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Work of the Week – Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne (Ecclesiastical Action)


To mark the centenary of Bernd Alois Zimmermann who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year, the music festival “ACHT BRÜCKEN – Musik für Köln”, based in the composer’s home town of Cologne, will dedicate this year’s festival to his legacy.

On 10 May, the festival will feature Zimmermann’s final work Ecclesiastical Action (1970), subtitled “Ich wandte mich und sah an alles Unrecht, das geschah unter der Sonne” (I turned and saw all the injustice under the sun). The work will be performed by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the choir of the Bach-Verein Köln, conductor Michael Wendeberg, baritone Georg Nigl and Franz Mazura and Jakob Diehl as the two speakers.

Zimmermann worked on Ecclesiastical Action for many years before its completion, and its beginnings can be clearly identified in sketches for his earlier works Requiem for a Young Poet (1969) and Omnia tempus habent (1957). The work was commissioned by conductor Hans Zender to celebrate the 1972 Olympic Sailing competitions in Kiel, and was premiered by the Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra on 2 September 1972. Zimmermann had completed the composition two years earlier on 5 August 1970, only five days before his suicide.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann – Ecclesiastical Action: It is enough

Zimmermann intended Ecclesiastical Action to express his anguish at the eternal suffering of mankind and the abuse of power on the part of the Catholic Church, and the narrative of the work uses verses from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and excerpts from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”. Zimmermann’s pluralistic style is clearly displayed by the combination and confrontation of musical and narrative elements, and is accentuated by his detailed performance instructions in the score requiring the speakers, soloist, and conductor to stamp their feet and perform star-jumps. At the very end of the work, Zimmermann quotes the Bach chorale Es ist genug (It is enough), connecting his last work with his first success, the Violin Concerto from 1950, which ends with the same passage.

“It is enough: Lord, if it pleases You, then release me”
– JS Bach BMV 60 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort

Further performances commemorating Zimmermann this year include Tratto II on 11 May performed at the Musikhochschule Lübeck, Metamorphose on 13 May at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Oper Köln will stage a production of Zimmermann’s tour-de-force opera Die Soldaten on 11, 13, 17, 19 and 20 May, and The Seattle Philharmonic will perform Ecclesiastical Action on 2 June.