Darmstadt School

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Darmstadt School refers to a loose group of compositional styles created by composers who attended the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music from the early 1950s to the early 1960s.


Coined by Luigi Nono in his 1958 lecture "Die Entwicklung der Reihentechnik" (Nono 1975, 30; Fox 1999, 111–12), Darmstadt School describes the uncompromisingly serial music[clarification needed] written by composers such as Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Karlheinz Stockhausen (the three composers Nono specifically names in his lecture, along with himself), Luciano Berio, Earle Brown, John Cage, Aldo Clementi, Franco Donatoni, Niccolò Castiglioni, Franco Evangelisti, Karel Goeyvaerts, Mauricio Kagel, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Giacomo Manzoni, and Henri Pousseur from 1951 to 1961 (Ielmini 2012, 237; Muller-Doohm 2005, 392–93; Priore 2007, 192; Schleiermacher 2000, 20–21; Schleiermacher 2004, 21–22; Whiting 2009), and even composers who never actually attended Darmstadt, such as Jean Barraqué and Iannis Xenakis (Malone 2011, 90). Two years later the Darmstadt School effectively dissolved due to musical differences, expressed once again by Nono in his 1960 Darmstadt lecture "Text—Musik—Gesang" (Fox 1999, 123). Nevertheless, composers active at Darmstadt in the early 1960s under Steinecke's successor Ernst Thomas are sometimes included by extension—Helmut Lachenmann, for example (Schleiermacher 2004, 23–24)—and although he was only at Darmstadt before 1950, Olivier Messiaen is also sometimes included because of the influence his music had on the later Darmstadt composers (Schleiermacher 2000, 20).

Background, influences[edit]

Composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, and Nono were writing their music in the aftermath of World War II, during which many composers, such as Richard Strauss, had had their music politicised by the Third Reich. Boulez was taken to task by French critics for associating with Darmstadt, and especially for first publishing his book Penser la musique d'aujourd'hui in German, the language of the recent enemies of France, falsely associating Boulez's prose with the perverted language of the Nazis. All this despite the fact that Boulez never set German texts in his vocal music, choosing for Le marteau sans maître, for example, poems by René Char who, during the war, had been a member of the French Resistance and a Maquis leader in the Basses-Alpes (Olivier 2005, 57–58).

Key influences on the Darmstadt School were the works of Webern and Varèse—who visited Darmstadt only once, in 1950, when Nono met him (Iddon 2013, 40)—and Olivier Messiaen's "Mode de valeurs et d'intensités" (from the Quatre études de rythme).


Almost from the outset, the phrase Darmstadt School was used as a belittling term by commentators like Dr. Kurt Honolka (a 1962 article is quoted in Boehmer 1987, 43) to describe any music written in an uncompromising style.

Composer Hans Werner Henze, whose music was regularly performed at Darmstadt in the 1950s, reacted against the Darmstadt School ideologies, particularly the way in which (according to him) young composers were forced either to write in total dodecaphony or be ridiculed or ignored. In his collected writings, Henze recalls student composers rewriting their works on the train to Darmstadt in order to comply with Boulez's expectations (Henze 1982, 155).

One of the leading figures of the Darmstadt School itself, Franco Evangelisti, was also outspoken in his criticism of the dogmatic "orthodoxy" of certain zealot disciples, labelling them the "Dodecaphonic police" (Fox 2006).

A self-declared member of the school, Konrad Boehmer (1987,[page needed]), states:

There never was, or has been anything like a 'serial doctrine', an iron law to which all who seek to enter that small chosen band of conspirators must of necessity submit. Nor am I, for one, familiar with one Ferienwoche schedule, let alone concert programme, which features seriality as the dominant doctrine of the early fifties. Besides, one might ask, what species of seriality is supposed to have reached such pre-eminence? It did, after all, vary from composer to composer and anyone with ears to hear with should still be able to deduce this from the compositions of that era. (Boehmer 1987, 45)


  • Boehmer, Konrad. 1987. “The Sanctification of Misapprehension into a Doctrine: Darmstadt Epigones and Xenophobes”. English translation by Sonia Prescod Jokel. Key Notes 24:43–47.
  • Fox, Christopher. 1999. "Luigi Nono and the Darmstadt School". Contemporary Music Review 18/2: 111–30.
  • Fox, Christopher. 2006. "Darmstadt School." Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 20 August 2006).
  • Henze, Hans Werner. 1982. Music and Politics: Collected Writings, 1953–1981. Translated by Peter Labanyi. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-1545-4.
  • Iddon, Martin. 2013. New Music at Darmstadt: Nono, Stockhausen, Cage, and Boulez. Music since 1900. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-03329-0 (cloth); ISBN 978-1-107-48001-8 (pbk).
  • Ielmini, David. 2012. "Orchestral Thoughts: Jazz Composition in Europe and America: An Interview with Composer-Director Giorgio Gaslini". In Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics, and Contexts, edited by Luca Cerchiari, Laurent Cugny, Franz Kerschbaumer, 235–52. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 9781611682984.
  • Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography. Translated by Richard Toop. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Malone, Gareth. 2011. Music for the People: The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Classical Music. London: Collins UK. ISBN 9780007396184.
  • Muller-Doohm, Stefan. 2005. Adorno: A Biography. Cambridge (UK) and Malden, MA: Polity Press. ISBN 0-7456-3108-8. Paperback reprint 2009. ISBN 0-7456-3109-6.
  • Nono, Luigi. 1975. Texte, Studien zu seiner Musik Edited by J. Stenzl. Zürich and Freiburg im Breisgau: Atlantis-Verlag.
  • Olivier, Philippe. 2005. Pierre Boulez: Le maître et son marteau. Collection Points d'Orgue. Paris: Hermann Éditeurs des Sciences et des Artes. ISBN 2-7056-6531-5.
  • Priore, Irna. 2007. “Vestiges of Twelve-tone Practice as Compositional Process in Berio’s Sequenza I for Solo Flute”. In Berio's Sequenzas: Essays on Composition Performance Analysis and Analysis, edited by Janet K. Halfyard, with an introduction by David Osmond-Smith, 191–208. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9780754654452.
  • Schleiermacher, Steffen. 2000. [Untitled essay], in booklet for Piano Music of the Darmstadt School, vol. 1, 18–21. English translation by Susan Marie Praeder, 4–7; French translation by Sylvie Gomez, 9–16. Steffen Schleiermacher, piano. CD recording, 1 disc: stereo, digital. MDG 613 1004-2. Detmold: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm.
  • Schleiermacher, Steffen. 2004. [Untitled essay], in booklet for Piano Music of the Darmstadt School, vol. 2, 21–26. English translation by Susan Marie Praeder, 4–8; French translation by Sylvie Gomez, 10–19. Steffen Schleiermacher, piano. CD recording, 1 disc: stereo, digital. MDG 613 1005-2. Detmold: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm.
  • Whiting, John. 2009. "Henri Pousseur: Avant-garde Composer Seeking a Synthesis of Sound and Image". The Guardian (Wednesday 10 June).

Further reading[edit]

  • Attinello, Paul, Christopher Fox, and Martin Iddon (eds.). 2007. Other Darmstadts. Abingdon, Oxfordshire, U.K.: Rouledge. Also as Contemporary Music Review 26, no. 1.
  • Borio, Gianmario, and Hermann Danuser (eds.). 1997. Im Zenit der Moderne: Die Internationalen Ferienkurse für Neue Musik Darmstadt 1946–1966. Vols. 1–4. Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach.
  • Evangelisti, Franco. 1991. Dal silenzio a un nuovo mondo sonoro. Prefazione di Enzo Restagno. Rome: [Semar][1].
  • Fox, Christopher. 2007. "Music after Zero Hour". Contemporary Music Review 26, no. 1 (February): 5–24.
  • Heile, Björn, and Martin Iddon (eds.). 2009. Mauricio Kagel bei den Internationalen Ferienkursen für Neue Musik in Darmstadt: eine Dokumentation. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag. ISBN 9783936000412 (pbk).
  • Henze, Hans Werner. 1998. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. Translated by Stewart Spencer. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17815-4. (German original: Reiselieder mit böhmischen Quinten: autobiographische Mitteilungen 1926-1995. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1996.)
  • Iddon, Martin. 2011. "Darmstadt Schools: Darmstadt as a Plural Phenomenon". Tempo 65, no. 256:2–8.
  • Misch, Imke, and Markus Bandur. 2001. Karlheinz Stockhausen bei den Internationalen Ferienkursen für Neue Musik in Darmstadt 1951–1996: Dokumente und Briefe. Kürten: Stockhausen-Verlag.