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Heinrich Poos 1928–2020

Master of polyphonic choral music – an obituary

On 19 August 2020, the composer Heinrich Poos died at the age of 91. The composer, who lived in Rhineland-Palatinate and Berlin, stands in the great tradition of the polyphonic choral music of Heinrich Isaak, Heinrich Schütz and Ernst Pepping and is one of the most important German choral composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Poos was born on 25.12.1928 in the Protestant parsonage of Seibersbach (Soonwald). It was here that domestic and church music, together with his environment influenced by Protestantism, laid the foundation for his later thinking and work at an early age. After completing his amateur examination in church music in Oldenburg (1946), Poos studied at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule [Berlin School of Church Music] with Ernst Pepping, Gottfried Grote and Herbert Schulze (state examination in church music in 1954) and completed his musical education from 1955 to 1957 with Erich Peter and Boris Blacher at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. From 1955 to 1970 he worked as a choirmaster and organist in various Berlin communities. During that time, he also studied musicology, philosophy and theology at Freie Universität Berlin. In 1964 Poos received his doctoral degree with a thesis on the vocal œuvre of Ernst Pepping. After having worked as a lecturer of music theory at both Technische Universität Berlin and the Berlin Hochschule für Musik since 1965, he became professor of music theory at the Berlin Hochschule der Künste in 1971. After his retirement in 1994, he accepted a teaching position at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main. Poos was working as a musicologist and composer until his last breath.

Poos was always in “search of new music that rather wants to be music than new”. This search was “laborious”, he admitted in his essay “Beziehungszauber”. The fact that he underwent this effort again and again bore rich fruit in the form of an extensive œuvre, especially in the area of vocal music. His main œuvre has been published by Schott Music. It is characterized by masterful polyphony, bold sonority and an intellectual musical interpretation of the texts. In addition to Bertolt Brecht, whom he had met personally, his passion was for the writers of ancient Greece. With their subtle interpretation of texts, his choral works make major works of classical literature accessible to musicians and listeners of today. His important works include the choral cycles “Pax et Bonum” (1981), “Hypostasis” (Jakobs Traum, 1992), “Epistolae” (1999) “Zeichen am Weg” (1999), the Orpheus Fantasies (2001) and the Brecht cycle “Was hast du gesehen, Wanderer?“ (2006).

The compositional and scientific literary work of Poos has achieved great national and international recognition, including, among others, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1987), the Composition Award of the Union of European Choral Federations (1991), the Peter Cornelius Medal of the Rhineland-Palatinate (1999), and the Geschwister Mendelssohn Medal (2013). With him, we have lost a fascinating artist, who saw himself as a craftsman and a fighter for music and who emphasized in every publisher’s interview how much he enjoyed his profession. To the question “Mr. Poos, how are you?” he always replied: “I have work to do.

The Schott publishing house was privileged to accompany Poos for over six decades and is grateful for the creative, fruitful and always trusting cooperation. His works have found their place in the large and extremely rich repertoire of European choral music and will continue to resound – beyond this day.