Fritsch described his musical influences: ‘Gustav Mahler and Charles Ives are my grandfathers; my teacher Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom I worked together closely, are my fathers. Since the 80s, Morton Feldman has somehow joined as an uncle.’ Fritsch’s compositions could be defined by two main characteristics: 1. They often include found sound material and various references to classical and popular music, sounds and sound systems from different cultures; Fritsch began using ‘postmodern’ techniques in the 1960s. A prominent early example is his composition for large orchestra, Akroasis (1966/68), which combines elements of music history and popular music in various modulations with found material (street organ, music-box, radio news) and new sounds. 2. Fritsch’s compositions often feature improvisatory elements; this might be connected to his earlier work as a violist. An important example is Violectra (1971): Fritsch performed this energetic piece for Viola d’amore and synthesizer in different variations worldwide for over 30 years.
Fritsch performing Violectra in Japan, 1988 (© Hiroshige Kanoh)
Reduction to the Essential
A major characteristic of Fritsch’s work since the 1980s is the reduction of motifs and forms to the most necessary. In doing so, Fritsch emphasizes the concept of small changes; this is evident, for instance, in his ‘musical arrangement’ of texts by Samuel Becket in his triptych Damals, Das Bittersüsse Büchlein and Trio vom Ende.
Fritsch’s compositions present a great variety of styles, however, all of them reflect his strong interest in new sound combinations and colours.
Fritsch’s engagement with music went far beyond his compositions: In 1979, 1982, 1984 and 1986, he hosted the world music conferences in Vlotho together with Peter Ausländer and the WDR (West German Broadcasting). He was a lecturer at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music (Darmstädter Ferienkurse) and a board member of the Darmstadt Institute of Contemporary Music and Music Education (Darmstädter Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung). Moreover, Fritsch was founding member of the Cologne Society of New Music (Kölner Gesellschaft für Neue Musik) as well as an editorial board member at the Kunst-Station Sankt Peter in Cologne.
In 1966, Fritsch was awarded the Sponsorship Award for Music by the Federal State of North Rhine Westphalia; in 1971 he was awarded the Prize of the Paris Biennale. Since the 1970s, there followed other awards and fellowships, such as a scholarship by Villa Massimo Rome, an award by the City of Cologne and the Robert-Schumann Award by the City of Düsseldorf.
Johannes Fritsch 2001 (© Lena Fritsch)
In 2010, Johannes Fritsch passed away after a long illness in Bonn. After his death, the Feedback Studio and Feedback Studio Publishing Company were dissolved. In the Johannes-Fritsch-Archive by the Akademie der Künste in Berlin original scores and notes, correspondence, press, personal documents, etc. can be viewed. His wife Ingrid Fritsch and daughter Lena Fritsch represent Johannes Fritsch’s musical estate.