When time becomes an instant, it is transformed into space. Every spatial construction and each spatial distance is temporal: a temporal unit in which time is consolidated. (Dieter Schnebel)
Dieter Schnebel was born in Lahr/Baden on 14 March 1930. He began his studies at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg in 1949, simultaneously attending lectures given by Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiburg, and forged close contacts with the Kranichsteiner (now Darmstadt) Summer Courses for New Music (Adorno, Varèse, Messiaen, Nono, Stockhausen and later Cage). Schnebel then studied Protestant Theology (Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann), Philosophy (including the works of Ernst Bloch) and Musicology (Walter Gerstenberg, doctoral thesis on dynamics in the music of Schoenberg) in Tübingen from1952 to 1956. He was subsequently employed as a teacher and pastor in Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt/Main and Munich. He has been married to his second wife, Iris Kaschnitz, since 1970. A position as professor for experimental music and musicology was specially created for Schnebel at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin in 1976, a post he occupied until becoming professor emeritus in 1995. He continued his theological activities as a preacher at the Johann-Sebastian-Bach church in Berlin-Lichterfelde and the church of St.Anne in Berlin-Dahlem. He wrote numerous musicological essays and books on subjects ranging from Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler and Debussy to Cage and Kagel.
Schnebel was originally a strict serial composer: Stücke für Streichinstrumente (1954/55), dt 31,6 (1956-58) and Compositio (1955/56), before an increasing anti-dogmatism spurred him on to develop experimental concept and process composition methods: Glossolalie 61Das Urteil (1959/60), (based on Kafka, 1959) and Ki-No (1963/67) in which he exploits the use of the human voice in previously unknown dimensions ranging from whispering and wheezing to screaming. He also produced compositions of a sacred character (Für Stimmen (…missa est) (1956-69), Dahlemer Messe (1984/87), Magnificat (1996/97) and missa brevis (2000-02), arrangements of Bach chorales and organ works), including works for the church pavilion at the EXPO 2000 and the documenta 2001. Through the creation of the theatre group "Die Maulwerker" at the Berlin Hochschule der Künste, Schnebel was able to systematise his open work concept which was only partially based on “fluxus” (réactions 1960/61, visible music 1960/62 and anschläge-ausschläge 1965/66) in which the musicians were instructed to participate in spatial actions involving the unconventional utilisation of their instruments and voices (Harley-Davidson for 9 motorbikes and trumpet 2000, Flipper for slot machine, performers, instruments and tape recorder 2002/03).
Each of the following work cycles originated in compositional processes over a period of several years: Maulwerke, Körper-Sprache, Schulmusik, Laut-Gesten-Laute, Museumsstücke, Schau-Stücke and Bachmann-Gedichte. In the cycles Re-Visionen (1972-92) and Tradition (1975-95) and also in the chamber music series Psycho-Logia (incl. Pan 1978/88 and Medusa 1989/93) with its references to Greek mythology, the composer developed innovative concepts in the relationship between traditional and new or experimental music. The opera Majakowskis Tod - Totentanz (1989/97), the large-scale vocal work Ekstasis (1996/97/2001) and the monumental Sinfonie X (1987/92/2004) can be counted among Schnebel’s key works.
In 1991, Schnebel was awarded the Lahr Culture Prize and was the first recipient of the European Church Music Prize awarded by the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd in 1999. He is a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the Free Academy of Arts in Leipzig (both since 1991) and the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (since 1996).