Alfred Zimmerlin: Euridice

Carmina Quartett, Aequatuor, Aria Quartett

Alfred Zimmerlin (born 1955) who won an early international reputation as an improvising cellist, has long been known in his native Switzerland as a prolific composer of strong sonic imagination, assured technique and resoureceful talent. His catalogue of more than 70 compositions includes solo pieces, music with live electronics alongside works for radio and film. The ECM debut album introduces him with three attractive works for small forces, all of them in performances both energetic and sensitive. “Euridice singt”, a 35-minute “Szene” for soprano, oboe, cello, piano and tape is based on a libretto by Swiss poet, rapper and free improviser Raphael Urweider. Not Orpheus himself is the central character in this intelligent rendering of the much-used operatic subject matter from Greek mythology but Euridice, whose death is disclosed here as the very catalyst for Orpheus’ artistic awakening. A most diverse array of musical elements makes for an unsettling listening. The interest in a formally elastic integration of heterogenous materials lies at the heart of Zimmerlin’s esthetic in which the concept of the “column of time” plays a central role – the awareness that many layers of the historical past are communicating with each other while providing the fundamentals for a genuinely “contemporary” music. In Zimmerlin’s strangely sensuous compositions there is space for expressive cantabile, the sound of prepared instruments, noises of musique concrète and even rap.

Featured Artists Recorded

August 2006 & October 2007

Original Release Date


  • 12. Streichquartett "mit kleinen Wellen an jedem Blattrand (wie eines Windes Lächeln)" (2003)
    (Alfred Zimmerlin)
  • Euridice singt
    (Raphael Urweider, Alfred Zimmerlin)
  • 21. Orpheus, Euridice06:06
  • 32. Chor00:31
  • 43. Euridice03:26
  • 54. Chor, Orpheus03:37
  • 65. Orpheus, Euridice, Chor03:37
  • 76. Intermezzo (Euridice, Orpheus) - 7. Euridice11:24
  • 88. Chor00:20
  • 99. Euridice, Orpheus06:16
  • 101. Streichquartett (2001/02)
    (Alfred Zimmerlin)
Die absolute Gattung Quartett lädt Zimmerlin hier mit spannend verbundenen Episoden auf, die das Theatralische streifen. Etwa, wenn eine Pizzicato-Stelle in ein spätromantisch wirkendes Motiv übergeht, ins Singen, und der Komponist solche Schwelgerei mit einem „übertriebenen“ Vibrato ironisch bricht. Das Carmina Quartett vollführt den Parcours … mit viel Klangsensibilität und einer uns direkt ansprechenden Deutlichkeit.
Benjamin Herzog, Musik & Theater
Gelegenheit, den Tonfall des Komponisten kennenzulernen, bietet eine neue CD… Zwischen den Streichquartetten Nr. 1 und 2 steht „Euridice singt“, die 2005 bei Lucerne Festival uraufgeführte Kammeroper. Der sensible … Text von Raphael Urweider lenkt den Blick weg von Orpheus auf Eurydike, und Zimmerlin nimmt den Ansatz feinfühlig auf. … Sorgsam greifen die Kantilenen Eurydikes aus, ganz leise beteiligen sich die Instrumente – bis die geräuschhafte Außenwelt wieder eindringt. Packend die Interpretation durch das Ensemble Aequator, insbesondere Matthias Arter und Sylvia Nopper.
Peter Hagmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung
Die gut 30minütige Minioper besticht durch vielgestaltige Klanggebung mit Gesang, Instrumentalmusik, Elektronik und Klängen. Zimmerlin hat sich sehr genau in die einzelnen Szenen hineingehört und ihnen zum Ausdruck verholfen.
Eva Bachmann, St. Galler Tagblatt
Um „Euridice singt“, eine lyrische Kantate nach dem Text von Raphael Urweider, gruppieren sich die klangsinnlichen Streichquartette 1 und 2. Hervorragend auch die Ensembles, die mitwirken… Erstklassiges aus der Schweiz in jeder Beziehung!
Roland Wächter, Radiomagazin
“Alfred Zimmerlin is interested in the heterogeneity of musical phenomena, in temporal layers within the present, in ‘cultural memory’. His music is the result of an ongoing confrontation with musics from a very wide range of times, places and realms.” This is how the Swiss composer Alfred Zimmerlin, in a self-portrait, outlines his personal aesthetic. Born in Zurich in 1955, early in his career he became well-known far beyond the borders of Switzerland for his improvisations on the cello and guitar. More recently he has earned a reputation as a voluminous and deeply reflective composer. His more than 70 works reveal a subtle sense of timbre, profound craftsmanship and great aesthetic open-mindedness. This CD, with three major new pieces of chamber music, is the first to present his art to an international audience.

Some time around 2000 Manfred Eicher heard a broadcast of Zimmerlin's Concerto for Piano and Strings on Swiss Radio. He was immediately struck by it and decided to issue a chamber music album played by three Swiss ensembles, each of which had commissioned a work from Zimmerlin and rehearsed it with him. For a while Zimmerlin had avoided the string quartet genre altogether: as a trained musician and performing cellist he was keenly aware of the danger of falling back onto familiar sounds and performance techniques - and thereby shackling his creative imagination. But having made a start in 2001-2, two further quartets followed in relatively quick succession.

Yet the heart of this album is not the Third String Quartet but the extended scena Euridice singt (“Eurydice sings”), premièred at the Lucerne Festival in 2005. The commission came from Ensemble Æquatuor, with its distinctive combination of soprano, oboe, cello and piano, and it left the subject-matter completely open, offering leeway for a wide range of solutions. At the onset of the new millennium Zimmerlin began to take a stronger interest in theatrical and narrative art. Before deciding on a subject he explored the role models in a piece of instrumental theatre, drawing on the personalities of the four musicians.

A year-long visit to Cairo at the invitation of Pro Helvetia brought him into contact with the Swiss writer Raphael Urweider (b. 1974), a leading lyric poet of the younger generation and also an active jazz musician and rap artist. Their collaboration ultimately gave rise to the idea of a piece on the Orpheus legend, this time viewed from a fresh “emancipated” perspective. It is not Orpheus that sings but his bride Eurydice, and rather than staying mutely behind in Hades she becomes an eloquent catalyst for her husband's artistic evolution, while Orpheus, basking in artistic amour propre, is feted by rapping groupies.

One of the main features of Zimmerlin's music is the way it integrates sometimes extremely heterogeneous resources in flexible forms: “The ear rises above systems and constructs”, he recently explained in an interview. “I never use only one system for a piece. Instead I take many tools in hand, 30 or 40 of them, sometimes using a different one for each layer. The confluence of the heterogeneous can't be constructed; you have to spread your net and keep the music inside it.” Zimmerlin is interested in heterogeneity not only because of his own complex musical background - his experience in free jazz and the entire European improvisational scene no less than the inspiration he received from Helmut Lachenmann and Brian Ferneyhough at Darmstadt. Even more crucial is his special awareness of the past: “We live at the top of a time column. Many lives have been here before me, and thanks to them I am where I am. Composing with this thought in mind is important to me - to sense lives that were already here.”