Sound Commitments: Avant-Garde Music and the Sixties

By Robert Adlington | Go to book overview

4
Aesthetic Theories and
Revolutionary Practice
Nikolaus A. Huber and Clytus
Gottwald in Dissent

Beate Kutschke

From the end of 1968, the musicians, composers, and music writers of Germany’s New Music scene immersed themselves in the question of how to contribute, through music, to the political upheaval initiated by the student and protest movements of the 1960s. “New Music,” according to the program as it was pursued by contemporary musicians, “should actually be music that is adequate for a new society.”1 Yet, while this decision was easily taken, precisely how to carry out this program was by no means clear—and did not become any clearer during the following years. The reason for this situation was obvious: music, a nonverbal sign system, is unable to refer unambiguously to political issues, just as in general terms its relationship to extramusical meaning cannot be verified. However, the West German avant-garde music scene of the early 1970s—the period in which the new leftist spirit manifested itself most intensively in the musical field—was especially notable for its numerous discussions and debates about the nature of political music, its perfection and failures, conducted by musicians and music writers with endless energy and engagement. In turn, this lively discourse on political music helped to promote musical works that, in the opinion of their critics, could be considered as accomplished examples of the genre.

This chapter throws light on one of these debates: the argument between Nikolaus A. Huber and Clytus Gottwald in 1971–72 about Huber’s composition Harakiri. It investigates the terms of the debate, first with regard to the musical facts—and in particular a comparison

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