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2018/11/26

Work of the Week – Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Des Menschen Unterhaltsprozess gegen Gott

To celebrate Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s centenary year, the Volksbühne Berlin will present his radio oratorio Des Menschen Unterhaltsprozess gegen Gott (The People’s Maintenance Payments case against God) staged for the first time on 26 November in a production by Christian Filips. A number of ensembles from Berlin will come together for the performance to form an immense cast, with Kai-Uwe Jirka conducting.

Living amongst the devastation of World War II in Cologne, Zimmermann composed Des Menschen Unterhaltsprozess gegen Gott based on Hubert Rüttger’s German translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play Los Alimentos del hombre. The oratorio was first broadcast in 1952 in collaboration with the Cologne Westdeutscher Rundfunk, but was subsequently largely forgotten. The work features elements of melodrama, opera and early electronic music, while also drawing upon the music of Germany’s post-war occupiers, such as the jazz of the Americans, the French timbre of Debussy, and musical quotations from the Ballet Russes.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann – Des Menschen Unterhaltsprozess gegen Gott: a radio oratorio

Des Menschen begins with Adam violating God’s command, resulting in his banishment from the Garden of Eden to live on earth working as a farmer. Adam quickly grows tired of his new life, so when he one day meets the Devil, he readily accepts the Devil’s advice to sue God for maintenance, beginning a great metaphysical trial.

“The peculiarity and significance of this dedication to the glorification of the Holy Eucharist, with such intimate combinations of words and music, lends itself perfectly to the form of radio oratorio … I am looking forward to this great and beautiful task, above all because it could rescue an almost completely unknown work by Calderón from undeserved oblivion.” – Bernd Alois Zimmermann

Further performances commemorating Zimmermann’s centenary year include Dialogues, Symphony in One Movement and Monologues by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich on 14 December, and the WDR Symphony Orchestra will present a selection of Zimmermann’s works at the Kölner Philharmonie on 14 & 15 December, including his Violin Concerto.