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Tilo Medek

Born: 1940

Died: 2006

Nationality: German

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Photo © Rafael Ostgathe

Tilo Medek was born into a family of musicians and grew up in Thuringia, a region of central Germany with a rich musical culture. He studied violin and piano from the age of ten and had an early exposure to contemporary music when he attended the Darmstadt summer school in 1957, participating in classes given by Stockhausen and Nono among others. From 1959 Medek studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin but lost his scholarship after the Berlin Wall was built, forcing him to fund his studies with work as a repetiteur for the Ensemble der Berliner Arbeiterjugend (Berlin Young Workers’ Ensemble) and as a composer of incidental music for theatre and radio. On gaining his diploma in 1964, Medek embarked on three years of further study at the German Academy of Arts in East Berlin. In 1968, following the controversy caused by the Prague Spring, Medek found himself the subject of artistic censorship when two of his works attracted hhe disapproval of the East German authorities. In the years that followed, the composer became increasingly hindered by the state in his work until, in 1977, he was forced into exile in West Germany at the same time as the dissident singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann. Establishing himself in the West, the composer founded his own publishing house, Edition Tilo Medek, and was a founder member of the Independent Academy of Arts in Mannheim. As performances in festivals around Europe increased, he was nominated ‘Compsiteur d’honneur’ at the 8th Festival International des Choeurs d’Enfants in Nantes in 1992 and invited to the German Academy at the Villa Massimo in Rome in 1994. Throughout his career, Medek was the recipient of many international awards; among the earliest was the 1967 International Composers Award of the Gaudeamus Foundation for Todesfuge, a setting of Paul Celan for soprano and chorus. In 1969 Einzug won the Opera Competition of the GDR and in 1975 Medek’s Kindermesse was awarded the 22eme Tribune Internationale des Compositeurs of UNESCO, Paris. The KRO-Netherlands recording of the piece went on to win the Prix Danube Bratislava in 1977. Medek’s output encompasses works of almost every genre. His interest in the voice is reflected in a wide range of choral music and song cycles, meanwhile his instrumental works stretch from solo and chamber pieces to concertos for almost all of the standard concert instruments as well as more unusual offerings such as timpani and marimba. In addition to these works, over thirty orchestral pieces and three ballets, Medek also made arrangements of music by Bach, Beethoven, Liszt and Hans Eisler. A complete list of works can be viewed on the composer’s website. Although small in number, the list of Medek’s works published by Chester Music includes some of the composer’s most popular pieces. Die Betrunkene Sonne (The Drunken Sun) for narrator and orchestra is a concert piece intended for children. Also for young audiences are the twelve piano pieces, Jagdsignale, Zirkusszenen und Gassenhauer. Among the instrumental pieces are several important works for cello, Schattenspiele and Eine Stele für Bernd Alois Zimmermann (premiered at the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik and Darmstädter Ferienkurse respectively) and Sensible Variationen (Sensitive Variations), a trio on a theme by Schubert. One of Medek’s most frequently performed pieces, Gebrochene Flügel is a virtuoso work for organ using half-drawn registrations. In the early years of his career, Medek was firmly rooted within a generation of avant garde composers. However, as his music matured and took on a neo-tonal quality, such categorisations become more difficult. Above all, clarity of structure and a thorough understanding of the instruments for which he was writing characterise Medek’s music. An artist who was no stranger to state intervention, his music neither makes overt political statements, nor shies away from his own intentions. More information about Tilo Medek and a list of his complete works can be found at
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