemplate the musical text from a fresh perspective. I have experienced that every transcript of a piece is an imperfect attempt to capture the composer’s idea in sound. If we bear this in mind as a performer, we begin to search more intently for this idea behind the notes than just being satisfied with the correct rendition of the score.

How should my own music sound? What does it mean to compose contemporary

classical music?

Of course I have role models amongst the composers - Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach for his clear, energetic gestures, and Maurice Ravel for his ability to conjure a wonderful palette of colours from every instrumental combination. George Crumb and György Kurtág impress me with their openness and their skill in writing new music that speaks directly to the listener. The interaction between instruments and their players is very important to me. I want to create a musical conversation. This is also the reason why chamber music is my preferred form of expression. Music that translates an abstract idea without culminating in an aurally appealing result is something I don’t much like. For my taste, music needs a sensual quality. Furthermore, I do not believe it is possible to write music that reflects our time by drawing on old idioms. Contemporary classical music is in a precarious situation. It has lost the connection to large swathes of music-loving audiences. Initiatives that attempt to bridge this gap are very valuable. I am thinking of moderated concerts, introductory lectures, but also programmes combining old and new music, showing that whilst the semblance of the music has changed, its core message often remains very similar. In spite of the marginalisation of comtemporary music, every composer should pursue the idiom that is most appropriate to them, and that they believe in. Anyone eyeing a quick audience hit is generally rumbled pretty quickly.