In his life and in his work, Eberhard Blum (1940–2013) established a continuum of the musical and the visual arts.
As a leading exponent of new and experimental instrumental, vocal–verbal, conceptual, and interdisciplinary works, Blum defined contemporary performance practice as much through the strength of his commitment as he did through the vigor and artistry of his playing. Had it not been for his authority as a soloist, his stamina and expressivity, many works of New Music would surely not have been developed around and variously scored for the full range of his flutes and voice. Nor would such works as the late, long trios of Morton Feldman have been given durations of up to four and a half hours. Likewise, the authenticity of his phonic-art recitations—foremost, here, his bravura performance of Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate—relied as much on the virtuosity of his articulation as it did on the integrity of his persuasive physical involvement with a piece’s form.
Along with being a exceptional flautist, he was also a graphic artist, producing work of amazing quality. For example, Leaved and Accordion-fold Graphic Books (Unica)
Employing gestures whose origins he recognized in the mechanics of the writing process, he went on to produce countless graphic–conceptual works on paper—at first, parallel to his concert and recording activities, then, having chosen to end his work as an active musician in 2001, as the principal focus of his artistic production.
In addition to his work as a visual, performing, and recording artist, Blum cultivated the art of conceiving, developing, and realizing ingeniously designed concert programs of music, both old and new, that he had valued and dedicated himself to throughout his lifetime. Collaborating with musicians he admired both personally and professionally, he more often than not presented these programs, whether as single concerts or as series, in art museums and galleries. To him, from the beginning to the end of his working life, sight was inconceivable without sound, and there could be no art without music.
Listening this morning to this wonderful recording:
Winter Music (1957), first recording for four pianos. Winter Music with Atlas Eclipticalis (1961–62), instrumental parts for flute 1–3. Mats Persson, Steffen Schleiermacher, Kristine Scholz, Nils Vigeland, piano. Eberhard Blum, piccolo, flute, and alto flute
This score consists of 20 unnumbered pages plus title page with performance instructions. These 20 pages may be used in whole or in part by between 1 and 20 pianists. The performer(s) make(s) a program of a determined time length and then translates this to the page(s) to be played (with space equating to time). Each page of the score contains 5 systems, notated on 5 bars. Some pages contain very few events, while others are brimming. Most events are aggregates of notes to be played as a single ictus. Dynamics, resonances, overlappings, and interpenetrations are free. Cage’s composing means involved both chance operations and use of the imperfections found in the paper upon which the music was written. This work may be performed with Atlas Eclipticalis or Song Books.
“Da ist zu viel da da.—Da ist nicht genug nichts drin.”
This was one of Eberhard Blum’s favorite passages in John Cage’s 45’ for a Speaker, in Ernst Jandl’s German translation. “There is too much there there.—There is not enough of nothing in it.”
In 1990, Eberhard performed this time-structured lecture in Darmstadt simultaneously with other time-length pieces by Cage for piano (Marianne Schroeder and Nils Vigeland), percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), and strings (Frances-Marie Uitti). It was the year of Cage’s second invitation to the Summer Courses for New Music, after his legendary first appearance there in 1958.
Of his work as a musician, Eberhard once said:
“I always try … to see myself not as an interpreter but as an implementer. This includes all kinds of scores, from the conventionally-notated to conceptual pieces … . I simply attempt to make of the composer’s idea a reality. It is an illusion. And I have dedicated my entire life to the utopia of coming close to compositions.”
Eberhard Blum came closer than most in this quest.