Heiner Goebbels

Heiner Goebbels © Wonge Bergmann
Heiner Goebbels © Wonge Bergmann
Heiner Goebbels © Wonge Bergmann

Heiner Goebbels was born in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse in 1952, and has lived in Frankfurt am Main since 1972. After studying sociology and music, he was a co-founder in 1976 of the Sogenanntes Linksradikale Blasorchester (i.e. So-Called Radical Left-Wing Wind Orchestra), which remained in existence until 1981, the Heiner Goebbels/Alfred Harth Duo and the art-rock trio Cassiber (82-92). At the same time, he wrote theatre music for productions by Hans Neuenfels, Claus Peymann, Matthias Langhoff, Ruth Berghaus and others. In the mid 1980s Heiner Goebbels began writing and producing audio plays of his own, most of them based on texts by Heiner Müller. After some initial staged concerts like Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (i.e. The man in the lift, 1987) and Die Befreiung des Prometheus (i.e. The liberation of Prometheus, 1991), he increasingly concentrated on his own theatre productions. Ever since, almost all of his theatre works have been shown at the world’s leading theatre and music festivals. Many of his compositions are also available on CD. In addition to stage performances, most of which he creates at the Théâtre de Vidy in Lausanne, Switzerland, he continues to write music, among other things for the Ensemble Modern. 2003 saw the premiere, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, of his orchestral work Aus einem Tagebuch (i.e. From A Diary), a work commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Since April 1999, Heiner Goebbels has held a professorship at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies at Giessen’s Justus Liebig University. In 2006, he was appointed president of the Hesse Theatre Academy (HTA). For the seasons 2012 - 2014 Heiner Goebbels becomes director of the Ruhrtriennale

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Heiner Goebbels: Portrait

One thing that should not be said about Heiner Goebbels’ productions is that they represent a “Gesamtkunstwerk”. Even if his compositions comprising sound, music, light, space, movement, objects, text and voice are reminiscent of Wagner’s once revolutionary idea of a synthesis of different art forms, Goebbels’ work never aims to achieve any form of totality of meaning whatsoever. The different art forms are not supposed to fuse but to coexist in the same space, to appear together, to contradict and rub against one another rather than always saying the same thing in different ways. The musician and composer, who lives in Frankfurt, has since the end of the 1980s more or less single-handedly defined the horizon for contemporary music theatre with this approach to theatre. He gives his works different titles, depending on their particular focus. Whether he calls a performance “music theatre”, “staged concert” or “performative installation”, he always separates his theatrical means and gives them their own space on stage so that they can be perceived, heard and seen. As a result, music is not simply performed like a concert in front of an audience, but is literally brought to the stage.

For Heiner Goebbels, composing is thus always both a production and theatrical process. Whether he works with sounds, tones and noises obtained by a sampler – that is to say ones that have always been shaped by society and used – or whether he produces specific sound material by means of stage processes, regarding it as a key element of his productions, his intellectual compositions always invite the audiences to make their own discoveries. The pure sound of new music, in any event, is not Goebbels’ thing. In this way, the friction and contradictory nature of the material results in effects and associative spaces for spectator and listener.

In Hashirigaki, a music theatre work he brought to the stage in 2000, he builds upon the floating melodies of the Beach Boys by taking the instrumental versions and having them adapted by musicians onstage. To texts by Gertrude Stein, an early avant-gardist, he transforms the stage into a shining world with its own laws. Stifters Dinge (i.e. Stifter’s Things, 2007), a performative installation, even makes do without any singers or performers at all: in it, the stage elements lead their own fascinating lives, as if by magic. Throughout the performance, a stone moves slowly over a stone plate, mist rises and five interlinked pianos suddenly start moving towards the audience. Adalbert Stifter’s highly detailed depictions of nature provide the backdrop for Goebbels’ expedition to the boundary between nature and culture, where a space opens up in which the audience can perceive the unfamiliar, the as yet unseen and unheard. Together with the four singers of the Hilliard Ensemble, I went to the House but did not enter was composed in 2008 – comprising three scenes to texts by T.S. Eliot, Maurice Blanchot and Samuel Beckett with an interlude by Franz Kafka. – They are all texts about saying goodbye, which portray the everyday in a special light.

For Heiner Goebbels, however, language is never the primary means by which a message is communicated. More than the meaning of what is said, it is the way it is spoken that interests him, the rhythm, phrasing and sound of the voices which say it. Thus an actor like André Wilms, who has worked together with Heiner Goebbels for a long time, is given the freedom to move within the texts without having to pad them out or restrict them. In Heiner Goebbels’ precisely figured out works, the musicality of language is another layer of potential perceptions and meanings whose realization is placed entirely in the hands of the audience. During the work process, which is characterized by a playful approach to the material, ideas or processes are often generated which are later incorporated into the works. As in the case of Max Black, Goebbels’ hit from 1998 in which André Wilms plays a scientist with a love of experimenting, his works are also always an experimental laboratory in which the possibilities offered by theatre are considered and in which, ultimately, they are put to the test in interaction with the audience.

Gerald Siegmund

Heiner Goebbels: Productions (Selection)

Stifters Dinge
new version
2013, Ruhrtriennale

When the Mountain changed its clothing
Ruhrtriennale 2012 in coproduction with Steirischer Herbst Graz, Maribor Theatre Festival in the context of Maribor European capital of Culture 2012, Festival d'Automne Paris, Grand Theatre Luxembourg, Kunstfestspiele Herrenhausen

Industry and Idleness, Staged Concert for Ensemble 
2010, Collegium Novum, Zürich

I went to the house but did not enter, staged concert with the Hilliard Ensemble
2008, Theatre Vidy, Lausanne(Switzerland)
Kopruktion mt dem Schauspiel Frankfurt, Grand Theatre Luxembourg, Fondazione Teatro Comunale & Auditorium Bolzano, Edinburgh International Festival

Genko-An 12353
2008,  Installation Berlin Gropiusstadt

Stifters Dinge, eine performative Installation
2007, Koproduktion Theatre Vidy Lausanne und T&M-Nanterre Paris, Schauspielfrankfurt, Berliner Festspiele - Spielzeit Europa, Grand Theatre Luxembourg, Teatro Stabile Turino

Eraritjaritjaka, Museum der Sätze
2004, Koproduktion des Theatre Vidy Lausanne und Schauspiel Frankfurt, Berliner Festspiele, T&M-Odeon Theatre Paris

Landschaft mit entfernten Verwandten, Opera for Ensemble, Choir and Soloists
2002, Ensemble Modern, Genf

Ou bien le débarquement désastreux / Oder die glücklose Landung / Or the hapless landing
1993, Théatre des Amandiers Paris-Nanterre, Theater am Turm Frankfurt, Hebbel-Theater Berlin

Der Mann im Fahrstuhl (i.e. The man in the Elevator)
1987, Mousonturm, Frankfurt