Emerging from the former German Democratic Republic, now simply an integral part of Germany, is the composer Siegfried Matthus. Never a part of the musical apparatchiks that peopled the old communist state, Matthus has been an international figure since the 1970s when his music began crossing national borders, and he has been universally recognized as one of the foremost musicodramatic minds of our time. According to the Berliner Morgenpost, Matthus has become Germany's most often performed contemporary composer.
Born (1934) in the East Prussian town of Mallenuppen, he attended secondary school in Rheinsberg, the very locale in which he was to found and direct a jewel of a music festival almost 60 years later. (He is that city's honorary citizen and has served as artistic director of the Kammeroper Rheinsberg since 1991.) Having studied at Berlin's famous Hochschule für Musik and continued his studies in composition with Rudolf Wagner-Régeny and Hanns Eisler, he was chosen by the renowned Walter Felsenstein, at a relatively young age, to become composer in residence at the Komische Opera Berlin. It was undoubtedly this practical experience that gave Matthus his remarkable sensitivity to the craft of music theatre.
His operatic output since his very first venture, The Last Shot (1966/67), has been prodigious: the black comedy Another Spoonful of Poison, Darling? (1971), the mythological Omphale (1972-74), the Thomas Mann-based Mario the Magician (1974), the Old Testament-based Judith (1982-84), an "opera vision" with libretto by the composer after Rainer Maria Rilke, The Tune of Love and Death by the Cornet Christoph Rilke (1983/84), the French Revolutionary Mirabeau (1987-88), written for the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day, that enjoyed simultaneous productions in East and West Germany as well as Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and France; the "opera monologues" Desdemona and Her Sisters (1991) for three female voices and male quartet, Farinelli or The Power of Singing (1995-97) about the life of the legendary 18th century soprano castrato, Crown Prince Frederick (1999), and The Never-Ending Story (2003) on a libretto by Anton Perrey based on the celebrated Michael Ende book, movie, and TV series.
Matthus's oeuvre, however, has not been confined to the stage. He has been prolific in producing works for orchestra (with or without soloist) as well as chamber and recital compositions. Among his greatest champions has been the conductor Kurt Masur who has presented many Matthus premieres, including what he has called "the commission of my life," a Te Deum for the reconsecration of the Frauenkirche in Dresden.
Matthus dismisses all mystique about artistic process. "In my opinion, my work differs in no way from that of any other work involving Imagination and creativity," he states. "I am dead-set against mystifying the creative process and concentrate on the craft of my labors. How to retain the outlines of the fleeting moments of euphoric inspiration so as to produce, later on, a solid piece of workmanship based on that spark. In the final analysis, human creativity cannot be explained and remains, along with its hidden happenings, a secret, as does life itself."
Matthus's principal publishers are Breitkopf & Härtel/Deutscher Verlag für Musik and Interklang Musikverlag.