Hans-Joachim Hespos

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biographical note

h e s p o s

born march 13th 1938 in emden/ostfriesland. lives as free lance composer and auto-editor in ganderkesee,germany.

since 1967 numerous commissions in germany and abroad, numerous prizes and awards for composition
(Stichting Gaudeamus Bilthoven, Fondation Royaumont Paris, Villa Massimo Rome, ..).

masterclasses in israel (rubin academy yerushalayim), usa (indiana university, school of music, bloomington), brazil, japan, canada.lecturer at the ‚internationale ferienkurse für neue musik darmstadt‘, courses at the Instituto des Etudos Avancados at University of Sao Paulo, visiting professor at the academy of arts and music in bremen, masterclass at the hochschule für musik und theater rostock.

member of the free academy of arts hamburg.composer in residence of the staatsoperhannover X.
hespos-achive at the akademie der künste berlin.

performances and portrait concerts: ... biennale di venezia, musikverein wien, muzicki biennale zagreb, warschauer herbst, donaueschinger musiktage, queen elizabeth hall london, berliner festwochen, internationale ferienkurse für neue musik darmstadt, royan festival, pan music festival tokyo, testimonium jerushalayim, oper frankfurt, metz festival, steirischer herbst graz, nutida musik stockholm, festival d´automne paris, holland festival amsterdam, fundacio joan miró barcelona, nuova consonanza roma, bayerische staatsoper münchen, gaudeamus foundation amsterdam, centre pompidou paris, new music concerts toronto, music weeks sofia, european capital luxembourg, passages européens luzern, wiener tage für zeitgenössische klaviermusik, bremer musikfest, expo 2000 hannover, total music meeting berlin, festival utopales nantes, osterfestspiele salzburg, ultima festival oslo, galway festival irland , ignm festivals hamburg, graz, paris, jerusalem, budapest, staatsoper hannover, rainy days luxembourg, ...

the work catalogue contains more than 250 compositions for solos, chambermusics, ensemble, orchestra, choir, radio, electroAcoustics, film, electronics, stage (DAS TRIADISCHE BALLETT nach oskar schlemmer, 8 operas) and scene.

i O P A L – a provocative great opera – commissioned by the staatsoper hannover became an outstanding event (johannes harneit/anna viebrock) and was elected by the journal OPERNWELT for firstperformance opera of the year 2005.


Born in 1938, hespos has since 1964 composed a huge number of works that are usually extreme even by the standards of the German New Music. Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of hespos' music is that there would seem to have been no discernible process of development of technique or alteration in concerns during the last thirty years. hespos writes as uncompromisingly today as he has always done and the unmediated forcefulness of his work remains almost without parallel even today.

His scores, be they verbal, graphic, more conventionally notated or some combination thereof, always constitute incitements to action rather than instructions to be executed neutrally. Inspired by Adorno and Artaud, each composition forms itself unfettered during the act of composition. Thus each work of any length would hardly be analysable as an artistic object. In hespos' own words, he composes without knowing "whither it goes in the next moment, where it ends".

This radical subjectivity should communicate itself to any audience of hespos' work, his aim being, to quote Artaud "To reach a point at which things must burst if there would be a new departure/beginning ... to lead the spirit to a frenzy, to a rising of its energies".

The actor hespos

Such a radical perspective would hardly lead to confinement within accepted artistic genres and notable within many of hespos' works are the often unusual or extreme demands on performance resources. Folk instruments from Eastern Europe often find their way into his ensembles and, in the music-theatre piece Seiltanz (1982), one of the performers has to extricate himself from imprisonment in a metal cage by use of an oxyacetylene welding torch.

The demands placed by hespos on musicians are also extreme and unconventional, not only in terms of the actions required to produce sounds (although in some of his works these obligations are almost impossible to fulfil) but also in that musicians are called upon to co-ordinate their actions mutually and in relation to the full score of the work without the use of a conductor. This stringent reliance on individual responsibility and commitment is extended by hespos even to orchestral scores, the results from which have often been unsatisfying. Indeed, some critics have described hespos' reliance on the good will of performers in realisation of his conceptions as ridiculously Utopian. In a world in which there are perhaps barely a dozen orchestras (all of them being in Germany) that play enough New Music for the musicians not to regard any New Music as somehow alien, whilst political and economic structures encourage if they do not enforce the abdication of individual responsibility for one's actions, it is a brave composer indeed who would subject these social constrictions to an immanent critique by rendering his works vulnerable to them.

© Steven Holt 1996

Hans-Joachim Hespos´s music does not quite dely description, but it raises unexpected questions for the perceiver. Incorporating mime, found objects, exotic and esoteric instruments, dress codes, theatre, implements, graphic and text notation, including instructions that are written in his own language themselves. In one sense, the only approach to take is to dive right in, trying to capture the energy required and hone the details along the way. The ten pieces in tonight´s showcase span Hespos´s maverick carrier and include solo and ensemble works which all challenge the audience in different ways. What is the woman on the umpire chair is amazed at? Is she merely hopeful? Has she something to say? Why are the pianos put away before Tja? What is the relationship between the soprano, timpanist and ensemble in Wuniof'k ? What, or who, is the doll Dodo Na? And what to make of the inverted concept in Musikboxen, where the normatively ´pretty´ is transformed into a grotesque mime with flashes of light and spasmodic, exaggerated performances, like something out of an David Lynch movie? Like Lynch, Hespos captures and plays with the moments when the comic becomes grotesque and when the grotesque becomes comical. But he is not inflexible – my mistranslation of the title MusikBoxen as a music box rather than a jukebox (as it really is in German), and introduction of samples of music boxes in the tape art is allowed to stay – he is all for ambiguity and mystery. There is an integrity about his music, a genuine artistic desire to challenge through, multiple channels of communication, visual and sonic, performer and perceiver here. Many composers set out to ´capture forces´ in their music, often volatile and energetic and Hespos is no exception: however, his music also embraces the ambiguous and complex border between life and art, sometimes frantic, and always fascinating.

© Mic Spencer 2015

(program note to the ´celebration of the music of hans-joachim hespos´ on 4th december 2015 in the international concert series at universtity of leeds, united kingdom)

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