Composer Profile: Johannes Schöllhorn

Johannes Schöllhorn
Johannes Schöllhorn


Born in 1962, he studied with Klaus Huber, Emanuel Nunes and Mathias Spahlinger and musical analysis with Peter Förtig. He also attended conducting courses with Peter Eötvös.

Johannes Schöllhorn’s music is performed by many international Soloists, Ensembles and Orchestras like Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble musikFabrik, Ensemble l’instant donné, ensemble recherche, Musikfabrik, Klangforum, Neue Vocalsolisten ensemble ascolta, das Neue Ensemble, the Radio Symphony Orchestras of the WDR and SWR, the DSO Berlin, the Seoul Philharmonic orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra London. He awarded prizes like the Comitée de lecture of the Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1997 and the Praetorius Prize 2009. His chamber opera “les petites filles modèles” was played many times in Paris and France and had its premiere at the Opera de Bastille in 1997. In 2008 he was participant of the “into”-project in Hong Kong.

Johannes Schöllhorn’s music has a wide range of genres from chamber music, vocal music and orchestra music to music for theatre. Besides his own compositions he is also working on different kinds of transcriptions, i.e. he has made an own version of Pierre Boulez’ “…explosante- fixe…”.

Johannes Schöllhorn was teaching from 1995 to 2000 at the Musikhochschule Zürich-Winterthur (CH). He was conductor of the Ensemble für Neue Musik at the Musikhochschule Freiburg (until 2004) and from 2001 to 2009 he was Professor for composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover and Director of the Institut für neue Musik. Since 2009 he is Professor for composition and director of the Institut für Neue Musik at the Hochschule für Musik in Köln. Johannes Schöllhorn gave several composition courses at the Fondation Royaumont (F) and at the Bartók-Festival (HU), in the Ictus-Seminar (B), at the Conservatoire de Paris, the Conservatory of Music in Tianjin (China), the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing (China), in Hong Kong (China), at the Takefu-Festival (Japan), the Tokyo Ondai University (Japan), the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (Korea), at the Centro San Fedele Milano (Italy) and in Kiev (Ucraine).

Johannes Schöllhorn2


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

In my memory there are two significant memories: One is sitting next to my father on the organ and feeling the power of the sound in my body and seeing him playing in the same time. The combination of the technical possibilities and the overwhelming sensation is still very important for me and I understood it without any explanation. The other memory is singing at the age of twelve Ligeti’s music in choir without understanding anything (and for sure singing wrong notes). But being a little part of a big sound in a big space opened my ears and I immediately wanted to create something similar.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

Of course there are, and I think sometimes my music shows their influence, sometimes not. French music was always very important for me, so I would like to mention Ravel and Debussy. I appreciate the Second Vienna School very much (especially Berg and his Lyrische Suite), but looking back I think Stravinsky’s music had and has a constant influence on my music (and I think one can hear that).

Coming closer to our times I would say I am more influenced by individual compositions than by a certain composer.  I would like to mention some works: Boulez – Rituel, Berio – Laborinthus II, Nono –  Incontri, Feldman – Coptic Light, Ligeti – Melodien, Takemitsu – In An Autumn Garden, Stockhausen – Gruppen, Spahlinger – Inter-Mezzo, Yenais – Jonchaies, Pesson- Wunderblock.  Of course the influences change.

I would also like to mention some composers from the past which are very important for me: Claude Le Jeune, Jean Philippe Rameau, Thomas Tallis, Francesco Landini … 

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

My tools for composing are time, a quiet place, very good (Japanese) paper, my ear, my brain and my hand.

I use (very rare) a piano and I don’t use the computer during the composition process.  The problem with the computer is: it makes either stupid mistakes or no mistakes.  It is not able to create a creative chaos. In the place where I compose I can put hundreds of pages on the floor and on the table and I always know where they are.  On a screen I only see one page in front of me (or even less) and it is not friendly to my eyes.  The computer is most of the times too fast (in creating millions of notes, sounds etc.) or to slow (because I cannot find a certain file etc.).

When I am composing the hand is very important.  I enjoy the fact, that my hand is slow (so my brain has a chance to follow) and that I can make wonderful “mistakes” (and it seems to me there is a kind of brain in the hand). 

Johannes Schöllhorn3

Please describe one of your recent compositions and provide a link to an audio clip.

One of my recent pieces is “Pièces Croisées“ for large ensemble, nine movements like bagatelles. “Pièce Croisées” is a title by Francois Couperin and it means crossing hands on the keyboard while playing.  It is also a trick game with coins where the same movement of the hands is requested.  These coins were called “bagatini” in Venetian Italian, and this is the origin of the word “bagatelle“.  My pieces are somehow trick games and the last one is a real pièce croisée, because it superposes three late piano pieces by Franz Liszt.


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