Mauricio Kagel

Mauricio Kagel, 1985

Mauricio Raúl Kagel (Spanish pronunciation: [mawˈɾisjo ˈkaɣel]; December 24, 1931 – September 18, 2008) was an Argentine-German composer.


Kagel was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, into an Ashkenazi Jewish family that had fled from Russia in the 1920s (Anon. n.d.). He studied music, history of literature, and philosophy in Buenos Aires (Grimshaw 2009). In 1957 he moved as a scholar to Cologne, Germany, where he lived until his death.

As teacher

From 1960–66 and 1972–76 he taught at the International Summer School at Darmstadt (Attinello 2001). He also taught from 1964–65 at the State University of New York at Buffalo as Slee Professor of music theory. At the Berlin Film and Television Academy he was a visiting lecturer. He served as director of courses for new music in Gothenburg and Cologne (Attinello 2001). He was professor for new music theatre at the Cologne Conservatory from 1974–97. Among his students were Maria de Alvear, Carola Bauckholt, Branimir Krstić, David Sawer, Rickard Scheffer [sv], Juan Maria Solare, Norma Tyer, Gerald Barry, and Chao-Ming Tung. See: List of music students by teacher: K to M#Mauricio Kagel.

As composer

Some of his pieces give specific theatrical instructions to the performers (Kennedy and Bourne 2006), such as to adopt certain facial expressions while playing, to make their stage entrances in a particular way, to physically interact with other performers, and so on. For this reason commentators at times related his work to the Theatre of the Absurd.[citation needed] He has been regarded by music historians as deploying a critical intelligence interrogating the position of music in society (Griffiths 1978, 188). He was also active in the fields of film and photography.[citation needed] In 1991 Kagel was invited by Walter Fink as the second composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival. In 2000 he received the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.


Staatstheater (1970) remains, probably, Kagel’s best-known work. It is the piece that most clearly shows his absurdist tendency.[citation needed] He described it as a “ballet for non-dancers,”[quote citation needed] although it is in many ways more like an opera; the devices it uses as musical instruments include chamber pots and enema equipment. As the work progresses, the piece itself, and opera and ballet in general, becomes its own subject matter.[citation needed]

Similar is the radio play Ein Aufnahmezustand (1969) which is about the incidents surrounding the recording of a radio play. In Con voce (With Voice), a masked trio silently mimes playing instruments. Match (1964), is a “tennis game” for cellists with a percussionist as umpire (Griffiths 1978, 188) (for Siegfried Palm[citation needed]), also the subject of one of Kagel's films and perhaps the best-known of his works of instrumental theatre (Griffiths 1981, 812).

But Kagel wrote a large number of more conventional “pure” pieces too, including orchestral music, chamber music. Many of these make references to music of the past by, among others, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and Liszt (Warnaby 1986, 38; Decarsin 1985, 260).

Kagel also made films, with one of the best known being Ludwig van (1970), a critical interrogation of the uses of Beethoven's music made during the bicentenary of that composer's birth (Griffiths 1978, 188). In it, a reproduction of Beethoven's studio is seen, as part of a fictive visit of the Beethoven House in Bonn. Everything in it is papered with sheet music of Beethoven's pieces. The soundtrack of the film is a piano playing the music as it appears in each shot. Because the music has been wrapped around curves and edges, it is somewhat distorted, but Beethovenian motifs can still be heard. In other parts, the film contains parodies of radio or TV broadcasts connected with the "Beethoven Year 1770". Kagel later turned the film into a piece of sheet music itself which could be performed in a concert without the film—the score consists of close-ups of various areas of the studio, which are to be interpreted by the performing pianist.

Stage works

  • Staatstheater (1967/70)
  • Mare nostrum, Scenic Play for countertenor, baritone, flute, oboe, guitar, harp, cello and percussion (1975)
  • Kantrimiusik, pastorale for voices and instruments (1975)
  • Music-Epic about the Devil “La trahison orale” (1983)

For orchestra

  • Dos piezas for orchestra (1952)
  • Heterophonie for orchestra (1959–61)
  • Zehn Märsche, um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Ten marches in order to miss victory), for brass orchestra (1979)
  • Les idées fixes, rondo for orchestra (1988/89)
  • Opus 1.991 for orchestra (1990)
  • Konzertstück (Concert piece), for timpani and orchestra (1990–92)
  • Études for orchestra (I 1992, II 1995/96, III 1996)
  • Fremde Töne & Widerhall (Strange sounds and echo), for orchestra (2005)

Chamber music

  • String Sextet (1953–57)
  • Transición II for piano, percussion, and two tapes (1958–59)
  • Sonant for guitar, harp, contrabass, and skin instruments (1960)
  • Improvisation ajoutée for organist and 2-3 "registrants" (1961-62)
  • Match for three players (two celli and percussionist-umpire) (1964)
  • Musik für Renaissance-Instrumente, for two up to twenty-two instruments (1965–66)
  • String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (1965–67)
  • Der Schall for five players performing on 54 plucked-string, percussion, and wind instruments (1968)
  • Acustica for experimental sound-producers and loud-speakers (1968–70)
  • Atem for a wind instrument (1969-70)
  • Morceau de concours for 1 or 2 trumpets (1968–72)
  • Dressur, trio for wood percussion (1977)
  • Rrrrrrr...: 5 Jazzstucke for clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, violin and piano (1981-1982)
  • Rrrrrrr..., six duos for two percussionists (1982)
  • Pan a tutti i Papagheni, for piccolo and string quartet (1985)
  • Piano Trio No. 1 (1985)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1986)
  • Aus dem Nachlass, pieces for viola, cello, and contrabass (1986)
  • Zwei Akte grand duo for sopranino, alto, baritone saxophones and harp (1988-89)
  • Phantasiestück for flute and piano (1989)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (1993)
  • Schattenklänge, three pieces for bass clarinet (1995)
  • Art bruit for a percussionist and an assistant (1994/95)
  • Piano Trio No. 2 (2001)

Vocal works

  • Blue's Blue, for voice and glass trumpet, E-flat clarinet and alto saxophone, acoustic guitar and violin (1978-79)
  • Fürst Igor – Strawinsky, a requiem for Igor Strawinsky for bass and instruments (1982)
  • Sankt-Bach-Passion for soloists, choirs and orchestra (premiered in 1985)
  • Ein Brief for mezzo soprano and orchestra (1985-86)
  • Mitternachtsstük for voices and instruments on four fragments from the diary of Robert Schumann (1980–81/86)
  • Schwarzes Madrigal (Black madrigal), for choir, trumpet, tuba and 2 percussionists (1998/99)
  • In der Matratzengruft for tenor and ensemble (2008)


  • Ludwig van (1969)

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