Conlon Nancarrow und Jürgen Hocker in Bergisch Gladbach

Conlon Nancarrow und Jürgen Hocker in Bergisch Gladbach bei der Vorbereitung einer Konzertreise

                                (English version:    )

Begegnungen mit Nancarrow

Jürgen Hocker

Seit 1982 engagiere ich mich für die Musik des inzwischen verstorbenen und zu einer Kultfigur avancierten mexikanischen Komponisten Conlon Nancarrow. 1912 in den USA geboren, war Nancarrow in seiner Jugend vom kommunistischen Gedankengut beeinflusst und kämpfte zwei Jahre in Spanien gegen das faschistische Franco-Regime. In die USA zurückgekehrt, musste er feststellen, dass er wegen seiner politischen Überzeugung zu einer unerwünschten Person geworden war, und man verweigerte ihm einen neuen Pass. Nancarrow beschloss, nach Mexico zu emigrieren. Da seine rhythmisch hochkomplexen Kompositionen von keinem Musiker gespielt werden konnten, erwarb er ein über Lochstreifen gesteuertes Selbstspielklavier und schuf in selbstgewählter Isolation ein grandioses Werk für Player Piano, das inzwischen als das 'Wohltemperierte Klavier' des 20. Jahrhunderts gilt. Nancarrow starb 1997 in Mexico.

Ich habe erstmals die Bekanntschaft  mit Nancarrows Musik anlässlich eines Konzertes im Kölnischen Kunstverein 1982 gemacht. Damals wurden seine Kompositionen von Tonbändern gespielt, weil weltweit kein geeignetes Instrument für Konzertaufführungen zur Verfügung stand. Ich war von der Musik so fasziniert, dass ich mir in den Kopf setzte, ein solches Instrument zu finden (es sollte ein Originalinstrument von ca. 1920 sein) und für Konzertaufführungen zur Verfügung zu stellen. Das Buch beschreibt die erfolgreiche Suche und Restaurierung, die gemeinsamen Konzertreisen, die ich mit dem Komponisten in Europa unternahm (Köln, Berlin, Hamburg, Wien, Amsterdam, Paris), die Besuche in Mexico, die vielfältigen Kontakte mit Musikveranstaltern, Interpreten, anderen Komponisten u.a.

All diese Bemühungen waren verzahnt mit meinem Berufsleben - ich war bis 1985 in der chemischen Forschung im Wissenschaftlichen Hauptlaboratorium und anschließend bis 1995 im Bildungswesen der Bayer AG tätig. Viele meiner 'musikalischen'  Aktivitäten wären ohne die großzügige Unterstützung von Bayer gar nicht möglich gewesen. 

 Das Buch, das von Schott verlegt wurde und dem eine CD beigefügt ist, beschreibt nicht nur mein persönliches Erleben mit dem Komponisten, sondern gibt dem Leser  einen detaillierten Einblick in Leben und Schaffen Nancarrows sowie in das zeitgenössische Musikleben.

 

English version:

Curriculum Vitae Jürgen Hocker

Born 1937 in Trier in Germany. Studied Chemistry and worked for nearly twenty years in the research department of Bayer. Since 1980 president of the international Society for Selfplaying Instruments ("Gesellschaft für Selbstspielende Musikinstrumente e.V.“). 1983 to 1985 lectureship at the Robert Schumann-Institute in Düsseldorf. Acquired and restored in 1986 an Ampico-Bösendorfer Player Piano grand. Since then concert tours with Conlon Nancarrow to Amersterdam (1987), Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover (1988), Vienna (1989) and Paris (1991). Many lectures and publications about Mechanical Music and especially about Nancarrows Studies for Player Piano. Acquired in 1993 a second Ampico Player Piano grand. At the Donaueschinger Musiktage 1994 first performance of one of Nancarrows Studies for two synchronized player pianos. In 1996 first performance of George Antheils ‘Ballet mécanique’ in a version for two player pianos and percussion orchestra in Baden Baden and 2002 with 16 player pianos at the Klavierfestival Ruhr in Essen. On behalf of the MusikTriennale Köln in 1997 first performance of the complete Nancarrow Studies for Player Piano in seven concerts. Since 1990 co-operation and concerts with György Ligeti.

Visited Nacarrow several times in Mexico and archived the documents in his studio as a base for the Nancarrow biography “Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow” which was published by Schott in 2002.

 

Begegnungen mit Conlon Nancarrow by Jürgen Hocker

Schott Musik International, Mainz 2002. 294 pages with 56 mostly unpublished photos and10 pictures.

Included is a CD with Nancarrows most important Studies for player piano.

ISBN 3-7957-0476-6. 39,90 Euro plus shipping.

György Ligeti: For me it’s the most important music of the second half of our century.

For this biography I was in contact with Helen Zimbler (Conlons first wife) and with Annette Margolis (Conlons second wife), with his brother Charles, with his step sons, with Mina Lederman, Nicolas Slonimsky and other people which knew Conlon fairly well.

I have known Nancarrow since 1982 when he first visited Germany and Cologne for ‘performing’ a concert. But his music was played by a tape, because there was no suitable player piano for concerts besides his own in Mexico. I decided to look for an appropriate instrument for concert performances. I needed two years to find an original Ampico-Bösendorfer grand and one of the best restorers for pneumatically operated instruments needed two more years to restore it perfectly. We modified it under the supervision of Nancarrow. Since 1986 this instrument has been used in concerts. I made many concert tours with Nancarrow all over Europe: Amsterdam (1987), Cologne (1988), Berlin (1988), Hamburg (1988), Vienna (1989), Paris (1991). I visited him several times in Mexico and made a comprehensive documentation in his studio. He visited me two times in Germany. Today I have two synchronised player pianos and can perform his studies for two player pianos as well. Now his music is available for all who were interested (at least in Europe). In 1988 only one of Nancarrow's two player pianos was in working condition, and finally this player piano broke down too and he couldn't work without an instrument. But, in Mexico there was no restorer for these old fashioned instruments. When Nancarrow told me this story, I sent 'my' piano technician, Joerg Borchardt, to Mexico and he repaired both player pianos (naturally without any expenses for Nancarrow). I visited him several times in Mexico, and I think I was the first person to whom he gave access to his studio and to his documents. I photocopied all his piano rolls (a tremendous lot of work), and in the last ten years I re-punched from these photocopies nearly all of his player piano studies, using a rebuilt punching machine similar to Nancarrow's. Hundreds of thousands of holes! In the 'dust of his studio' I found scores which he thought were lost: The second and third movement of his first Trio, some early piano compositions (e.g. Three Two Part Studies for Piano) and his Septet (with five missing pages). Nancarrow often was asked for the scores of his Septet, and he always answered, "I threw them away because I was so angry about the bad first performance in New York in 1940."

I found in his studio, between old newspapers from the nineteen-forties, a score for seven instruments. I was absolutely excited and showed it to Nancarrow and we had the following discussion:

Me: "Conlon, I believe I found your Septet."

Conlon (astonished): "It's not possible, I threw it away."

me: "But it's for seven instruments."

C: (with compassion): "Oh yes, I see."

me: "And it's your hand writing".

C: "Oh yes, I recognize my handwriting."

me: "Have you ever written another composition for seven instruments?"

C: "Oh, no, never."

me: "Then it must be your Septet."

C (angry): "Oh Juergen, I told you, I threw it away!!"

This was one facet of Conlon's personality. In the last years I organised many Nancarrow concerts all over Europe with the Boesendorfer Ampico grand (it's smaller then a concert grand, built in 1925), and I believe Nancarrow is very well known here. But this is mainly due to the promotion of György Ligeti.

The six TRUCKLOADS

When I visited Nancarrow in April 1990 in Mexico, his Studio was in it’s „original" condition. And I believe I was the only person Conlon ever allowed to work in his „original" Studio. Even his charming wife Yoko was not allowed to work there. But this studio was absolutely hair-raising. Thousands of books, old Newspapers, player piano rolls, letters, clothes, scores, instruments, parts of player pianos, parts of his „percussion" orchestrion, all mixed together and mostly covered with a thick layer of dust. And you could see, that some of the „book-piles" were not touched since years. I took plenty of photographs of this „chaos" and I tried to make a documentation of all. And I worked there for many days, and in the evening, my lungs and my nose were black from the dust. But Conlon only smiled and said: „Oh, dust doesn’t harm you if you don’t move it." The scores I found there were not together, but one page here, another there, and I needed hours to find 42 pages of the septet. Eight pages are still missing. There were old photos too, and Conlon didn’t even remember that he had these photos.

Conlon suffered in the last years with lung problems, and in this time he felt seriously ill. The doctor didn’t allow Conlon to work in his Studio and Yoko decided to clean Conlons Studio, so that he could work there with his affected lungs. First she tried it with her son Mako and her maid. But it was impossible. So she ordered a professional cleaning service, and they worked (if I remember right) one week and they threw away six truck loads of „waste". Yoko told me she was always there and supervised the workmen, so that nothing important was thrown away. When I visited Nancarrow next time, the Studio was absolutely clean, but Conlon complained, that now he could find nothing. Greetings to all friends of Nancarrow and his exceptional music. All these events are written in the ‘biography’.

With all my best wishes for all friends of Nancarrow and his music

Jürgen Hocker©