johannes fritsch

27 July 1941 – 29 April 2010

Johannes Fritsch

Johannes Fritsch was a composer, musician, author, publisher, studio owner and music teacher. From 1971 to 1984 he was Head of Composition and the New Music Seminar at Akademie für Tonkunst, Darmstadt. From 1984 to 2006 he was Professor of Composition at the Cologne University of Music and Dance (Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln).

Musical Foundations

Johannes Fritsch

© Helmut Stahl

Fritsch’s interest in music began when he was seven years old and found a violin in his uncle’s attic. He began taking violin lessons with a teacher in Bensheim-Auerbach, and after his family moved to Cologne he was taught by the principal violist of the Gürzenich Orchestra. From 1961 to 1965 Fritsch studied at Cologne University (musicology, philosophy and sociology) as well as at the Cologne University of Music and Dance (viola with Ernst Nippes, composition with Bernd Alois Zimmermann and electronic music with Gottfried Michael Koenig). In the following years, Fritsch taught music theory at the Cologne Conservatory of Music.

and Feedback Studio

Johannes Fritsch and the Stockhausen Ensemble 1968

From left to right: Alfred Alings, Rolf Gehlhaar, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Johannes Fritsch, Harald Bojé, Aloys Kontarsky, 1968 (© Maria Austria)

From 1964 to 1970 Fritsch was a member of the Stockhausen Ensemble: he participated in many musical premieres, concert tours, including at the World Exposition Osaka in 1970, radio broadcasts and recordings. After returning from Osaka, Fritsch and two other former members of the Stockhausen Ensemble, Rolf Gehlhaar and David Johnson, founded the Feedback Studio. The Feedback Studio was an artists’ cooperative and soon became an important hub for Contemporary Music. This was followed in 1971 by the founding of the Feedback Studio Verlag – the very first publishing house owned by composers in Germany. In the studio rooms, Fritsch organised small concerts, lectures and workshops for more than thirty years. These ‘backhouse music’ concerts (Hinterhausmusiken) provided an alternative forum for contemporary and world music, for example from Africa, Afghanistan, India and Japan.

Over 130 Works

Johannes Fritsch

Fritsch’s complex musical estate comprises over 130 works: it covers electronic works, such as Fabula Rasa (1964) and Modulation IV (1968), as well as chamber music, ballet music, theatre and film music, organ compositions, the opera Aschenbrödel, and pieces for large orchestras, including Akroasis (1966/68) and Herbstlicht (1994/1995).

Musical Influences

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

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.

Music Education

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.

Musical Estate

Johannes Fritsch 2001

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.