When Peter Eötvös heard the news of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s death in 1970, he did not doubt for a moment that the composer had taken his life. The Hungarian composer and conductor met and came to respect Zimmermann while he was a student in Cologne during the 1960s, and at that time the thoughts of death of the deeply religious artist, who wrestled constantly with himself and the world, were already obvious.
Suicide also plays a central role in the Requiem for a Young Poet for two speakers, vocalists, chorus, orchestra and tape, which was premiered in 1970. The poets quoted in this unusual requiem – Sergei Yesenin, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Konrad Bayer – also took their own lives. In his text collage and music, which combines different styles and quotations from works by other composers in a uniquely personal idiom, the extremely well-read Zimmermann provided a desperate commentary on the student-initiated era of new beginnings as he composed the work – and at the same time an anticipation of the end of his own life.
The Berliner Philharmoniker performed the heart-wrenching work under Peter Eötvös in April 2009, as part of the season focus on several of Zimmermann’s compositions. During the first half of the concert Richard Wagner’s radiant Siegfried Idyll for chamber orchestra and two chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach were also heard, forming a counterpoint to the Requiem.