Born: November 6th, 1936
Country of origin: Germany
October 28th, 2013 | Tertianum - Konstanz - Germany
‘For me, composing means applying my own filter to the constant flow of internal and external sounds. Listening to, imagining and inventing music is like building bridges between the physical and the metaphysical world.’
Barbara Heller was born in 1936 in Ludwigshafen, where her father was an art restorer and conservator. She studied music in Mannheim and Munich and taught piano at the Mannheim Academy of Music from 1958 to 1962. Heller studied composition under Hans Vogt (Mannheim) and Harald Genzmer (Munich), won a scholarship to study film music in Sienna in 1963 and was awarded several scholarships at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (International summer courses for new music) in Darmstadt, where she has lived as a freelance composer and pianist since 1963. From 1970 to 1975 she documented and archived the estate of the composer Hermann Heiß from Darmstadt; she was an active member of the board of the Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung Darmstadt (Institute for New Music and Musical Education) from 1986 to 1993.In 1978 Barbara Heller became a founder member of the international working group ‘Women in Music’, serving on its board of directors until 1981, when she took over archive management there. Since 1976 she has dedicated considerable energy to previously neglected works by female composers. Research, teaching and editorial work have taken up a great deal of her time and she has frequently been invited to share the results of her work with the public in lectures and radio broadcasts. She has edited works by Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn and other contemporary female composers, performing these pieces herself and appearing as a soloist with a number of chamber ensembles.
In 1989 Barbara Heller decided to stop performing as a pianist and concentrate entirely on her work as a composer. Since then she has written more piano music, chamber music and songs. She also enjoys collaborating with other composers and performers from time to time, engaging in experiments and investigating other art forms: this has involved working with painters and actors, composing film music, composing with tape recordings and sound installations produced with other artists. Recent compositions include two string quartets and her bassoon quartet, as well as arrangements and adaptations of her earlier works for various combinations of instruments (most of them commissioned by performing musicians). Barbara Heller’s music is increasingly characterised by openness and a love of experimentation, often moving away from conventional musical notation to challenge performers to explore improvisation in creative and imaginative ways. She continues to receive invitations to present her music in concerts in Germany and abroad.
In 2005 Barbara Heller was awarded the Aloysia Assenbaum Memorial Prize by the GEDOK association of female artists in Heidelberg. The German edition of ‘Encounters with Barbara Heller’ (ed. Ulla Levens) was published by Wolke in Hofheim in 2006. Barbara Heller often seeks refuge in Nature, in the Odenwald forest or on the island of La Gomera, as an escape from the sometimes hectic pace of her travels and busy city life. Being close to Nature is a source of inner strength, bringing fresh awareness of her personal sound cosmos. Reflection and quiet self-assurance, inner and outer peace, have become increasingly important. This feeling infuses her most recent works. Her approach has changed over the last fifteen years, relying on sparser sounds and breaking melodies up into minute components – sometimes reduced to just a few notes or even a single interval. She puts her trust in space and time, purging her writing of all extraneous effects to refine it into ‘a quest for the essence of music’. The results can even sound archaic as the music becomes increasingly meditative in its focus on stillness – possibly positing an alternative to the hectic pace of everyday life. Barbara Heller has so far produced works of great stylistic range and continues to develop as a musician, with plenty of plans for the future…
Her style has evolved constantly, yet her music remains alive as it evokes the eternal flux of existence.
Translation: Julia Rushworth
© 2011 SCHOTT MUSIC GmbH & Co. KG, Mainz