15 October 2016
In preparation for Independent Opera’s upcoming production of Simplicius Simplicissimus, Polly Graham (director) and Nate Gibson (designer) headed out to Munich to explore the area where the composer, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, lived at the time. Below are some reflections from Graham on the trip.
Two weeks ago, Nate and I had the chance to visit the Hartmann Institute in Munich. The institute occupies part of the building that Hartmann lived in for most of his life, including the years in which he composed Simplicius Simplicissimus. The building is now inhabited by Richard Hartmann, the composer’s son, as well as Hartmann’s granddaughter and great-grandchildren.
Whilst at the house we saw many photographs of the families’ life together; some very interesting art work by Hartmann’s brother, the painter Adolf Hartmann; the Ständebaum image (see image below), which Adolf painted in 1936 in response to Hartmann’s first version of the opera, caught my eye in particular, and his designs for an early production of Simplicius, which was never staged.
On the first day we had lunch with Richard Hartmann and spoke at length about his father’s work. Being with them gave us the opportunity to speak about the history of Munich, during and after the Second World War.
Both musically, and dramaturgically, Simplicius Simplicissimus was a dangerous opera to write in 1934. Through this opera, Hartmann bears the full witness (albeit couched in the tightest allegory), to the horrors of the Third Reich. Full of musical quotations of “degenerate” composers, and about a boy who challenges and questions the structures of the world around him, you can hear Hartmann’s resistance to the political regime in every bar. In his dramaturgy, we sense his commitment to the idea of Germany and his determination to protest against what was happening to it. Cries of “you poor enslaved land” carry over explosions in the orchestra.
Hans Werner Henze wrote of Hartmann’s work while living under National Socialism:
“for him, composing works during this time was a subversive act, like writing forbidden leaflets.”
By a most bizarre coincidence, Hartmann was actually living opposite the writers of forbidden leaflets, the now celebrated, almost sanctified figures of the German resistance, Hans and Sophie Scholl, who lived on the same street as the composer from 1941-1943. How heartened they would have been if they had known that Hartmann was working on this opera just across the road!
In speaking to Richard, and Katherine Hartmann, the composer’s son and his wife, as well as Andres Herm Baumgartner, the curator of the Institute, we were able to more fully understand the composer’s view of the function of art, and what spurred him to write this opera: when civilization seems frail and brutality is unleashed, art must be a stern and truthful witness to events.
In post-war Munich, the Americans recruited Hartmann to direct Musica Viva, a new contemporary music festival which he curated from 1945 up until his death in 1963. Hartmann invited many of the world’s most important and innovative visual artists and composers (from Boulez to Miro to Stockhausen) to create works for this festival. In looking at this aspect of his work, we were able to better understand Hartmann’s faith in the arts to lead the way out of desolation, offering people a source of communion, regeneration and hope.
As we go into rehearsals, it is this double sided understanding of the power and function of music which I find most exciting and am keen to share with our cast as we build our production.
Tickets are now on sale for Simplicius Simplicissimus at www.sadlerswells.com.
Performance dates: 11, 15, 17, 19 November 2016