Karlheinz Essl

Portrait KHE

CD Gold.Berg.Werk

A radical re-interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations
for string trio and live-electronics

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Another approach is adopted in the Austrian composer's Karlheinz Essl's Gold.Berg.Werk (Preiser PR 90753), which alternates original Bach, performed by the Orpheus String Trio, and his live electronic ‘interpretation’, composed at the request of the same trio. Essl's note explains his initial reluctance to interfere unnecessarily with the Bach, his subsequent discovery of a way to go forward, building on the structure of the Goldberg Variations’ Aria, resulting in a new formal organization in which the instrumental variations are grouped together and separated by an electronic section.

The result is enormously impressive: Essl takes Bach's material as played by the strings and stretches it, opens it out, and extends the harmonic spectrum through the use of overtones, which results in music that is not only a foil for that of the older composer, but is in itself internally consistent and often of great beauty.

Ivan Moody: Mind the Crossing
in: Early Music, Vol. 37, Issue 4 (Nov 2009)


  Karlheinz Essl: Gold.Berg.Werk

  In late 2002, the musicians of the former Orpheus Trio asked me whether I would be interested in arranging an existing string-trio version of the Goldberg Variations with the use of live electronics. My initial reactions were astonishment and bewilderment: how could that be possible with this music? Was there any artistic necessity of doing so? The idea of manipulating the sound of the live instruments electronically, of “pepping it up”, seemed almost sacrilegious.

The ensemble, however, persisted in its idea and suggested taking the High Baroque harmonic sequence of the piece and transcending it in a modern, electronic sonorous space. It was entirely up to me how I did it. With this in mind, I began studying the Aria more closely. By freeing it from all figuration and ornamental trimmings, I was able to expose the harmonic skeleton, finally achieving a three-part movement that progressed in slow crotchets and could be played on the instruments of a string trio.

A recording of the Aria reduced to its essentials served as a point of departure for the sound experiments in my studio, as did bits of selected variations. With the help of the computer program written in Max/MSP that I have been developing since 1998 for my Realtime Composition Environments m@ze°2, I started to improvise with the recorded material. This empirical work provided new and surprising approaches to this music that was so familiar to me. It seemed as though I was travelling with a microscope into the interior world of the sounds in order to view them from every side in various scales and perspectives. Through the use of granular synthesis I succeeded in taking the goal-directed lapse of time of this music and stopping, compressing, stretching and mixing it ad libitum.

These experiences resulted in the subsequent process: with the help of live electronics, the harmonic progression of Bach’s Aria is released from its temporal corset. In addition, the harmonic structure becomes modifiable through manipulation of the overtone spectrum. These alterations can be carried out in real time with the help of compositional algorithms that were specially developed for this purpose and create a wealth of highly different variants. This continues Bach’s concept of variation and transfers it to the realm of sound.

This finally gave me the answer to the question of how the two completely different worlds of sound – Johann Sebastian Bach’s Baroque and my own electronic – could be connected to create a meaningful whole without doing violence to Bach’s music. It became clear to me that these two worlds have to be distinguished from one another, and that led finally to a new formal disposition of the individual Goldberg Variations. (Karlheinz Essl)

Excerpt from the CD booklet


Aria Electronica I
Karlheinz Essl: live-electronics
Recorded live at SCHÖMER-HAUS Klosterneuburg on 3 Dec 2011

Fantasia Chromatica Electronica
Karlheinz Essl: live-electronics
Recorded live at SCHÖMER-HAUS Klosterneuburg on 3 Dec 2011


Click on the red titles to listen to an excerpt of the track

1 Aria listen.. 3:18
2 Aria Electronica I listen.. complete 4:13
3 Character Variations I
Var. 2: Triosonate listen.. excerpt
Var. 4: Passepied
Var. 7: Siciliano
Var. 10: Fughetta
Var. 13: Sarabande
4 Sarabanda Electronica listen.. excerpt 2:47
5 Canones I
Var. 3: Canone all'Unisuono listen.. excerpt
Var. 6: Canone alla Seconda
Var. 9: Canone alla Terza
Var. 12: Canone alla Quarta in moto contrario
Var. 15: Canone alla Quinta in moto contrario
6 Aria Electronica II listen.. excerpt 4:18
7 Character Variations II
Var. 16: Ouverture alla francesca listen.. excerpt
Var. 19: Musette
Var. 22: Alla breve - in stile antico
Var. 25: Chromatische Fantasie
8 Fantasia Chromatica Electronica listen.. complete 3:45
9 Canones II
Var. 18: Canone alla Sesta listen.. excerpt
Var. 21: Canone alla Settima
Var. 24: Canone all'Ottava
Var. 27: Canone alla Nona
Var. 30: Quodlibet
10 Aria Electronica III listen.. excerpt 4:30
11 Aria da capo listen.. excerpt 2:15
Video Clip Recording Session at Casino Baumgarten (Quicktime Movie) 4:31

Click on the red titles to listen to an excerpt of the track


Christina Neubauer (violin) was born in Vienna and studied to be a violin teacher and concert artist under Hertha Binder at the Vienna Musikhochschule (Music University). Following an engagement with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, she played in the Vienna Chamber Or- chestra and since 1993 has been a member of the Vienna Chamber Philharmonic. She has been principal violinist with the Vienna Chamber Opera, Capella Archangeli and Camerata Wien. Neubauer has recorded a number of CDs with the Orpheus-Trio-Wien, which has also performed at the festivals Hörgänge, KlangBogen Vienna, allegro vivo, musik aktuell, musica aperta in Winterthur and l’art pour l’aar in Berne. Première performances of works by Karlheinz Essl, Fritz Keil, Rudolf Hinterdorfer, Axel Seidelmann, Horst Ebenhöh, Michael Radanovics, Jean Luc Darbellay and Max Keller. Since 1999 she has taught in the music schools of the City of Vienna.

Martin Kraushofer (viola) was born in Vienna and received instruction in violin under Lucie Kakuska and later under Thomas Kakuska at the Musikhochschule (Music University) in Vienna. After switching to viola, he studied under Siegfried Führlinger and in 1991 received his diploma with distinction. He has attended master classes under Endre Guran and Thomas Riebl. From 1988 to 1991 he was a member of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and since 1991 has been played with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. With the Orpheus-Trio-Wien he has made a number of CD recordings. That ensemble has also appeared at the festivals Hörgänge, KlangBogen Wien, allegro vivo, musik aktuell, musica aperta in Winterthur and l’art pour l’aar in Berne. Première performances of works by Karlheinz Essl, Fritz Keil, Rudolf Hinterdorfer, Axel Seidelmann, Horst Ebenhöh, Michael Radanovics, Jean Luc Darbellay and Max Keller.

Eva Landkammer (violoncello) was born in Vienna. She received her initial musical training at the Conservatoire of the City of Vienna and won prizes in 1971 and 1973 in the competition “Jugend musiziert”. Later she studied under André Navarra at the Hochschule für Musik (Music University) in Vienna, where she received her concert diploma with distinction in 1979. She then studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Düsseldorf under Johannes Goritzki, later becoming his assistant. Master classes Pierre Fournier provided additional impulses. Returning to Vienna, Landkammer accepted an engagement with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, earned a teaching diploma, and devoted intensive study to the Baroque cello and historical performance practice. Since 1983 she has taught in the music schools of the City of Vienna and since 2005 has also taught at Vienna’s Music University. She has played widely with various chamber-music groups. Since 1995 she has been a member of the Jubal Trio Wien. CD recordings for Gramola, Camerata Tokyo and Hungaroton.

Karlheinz Essl (composition, live electronics) was born in Vienna in 1960. From 1981 to 1987 he studied composition at the Vienna Musikhochschule (Music University) under Friedrich Cerha, electro-acoustic music under Dieter Kaufmann as well as contrabass under Heinrich Schneikart. At the same time, he pursued studies in musicology and art history at the University of Vienna, receiving his doctorate in 1989 with the dissertation Das Synthese-Denken bei Anton Webern. Initially a contrabassist in various chamber-music and jazz ensembles, he began studying medieval music and its performance practice. This was followed by research into the forma- lisability of musical processes. From 1995 to 2006 he taught algorithmic composition at the Anton Bruckner Private University in Linz. Since 2007 he has been professor of composition in electro-acoustic and experimental music at the Music University in Vienna.

From 1990 to 1994 Essl was composer in residence at the Darmstadt Holiday Courses for New Music. In 1992 he realised his performance project Partikel-Bewegungen with Harald Naegeli, the “Sprayer of Zurich”. In 1993 realisation of a composition commissioned by the IRCAM in Paris. Since 1995 musical director of the Essl Collection. In 1997 composer’s portrait at the Salzburg Festival in its Next Generation series. In 2004 he was awarded the Music Prize of the province of Lower Austria. In addition to instrumental works and compositions with live electronics, he has also written real-time compositions, improvisational concepts, sound installations, music and space performances for specific places and Internet projects. He frequently performs live with the computer-based meta-instrument m@ze°2, which he developed himself.


The CD can be ordered online:

Preiser Records
Linzer Straße 297
1140 Vienna, Austria
Phone: +43 (1) 533 18 53
Fax: +43 (1) 533 44 05
Mail: info@preiserrecords.at


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Updated: 23 Oct 2021