One of the most outstanding personalities of modern music, he was born in Buenos Aires and died in Cologne. He studied philosophy and literature, but as a composer he was mainly self-taught. He began composing in 1950, seeking musical ideas that opposed the neoclassical style dictated by the Perón government. In 1957 he went to Germany on a DAAD student grant and settled in Cologne. He became immediately and permanently involved in the contemporary music network as a member of the so-called second generation of Darmstadt composers. From 1958 he participated in the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where he later lectured. In 1974 he became professor of new music theatre at the High School of Music in Cologne. He was one of the founders of the Ensemble for New Music in Cologne and worked at the electronic studios in Cologne, Berlin and Utrecht. From the very beginning his name was associated above all with music theatre, the genre in which he perhaps exerted the greatest impact. Besides his radical innovations in this area, however, he also developed a highly personal aesthetics in his absolute music. Kagel’s creative output is enormous. It encompasses not only stage, orchestral and chamber music in an extremely wide range of instrumental settings, but also lm scores, radio plays, and essays.
Throughout its broad spectrum, his music reveals a breach with all forms of academicism as well as close ties to tradition, especially to the German tradition. Imagination, originality and humour were the hallmarks of this multimedia artist. With inexhaustible powers of invention, Kagel made use of a very wide array of expressive devices that, although often caustic and provocative, are always placed at the service of musical discourse. He required performers to express more the dramatic than the purely musical content of a given work, to become actors or mimes, and ordered them often to comment verbally on their playing. In his later works, he developed dramatic content from the very sound material (as in Match, where two cellos play a game against each other, with percussion as referee).
Kagel’s numerous films are more than documentary recordings of his stage works: they are characterised by a dominance of the visual over the musical, evident in his idiosyncratic notation. His most famous film is Ludwig van, produced by the WDR in 1970.
Selected works (since 1985): Pan for piccolo and string quartet (1985), Sankt-Bach Passion for soloists, choir and large orchestra (1981–85), Ein Brief, concert scene for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1985–86), Mitternachtsstück for voices and instruments (1986), Music for keyboard instruments and orchestra (1987–88), Quodlibet for female voice and orchestra (1986–88), Phantasiestück (1987–88), Les idées fixes, rondo for orchestra (1989), Fragmente Ode for double choir, winds and percussion (1989), Zwei Akte, Grand Duo for saxophone and harp (1989), Liturgien for solo voices, double choir and large orchestra (1990), Nordosten from Die Stücke der Windrose for salon orchestra (1990), Opus 1.991, concerto work for orchestra (1990), Nordwesten and Südosten from Die Stücke der Windrose for salon orchestra (1991), Konzertstück for drums and orchestra (1992), Etude no. 1 for large orchestra (1992), Passé composé, piano rhapsody (1993), Episoden, Figuren, solo for accordion (1993), String Quartet no. 4 (1993), Südwesten, Westen and Norden from Die Stücke der Windrose for salon orchestra (1993), Interview avec D. for Mr. Croche and orchestra, to words by Claude Debussy (1995), Schattenklänge, three works for bass clarinet (1995), L’art bruit, solo for two (1995), À deux mains, impromptu for piano (1995), Etudes no. 2–3 for large orchestra (1996), 1898, chamber symphony for voices and instruments (1996, rev. version of a work from 1972–73), Orchestrion-Straat for chamber ensemble (1996), Auftakte, sechshändig for piano and two percussion (1996; version for two pianos and two percussion Auftakte, achthändig, 2003), Eine Brise for 111 bikers, musically enriched sports event in the open (1996), Ragtime à trois for violin, cello and piano (1997), Playback Play, news from a musical fair, radio work (1997), Orgelmusik zu vier Händen (1997), Duodramen for voices and orchestra (1998), Impromptu no. 2 for piano (1998), Semikolon, action with bass drum (1999), Schwarzes Madrigal for voices and instruments (1999), Entführung im Konzertsaal, musical report from an incident (1999), Burleske for baritone saxophone and choir (2000), Quirinus’ Liebeskuss for vocal ensemble and instruments (2001), Broken Chords for large orchestra (2001), Piano Trio no. 1 (2001), Double Sextet for ensemble (2001), Concerto for flute, harp, percussion and strings (2002), Der Turm zu Babel, melodies for voice (2002), Andere Gesänge, intermezzi for soprano and orchestra (2003), Magic Flutes, interrupted perpetual canon for 12 performers (2004), Vorzeitiger Schlussverkauf, unnished memoirs of a sound engineer, radio play (2004), Fremde Töne und Widerhall for orchestra (2005), Capriccio for two pianos (2005), L’invention d’Adolphe Saxfor saxophone quartet and chamber choir (2006), Divertimento?, farce for ensemble (2006), Quasi niente for closed mouths (2007), In der Matratzengru for tenor and instrumental ensemble (2007–8).
Film music (since 1980): Blue’s Blue (1981), mm 51 (1983), Szenario: Un chien andalou (Buñuel/Dalí) (1982), Er, tv movie based on the radio fantasy Rrrrrrr... (1984), Dressur (1985), Mitternachtsstück (1987), Répertoire (1989),