Hans Otte: Buch der Klänge

Herbert Henck

Herbert Henck’s campaign for recognition for undervalued 20th century composers continues with this salute to the German composer Hans Otte. Henck here celebrates Otte’s "Book of Sounds" as "one of the most remarkable creations in contemporary piano music, a work which has lost none of its beauty, innocence and power in the 20 years since it was written". Essentially contemplative, it "lets sounds be sounds" as John Cage said, and gives them room to breathe. Withdrawal, transparency and austerity are the hallmarks of this music.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 1997, Festeburgkirche Frankfurt

Original Release Date


  • Das Buch der Klänge
    (Hans Otte)
  • 1I10:34
  • 2II09:40
  • 3III06:19
  • 4IV04:34
  • 5V05:30
  • 6VI03:42
  • 7VII11:25
  • 8VIII05:15
  • 9IX03:09
  • 10X09:56
  • 11XI02:37
  • 12XII04:52
Following on from his much praised New Series recordings of Mompou, Mosolov and Barraqué, each of which has led to critical reevaluations of the music in question, the fourth of Herbert Henck's New Series recordings once again focuses on an undervalued composer - in this instance, Hans Otte (born in Saxony in 1926).

Herbert Henck: "This recording presents a work that is in its way one of the most remarkable creations in contemporary piano music and which has, I believe, lost none of its beauty, innocence and power in the 20 years since it was written."

Hans Otte studied composition with Paul Hindemith and piano with Bronislav von Pozniak and Walter Gieseking and conducting with Hermann Abendroth. In the early 1950s his compositional style was often compared to Hindemith's, but he subsequently worked through serial and aleatory procedures - in the latter respect John Cage was an important influence. As head of the music section at Radio Bremen from 1959 to 1984 he was responsible for some unorthodox programming and also initiated the Pro Musica Nova and Pro Musica Antiqua festivals.

Otte began work on the Buch der Klänge in 1979 after several days of presentation of his work at the Baden-Baden Festival of Music and Radio Art. Henck: "The event had provided a first survey of Otte's wide range of artistic aspirations and approaches. Otte's work in the field of fine art and poetry, his sound installations, environments and works for theatre, film and radio were considered alongside his musical compositions."

After all the preparation and effort that this retrospective required, Otte felt the need to wipe the slate clean, as it were, and to write new music of irreducible simplicity for his first instrument, the piano. The highly concentrated music that resulted was three years in the making. Otte toured with the work, as composer-pianist, through many countries and met with a very positive response.

Tom Johnson, American composer and Village Voice correspondent reviewed the première of the Buch in Metz, France: "Playing largely from memory, the composer was always serene, consistent, assured. It seemed as though he had been playing these pieces for years...The music too seemed serene, sure of itself, sure of what it was saying. I had the feeling in all the details, in the slight contrasts in dynamics, in the little shifts of harmony, in the placement of contrasting elements, that the composer had tried many alternatives before making final choices." Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath (an important influence on the musical thought of "minimalist" progenitors La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Jon Hassell) hailed the Book of Sounds' essential qualities and likened the work to a prayer. When the music was first broadcast, listeners wrote to attest to its "healing" qualities.

Herbert Henck: "Otte always invoked John Cage as a model in his later years. From the mid-40s Cage was insisting that sounds should be liberated from their traditional attachments, from will and taste, that there should be no expectations made of them and that they should be allowed to be themselves. These requirements were addressed not just to sounds that were traditionally used by and at the disposal of music, but also to everyday sounds... If sounds were given space, if they were given room to breathe and allowed to resound, if they were accepted like other manifestations of nature, then they could begin to reflect the world...and a listener might recognize himself and life in them."

From the prologue to the Buch der Klänge: "This Book of Sounds rediscovers the listener as a partner of sound and silence...[It] rediscovers the piano as instrument and tuneful sound with all its possibilities of dynamics, colour and resonance...This Book of Sounds rediscovers a world of consonant experience which could only now be written from a new consciousness of sounds on this earth."