Meet the Artist……Moritz Eggert, composer

Photo: Christian Hartlmeier
Photo: Christian Hartlmeier

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

I was taken by surprise – I had always enjoyed music and played the piano for quite a while, without becoming truly excellent. Then I was asked to play keyboards in a school band and suddenly found I enjoyed both playing and composing much more than I had thought. Soon I became absolutely obsessed, practicing 10 hours a day to make up for the lazy time before. And then I became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of band playing and veered more towards contemporary and classical music. I think that impressing the girls was also an extremely strong motivation. I was 15.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

I listened to a lot of classical music LP’s when I was a kid, also to more progressive pop music like Emerson, Lake and Palmer (which impressed the hell out of me back then). My mother is a theatre photographer, so I was confronted with long and boring operas from a very early age on. I guess I like them more now. My favourite record for 5 years was a recording of “Pictures at an Exhibition” played by Svjatoslav Richter, I played that record so often it completely wore out. I was distinctly aware that composing music was something magical and important, and I constantly heard my own music in my head but didn’t really know what to do about it. Later Erik Satie was the first composer I fanatically loved. I was always – and I still am – especially interested in the outsiders and eccentrics of music. Charles Ives was also very important. I was also lucky to have teachers who showed me interesting music and widened my horizon.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Realizing that not everyone will love what you do, regardless of how hard you try. And then having the constant courage to give a damn about it, to follow your own instincts, to follow your own intuition. Dealing with envy, your own and that of others. All of this is a constant challenge. Every morning I wake up and try to handle it a little better.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

I only work on commissioned pieces, so I don’t really know the difference anymore. But of course I remember a time when I didn’t have commissions at all, and back then it was much more difficult to focus and to work with discipline, as there was no real goal, no performance ahead. Dealing with deadlines is harsh, but it has made me a better composer. The secret is to not accept commissions for which you cannot find inspiration, or even better: to have ideas that actually create the commissions you want.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

It is always an advantage knowing who will perform your music, especially in the case of singers. But then you should always write in a way that everybody can perform your music, at least in theory, so I try not to get too carried away if great virtuosos perform my music. Of course that doesn’t always work. An orchestra too can be like a person, either you get along well or you don’t. I write easier for an orchestra that I already know, that has already played my work. But it is not essential, I also had very positive experiences with performers who I didn’t know before at all.

Which works are you most proud of?

I try to not give anything to anybody that I am not proud of in a way. And then I actually also try to not be too proud, to not constantly look at what I have done. I never listen to old pieces and bask in my glory. But in general the things I am the most “proud” of are my operas, my songs, my orchestra music, my chamber music. Which is already a lot of different things. It would feel strange to single out something, which does of course not mean that everything is equally good. But I really do not contemplate my work, I’m too busy writing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Too many to list here. This is not a cop-out – I truly feel that music history (including the present) is so diverse and rich that singling out anybody feels strange. All the names we know from the past usually deserve to be known, which still doesn’t mean I’m a big admirer of Richard Wagner. But I also respect his work of course. I constantly discover new things, and I also change my mind about composers. I used to loathe Feldman, now I like him. I used to like Prokoffieff, now I find him a bit dull. I felt nothing for Mahler, now he is extremely dear to my heart. I loved the first piano sonata from Kabalevsky, now I feel it’s a horrible, vacuous piece. If there is one composer who I always greatly admired and have never felt any different about it is Schumann. But there are more like him!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing a mixed program of contemporary and classical music to an audience coming from a slum in Lomé, Togo (West Africa). They had been lured into the concert hall by free food and had never heard any piano music in their life. I think they were the most open-minded and enthusiastic audience I ever had. But there were other memorable experiences – like failing to play a concert in Tijuana, Mexico, because there was no piano chair to be found…anywhere. True story, but I’ll tell it another time.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

To never make the mistake to believe that anybody actually really knows what they are doing. To not listen to people who think they know what they are doing. To instead listen to people who are honest in their constant curiosity. To not listen if somebody says you shouldn’t do something, because then you should do it. In art – other than in life – it is really important to do the things that people do not expect from you. And this might also mean breaking rules that everybody thinks are set in stone. To realize that nothing is set in stone. To realize that all the music world is nothing but a big meaningless circus of vanities and to find the strength to believe in the musical truth that many don’t dare to confront because they take the easy way, because they are too scared. To acknowledge that the wonderful thing about music is that a lot of it is coming from a great unknown that we can (luckily) not map or fathom in its entirety. To be generous, to your friends and also to your colleagues. To absolutely believe in your own inspiration, no matter where it will take you. To take example in musicians and composers that you admire. To love. To write about what you love, not about what you think others might love.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

At home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being at home with my family, working on a new opera.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Sadly I have a collector’s heart and have many treasured possessions, among them a collection of 1500 board games, single malt whiskies, comics, films, books…sometimes it becomes too much. So I would probably answer that my single most treasured possession is my firm belief in the freedom and necessity of imagination.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living and learning.

What is your present state of mind? 

Hoping that the idiots don’t succeed.

Moritz Eggert was born 1965 in Heidelberg, Germany. After early piano studies he began his music education at Dr.Hoch’s Konservatorium in Frankfurt, first in piano (with Wolfgang Wagenhäuser) and theory, then in composition (with Claus Kuehnl). After finishing school he studied piano with Leonard Hokanson at the Musikhochschule Frankfurt. 1986 he moved to Munich to study composition with Wilhelm Killmayer at the Musikhochschule Muenchen. Later he continued his piano studies with Raymund Havenith in Frankfurt, and his composition studies with Hans-Jürgen von Bose in Munich.

In 1992 he spent a year in London as a post-graduate composition student with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama. His main duo partner is the cellist Sebastian Hess. In 1996 he presented the complete works for piano solo by Hans Werner Henze for the first time in one concert, a programme that he continues to play with great success. In 1989 he was a prizewinner at the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music.

As a composer Moritz Eggert has been awarded with prizes like the composition prize of the Salzburger Osterfestspiele, the Schneider/Schott-prize, the “Ad Referendum”-prize in Montréal, the Siemens Förderpreis for young composers, and the Zemlinsky Prize. 1991 he founded – together with Sandeep Bhagwati – the A*Devantgarde festival for new music, which has taken place for the 6th time in June 2001. His concert-length cycle for piano solo, Haemmerklavier, has been a great international success with reviewers and audiences alike. Moritz Eggert has covered all genres in his work his oeuvre includes 5 large-scale operas, ballets, and works for dance and music theatre, often with unusual performance elements. 1997 German TV produced a feature-length film portrait about his music.

Among his more recent important works are the concert-length cycle for voice and piano Neue Dichter Lieben featuring 20 love poems by contemporary german authors, and the orchestra piece Scapa Flow. His next projects include the children’s opera Dr. Booger’s Scary Scheme for the opera Frankfurt (with Andrea Heuser) and the ongoing internet project Variations IV.XX for 21 composers and live musicians.

www.moritzeggert.de