Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha has been announced as the winner of the 2012 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize. I have no idea what possessed Norman Lebrecht to describe this as ‘unearned’, but can only assume it comes from the same close-minded and mean-spirited place as a British composer’s description of Cerha’s works as ‘derivative’ and his Lulu completion as ‘secretarial’. Maybe the disdain has something to do with Cerha’s reticence; you’d be hard pressed to find a composer more reluctant to bang his own drum. I remember when I first spoke with him at length that every comment he made about his music was immediately qualified with statements like ‘you know my music, I don’t really have a style.’ At a concert to mark his 85th birthday at the Konzerthaus last year he seemed almost embarrassed to have sold out the Mozart Saal, and jokingly expressed the hope he would die before reaching 90 so as to spare us all another unnecessary celebration. But such modesty belies the individuality and integrity of his eclectic output. Cerha’s friend Lothar Knessl has written an essay for the music prize’s website which is well worth reading for more information. Cerha Dokumente, though sadly missing the complete Spiegel, offers a good selection of some of the composer’s most important works. And there’s a fair bit on Youtube too. The video below shows Cerha conducting die reihe in a 1960 performance of Relazioni fragili at the Konzerthaus.
Image credit: Manu Theobald / Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung