Rudolf Kelterborn (1931-2021)

Musica Mundana mourns the death of their composer Rudolf Kelterborn
(*03.09.1931 in Basel; † 24.03.2021 in Basel)

It is with sadness we report the death of Rudolf Kelterborn, a few months before a series of concerts planned to celebrate his 90th birthday. Kelterborn, who remarkably sustained his creativity right up until he died, was known not just as a highly-influential composer, but as a conductor, a university professor, music journalist and a radio producer. As recently as last year his recent work as a composer was rewarded with a 2020 Swiss Music Prize. In a gentle yet engaging interview he declared with almost childlike glee, “It’s marvellous. I am so happy to be awarded this prize – especially at my age!”

Kelterborn was born in Basel in 1931. As he grew in stature as a composer, he began to lecture all over the world from the USA to the Far East. Later he became head of the music department at the Swiss Radio DRS, editor-in-chief of the “Schweizerische Musikzeitung” and Director of the Music Academy in Basel. In 1987, together with Heinz Holliger and Jürg Wyttenbach, he founded the Basel Music Forum and was jointly responsible for its programme until 1997.

“I’ve led a rich and varied life. Composition has always been the most important thing to me. I’ve faced some difficult choices both within the music world and outside it. It’s all there in the music….Unlike Mozart who wrote joyous music when ill, over the six months it takes me to complete a composition I write happy music when happy and sad music when I’m sad.” There is little doubt that Kelterborn’s passing leaves a huge void in Swiss musical life.

“There are many arresting moments in this endlessly inventive work, such as the first section (one of the longest) in which the nervous orchestral music rushes headlong into what Thomas Meyer aptly describes as a wall of electronic sound. The final section also calls for a baritone who softly sings some lines from Petrarch’s Sonnet 164 ending with the words Vegghio, penso, ardo… (I wake and think, and I glow…) which actually summarise the emotional content of the work. The electronically-produced sounds (either ring-modulated live sounds or computer-modified instrumental sounds) do not compete with the orchestra, but rather widen its expressive palette. The electronic part has been precisely worked out by the composer and Wolfgang Heiniger, and the result is quite remarkable and very effective. Few composers actually achieve such musically satisfying blending of live and electronic sounds. I think of Jonathan Harvey and York Höller. Kelterborn is obviously one such composer. In spite of its technical complexity, Namenlos possesses an extraordinary expressive strength that holds you from first to last. No easy stuff, but a truly gripping piece of music.“
MGB Records 6182 reviewed in 2015 by Music Web International