Clarity and Transparency
- Margarete Sorg-Rose on the occasion of her 55th birthday -
The composer Margarete Sorg-Rose celebrated her 55th birthday in April 2015 – an opportunity for a brief biographical summary and appraisal.
With her early instinct to search for a path somewhere between modernist escapades and an orientation to customary light and pleasing music, she has remained consistent in her attachment to tradition as the foundation of her compositional output. In retrospect, her biography provides an impressive demonstration of her comprehensive studies which have permitted her to achieve an independent mastery of music. Musical excerpts from her vocal, chamber music and orchestral compositions in diverse publications not only document her consummate technical ability and elaborate harmonic constructions, but also the dynamic individuality of her musical invention and the melody of her sound structures characterised by a balance between clarity and transparency and tension and release – always attempting to create new tonal combinations and tonal colouring in each individual work, avoiding any trace of repetition. On an emotional level, her music spans a far-encompassing amplitude ranging from wit and cheerfulness to dark melancholy on a constant endeavour for authenticity.
A special focus of her creativity entails the intensive study of poetry and language in which Ancient Greek literature plays a prominent role. She attempts to grasp language in its true musical essence and not as a mere intellectual set of tools; she tries to feel her way into the text setting and transfer this empathy to listeners through the medium of her composition. She is of the opinion that music should form a connecting and bridging element between humans, especially in a society in which hate and intolerance are once again proliferating at an alarming rate.
Portraits in publications communicate an essence of the rare cohesion and vigilant strength of her personality. A brief encounter with her is sufficient to detect her exceptional warm-hearted personality and intense passion for life and extreme vitality which is nevertheless able to endure hardships while remaining courageous, down-to-earth and full of humour.
KHa / Frankfurt am Main 2015
A life of external and internal discovery
Portrait of the composer Margarete Sorg-Rose
... ideo nulli loco addicere debemus animum. Cum hac persuasione vivendum est: non sum uni angulo natus, patria mea totus hic mundus est.*
... And so we should not let our heart cling to any particular spot but instead live in the conviction that “I was not born for just one place; the whole world is my home".
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
from the Letters to Lucilius
Margarete Sorg-Rose was born in Remscheid on 11 April 1960. Shortly afterwards, the family relocated to Mainz where Margarete grew up and received her education up to her university studies. Her path through life was shaped in numerous different ways by the legacy of her parents. Her warm-hearted mother, educated as a Protestant and social democrat, came from a rural artisan family with a broad interest in anything to do with artisan handwork and artistic fields. Characterised by her quintessential down-to-earth attitude, she trained as an office administrator and pursued a career in social services, subsequently also becoming professionally active as a writer and additionally involved within the fields of art, music, drama, dance and cabaret.
Her father, a committed medical doctor who had enjoyed a scientific and humanistic education and was keen on sports, came from a family of teachers who were Catholic and pursued Christian Democratic aims. He was steeped in Prussian severity and discipline and expected the same of his family. Her father won the upper hand: Margarete was baptised into the Catholic Church and educated according to its creed.
Both her mother’s artistic imagination and social commitment and the analytic abilities and conservative and performance-related foundations and expectations of her father were to exert a decisive influence on her development and subsequent professional career.
The composer therefore had a wide range of different abilities at her command which she greatly appreciated as her personal treasure trove. At the same time, she also recognised numerous dichotomies within her character: “I grew up in an intellectual environment of conflicting political and confessional discussions which meant that it took me a long time to reconcile internal opposing factors. On the other hand, the conflicting views I experienced during the days of my youth have helped me to be always in a position to understand counter-arguments - audiatur et altera pars! - and combine seemingly opposing theories right up to the present day. For this reason, I could never become fanatical about any form of politics, confession or any other issues; instead I have learned to be passionately committed and campaign for my convictions with both my mind and my heart. I have also become a ‘border crosser’ for which I am also grateful to my parents.”
The composer’s extraordinary musical talent was recognised at an early age by her parents. Their child reacted with great fascination and sen-sitivity to all sounds and was immediately able to memorise note series and melodies. At the age of only four, she already possessed an exten-sive repertoire of operatic arias and musical melodies which she had heard on the radio at home and sang to herself at every opportunity. Margarete began piano lessons when she was five which enabled her to experiment and extend brief melodies on the piano that she had invented and “composed”. At the same time, she became a member of the children’s choir of the Christuskirche [Christ Church] in Mainz under the direction of Prof. Diethard Hellmann who established the now internationally well-known Mainzer Bachchor in this church and continued to nurture the Bach traditions of Leipzig in Mainz. He soon promoted Margarete to the Kurrende of the Bach Choir and gave her the chance at the early age of nine of singing in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion – an experience which left a lasting influence:
“It was when I stood in the concert gallery of the huge church and sang soprano as the only child among adults in this work lasting several hours, experiencing the Bach Orchestra live for the first time, that I initially sensed the unique and overwhelming experience of this amazing tonal ‘spatiality’ of music which still continues to nourish my great predilection for choral and orchestral works.”
At a slightly later date, Margarete accompanied her mother to a concert organised by the Mainzer Liedertafel with Schubert’s Winterreise sung by the baritone Hermann Prey. This experience was equally overwhelming and as a result she is still passionately keen on the genre “lied”:
“The human voice is for me the best instrument of all", she comments. Due to these musical experiences during her childhood, vocal music in all its forms has taken up a special place within her artistic oeuvre. The composer cites the musical educational publication Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts as the “most important book” of her childhood.
She also developed an interest in the theatre through her mother. Margarete was so fired with enthusiasm following her attendance at a première of Goethe’s Faust that she began to learn entire pages of the author’s works by heart. The advent of black-and-white television enabled her to experience not only concerts but also nourished her interest in all forms of dance performance from classical ballet to Latin-American ballroom dancing, show dance and ice-skating. She idolised Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly (in the musicals Brigadoon and An American in Paris) and Dick van Dyke – the latter especially in his role as the singing and dancing chimney sweep Bert in the musical Mary Poppins in 1964; she particularly enjoyed watching the ice-skaters Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Her parents encouraged her interests, but ensured that she had a “normal childhood”.
Margarete subsequently attended a humanist grammar school in Mainz and began learning Latin and Ancient Greek which opened the door for her to the world of antiquity: “It is especially the tragedies of Sophocles which still continue to accompany me up to the present day. The intensive translation exercises which are so vital in the study of ancient languages train the mind to come “straight to the point” without any diversion and concentrate on essential elements which also influences other areas of life.” Her precision in her journalistic style can for example be attributed to this educational path – the constant need to polish a text tirelessly until everything is completely clear, distinct and unambiguous. Her school career also awakened her still ongoing lively interest in physics.
She was careful not to neglect either piano lessons or vocal training in the Bach Choir during her grammar school career and became a particular fan of the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau. She produced further brief compositions and also began ballet lessons.
She was sixteen when she discovered a groundbreaking book: Eugen Herrigel’s classic publication ZEN in der Kunst des Bogenschießens [ZEN in the art of archery]: “This Japanese art form does not merely focus on the handling of bows and arrows, but instead concentrates on the essentials of mastering any sort of technique, any type of artistic design and the crucial point of all aspects of practical life on the basis of spirituality – intrinsically speaking, the art of life itself. The reading of this book opened my eyes to completely new aspects for both my personal development and artistic activity.”
After gaining her Abitur [school-leaving university entrance certificate] in 1979, she began studies in Latin and Ancient Greek Philology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. A year later, she continued her studies at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen where she also participated in the university choir and orchestra Collegium musicum under the supervision of the university musical director Prof. Dr. Alexander Sumski which provided her with further artistic impulses. Her first literary publications also date back to this period.
She subsequently completed a study course in piano teaching and choral conducting in Mainz (final exams passed in 1985). The young composer made regular public appearances with her own works as early as 1983 – she studied composition with Volker David Kirchner. She also learned to play additional instruments (clarinet, cello, percussion and organ) and participated for a trial semester in the compulsory drama course for singers in the opera class at the music institute: “I simply aimed to get a feel for professional appearances on stage” (she had already been a member of a theatre group at school).
During this period, she actively participated in summer courses held at the Stuttgart Summer Academy Johann Sebastian Bach and Musical Phenomenology courses under the direction of Prof. Sergiu Celibidache (including conducting practice) in Mainz. She was also employed by the University in Mainz at the Institute of Musicology as a graduate research assistant, as répétiteur for the Mainz Bach Choir and assistant expert for musical productions for the German TV channel ZDF where she was able to focus on visual aspects. She also worked within the field of musical dramaturgy at the theatre Wuppertaler Bühnen and journalism for the music publishers Schott-Music in Mainz: “At that time, it was already extremely difficult to find an adequate permanent job despite high qualifications", she reports. “At best, it was possible to conclude fixed-term employment contracts for specific projects. It was my constantly nurtured versatility which enabled my flexible reaction to the wide range of my fields of activity.”
In order to augment her earnings, she was forced to take on other casual jobs within the area of sports and fitness after having completed an appropriate training course and acquired the relevant state qualification.
Margarete Sorg-Rose continued to focus on her compositional activity and, following the recommendation of her teacher Volker David Kirchner, applied for an advanced study course with Hans Werner Henze who was at this time professor for composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. The grand master of contemporary music permitted her to join his exclusive master class to which top candidates were only admitted after a strict selection procedure. (“Your music interests me", he wrote in response to her application). In 1994, she received her Diploma of Composition from the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz (University of Music and Dance) in Cologne.
Since this time, Margarete Sorg-Rose has pursued a full-time career as freelance composer and participated in presentations of her works at national and international music festivals and in radio productions for West German Radio (WDR) and South West German Radio (SWR); she has also received numerous prizes for her compositions. Simultaneously, she has undertaken individual projects in proofreading and editing and has been member of the jury at international literary competitions.
She is currently working on her doctoral thesis on music theatre compositions by Hans Werner Henze.
Johann Wenzel Stamitz Encouragement Prize for Composition 1993 (East German music prize) - with Prof. Petr Eben (composer; Prague / Czech Republic) and Prof. Peter Richter de Rangenier (composer; Austria)
As her biography to date has demonstrated, Margarete Sorg-Rose has succeeded in achieving a balance between her great versatility without neglecting her compositional output which has been a recurrent thread throughout her life and still forms the core of her activity. Sorg-Rose is convinced that it is vital to be as open as possible to a variety of artistic fields, as the resulting influences flow back into the music composed and permeate her works. She is particularly fascinated by the art of dance which is characterised by its physical forms of expression (particularly as she feels that music also has a pronounced “physical” component):
“Before it is at all possible to become creatively active and expressive in dance, it is necessary to acquire an incredibly high standard of technique which can only be achieved through years of strict and disciplined physical training – a 'feeling' for music is also a vital and inseparable element of this training.”
She has also made a study of non-European musical cultures (musical ethnology) and the phenomenon of music-making (musical anthropology). She also enjoys listening to jazz, film music and musicals in her spare time and appreciates a number of well-known rock and pop artists. Her own music frequently evokes images and colours in the mind of the listener: water, landscapes and the transparent and cool hues of the North which are so elementally characteristic of her individual personality. It is highly conceivable that Sorg-Rose could produce a film score at some stage.
The eminently youthful, open-minded, cosmopolitan composer with a cheerful manner and a passion for sport is also politically involved and supports animal welfare and child poverty issues. Her profound Christian beliefs provide her with a source of inner strength which has been of so much help in coping with major strokes of fate within her personal sphere.
The long years of discovery have led her through a great variety of paths in life which have all left their traces on her artistic development and have not only given her permanent access to new influences which she has been able to integrate into her experience but have also allowed her to throw unwanted ballast overboard. She has for example retained her internal independence from material objects and pursues an austere lifestyle. “Exaggerated consumption distracts from the essentials of life", she says. “My heart is attached to persons and not to things. It is vital to be open to human contact at all times, remain within a constant learning process and further one’s own development, display flexibility, be constantly on the search for new pastures and never permit a state of stagnation.”
The Hermann Hesse poem Stufen [Steps] which has accompanied her since her youth has therefore become a guideline and “motto” for her life:
Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend dem Alter weicht,
Blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend
Zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern.
Es muss das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe
Bereit zum Abschied sein und Neubeginne,
um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern
In andre, neue Bindungen zu geben.
As each blossom fades and youth gives way to old age,
So wisdom also blooms and each virtue
Attains its own prime and cannot last for ever.
In all calls of life, the heart must be prepared
To say farewell and make a new beginning,
Courageously but without grief,
Proceeding to different and new bonds.
The truth is not a finality but a process which must be subjected re-peatedly to review; humans must “shed their skin” several times (even if cutting the cord from one phase and entering a new one can be painful and problematic – in life and also within the process of artistic development) and do not experience a single truth, but a series of successive truths – and thereby find their own way through the constant process of personal and artistic self-discovery.
Oslo / Norway, spring 2010
by C. P. Cavafy
- translated by Edmund Keeley -
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
C. P. Cavafy, "The City" from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press.
Source: C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975)