Wilhelm Killmayer


Born: August 21, 1927; Munich, Germany  
German composer Wilhelm Killmayer was born in 1927 and grew up in Mitterndorf, near Dachau. After his father died in 1932, his family relocated to Munich, where he began to study piano a year later. Through his late teens and early twenties, Killmayer studied conducting and composition, passing the state examinations in both. From 1951 -- 1953, he privately studied composition with Carl Orff, later (1953 -- 1954) studying with him at the Munich Read more Hochschule für Musik. Orff and Igor Stravinsky were the key influences on his early style. Killmayer was also studying musicology at Munich University during this period, and this had a major shaping influence on him, giving him an acute historical self-consciousness. In 1954, he won the Fromm Music Foundation prize in composition, an event that spurred him into devoting himself to composition. His career thereafter is marked with numerous awards and honors and he quickly achieved great success both as a performer and composer. From 1961 -- 1964, he was the musical director of the Bavarian State Opera. In the mid-'60s, he entered a period of personal crisis that led him to sever his ties with his personal and professional past. He moved to Frankfurt in 1968, where he composed film and theater music for a living. During the '60s, and '70s, he produced many quiet, dark, spare, and cryptic works. In 1973, he was appointed to a composition chair at the Munich Hochshule für Musik, a position he held until 1993. In 1992, he was made head of the music department of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. The occasion of his 70th birthday was celebrated in Germany with many musical and critical publications in honor of his work. Killmayer's uniqueness comes not only from his ability to constantly re-imagine his music, but from his aggressive rejection of the modernist idea of the new music composer as "pioneer." From relatively early on, Killmayer's music instead engaged in anxious reflection upon and dissection of the musical past. Phantoms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries especially populate the music like a ghostly banquet; fragmented or multi-faceted allusions float by, often followed by shimmering moments of beautiful, unidentifiable strangeness. Whether in his early works or his very spare, lucid later works, Killmayer never quite lets the listener know where he stands, nor makes it very easy to imagine what will be heard next in his "garden of sounds." Read less

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