15 Feb 2023

The Salzburg Festival mourns the death of Friedrich Cerha

The Salzburg Festival mourns the death of Friedrich Cerha

“Friedrich Cerha’s contribution to new music in Austria is second to none; he was a driving force in our musical life over the past decades. His rank as a composer is entirely uncontested. As a founder of ensembles and champion of young musicians, Friedrich Cerha had a significant impact, and we owe him the profoundest respect and gratitude,” said Artistic Director Markus Hinterhäuser in a first statement.

In 1958 he founded the ensemble “die reihe” together with Kurt Schwertsik and his wife Gertraud Cerha; the ensemble made numerous guest appearances at the Salzburg Festival over the course of the next decades.

In 1965 Friedrich Cerha made his Festival debut as a conductor and violinist, performing two commemorative concerts on the 20th anniversary of Anton Webern’s death.

Five years later, one of his own compositions, Spiegel I & IV, was featured for the first time on the Festival’s programme, receiving enthusiastic reactions from reviewers and audiences alike.

A milestone in Festival history came in 1981: the world premiere of his opera Baal. The question how much right an individual has to determine their own personality within society, the decision to choose conformity or refusal, the impossibility of acting out a vital urge to pursue happiness in an increasingly managed world – all these issues are more topical than ever today. Baal was a triumph for Friedrich Cerha and sparked the Festival’s growing enthusiasm for new opera. “This is how to do opera today!” was the headline of the Neues Volksblatt. And in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt praised the „impression of a continuous flow of inventiveness […] over the more than two hours of its duration. Combined with such comprehensive technique, one must acknowledge that Cerha has attained a level of mastery hardly equalled in music today.”

In 1996, Hans Landesmann dedicated a seven-concert cycle to Cerha commemorating his 70th birthday, the Project F. Cerha. Especially the complete performance of Spiegel I-VII under the composer’s baton at the Felsenreitschule became a memorable Festival event – an examination of human existence and reflection on the world.

In 2016 the Festival dedicated another cycle to Cerha as part of the series Salzburg contemporary, featuring the world premiere of Eine blassblaue Vision {2013/14} commissioned by the Festival: almost 20 minutes delving into a fascinating cosmos of structural perfection and unbridled passion.

“I was always a curious person, always reflecting upon my work,” Friedrich Cerha said in a conversation on the occasion of his 90th birthday. “When a composition was finished, I wanted an awareness of what actually happened in the work. That also heightened my openness for new influences.” And: “I never worked because I hoped for redemption or to bring happiness to humanity. I made music in the same way I breathed.”

This curiosity, this open-mindedness and this rejection of unthinking dogmatism were the key to the unbroken topicality of his music.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, especially his wife Gertraud.