Max E. Keller

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Max Eugen Keller (born March 19, 1947 in Aarau ) is a Swiss composer , jazz pianist and improvising musician . He was one of the first free jazz musicians in Switzerland. His oeuvre includes more than 180 works from different fields, including electronic music. From 1985 to 1993 he was President of the Theater am Gleis . In Winterthur he also established the concert series musica aperta . He was also President of the Swiss Society for New Music (SGNM) from 2007 to 2010 . For his services to contemporary music he was a. a. 2006 awarded the culture prize of the city of Winterthur .


Max Eugen Keller comes from an old industrial family in Aarau. He was born in 1947 as the son of a print shop owner. His ancestors included the liberal politicians Gottfried and Emil Keller . His mother sang in the Cecilia Society and gave him a musical foundation. Keller received recorder and piano lessons in his youth and attended the old canton school in Aarau from 1964 until his Matura in 1967 , where a number of later musicians were taught at that time.

Contrary to the traditional music business, he was one of the first free jazz musicians ( pianist and tenor saxophonist ) in Switzerland from 1966 to 1973 . In 1967 he made his debut as a trio at the International Amateur Jazz Festival Zurich . On tour he was u. a. with Don Cherry . During this time he also played in various improvisation ensembles , such as the group for music founded in 1969 - with musicians from free improvisation and free jazz - and the German-Swiss trio NED founded in 1970 . The latter cast included the musicians Gerhard Stäbler (voice) and Wilhelm Schulz (cello). Keller then appeared at concerts and on radio in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

From 1967 to 1974 Keller studied musicology (with Hans Oesch ), German literature and history at the University of Basel . During his studies he was briefly assistant to Wulf Arlt , the director of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis , and student representative in the rainy of the university. He completed his studies as a high school teacher for German and music. At the same time, he completed his composition studies with Hans Ulrich Lehmann at the Music Academy of the City of Basel from 1969 .

In 1970 he attended the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt for the first time . There he, at that time still a student, was elected as a deputy to the committee for vacation courses. His appearance in 1972 (participation as a scholarship holder of the city of Darmstadt) was controversial when he was briefly excluded from the courses after political statements in the Basler National-Zeitung . Together with Rudolf Frisius , Reinhard Oehlschlägel , Nicolaus A. Huber , who later became his teacher, and Ernstalbrecht Stiebler , he called for more democracy and internationalization to the management of the Darmstadt summer courses around Ernst Thomas . In the following year he received composition lessons from Helmut Lachenmann . From 1975 to 1976 he then studied electronic music with Nicolaus A. Huber and Dirk Reith at the Folkwang University in Essen . He also composed his first pieces. From 1976 to 1977 he was a scholarship holder of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation of Südwestrundfunk (SWR) with Thomas Kessler and Thomas Johnson at the Electronic Studio Basel . It was there that he wrote his first electroacoustic work, Safely Be ... (1976) for speaker and tape. He then worked on scenic and political music, for example on the cantata Fontamara (1984–86) based on the novel of the same name by Ignazio Silone , which was performed in several European countries, including by radio stations.

From 1977 to 1998 he taught German and cultural subjects at the Technikum Winterthur engineering school . In addition, since 1980 he has been working as an improvising musician with a focus on piano and electronic musical instruments . Concert tours have taken him to South America, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. He had musical encounters a. a. with Dani Schaffner , Christoph Gallio , Peter A. Schmid and Mathias Rissi in the improvisation ensemble Tangramusic (since 1988), with Hannes Bauer and Dietrich Petzold in the Trio Ampio (since 2003) and with Kurt Grämiger , Daniel Mouthon , Thomas Borgmann , Hans Koch , Urs Leimgruber , Günter Müller , Hans Hassler , Charlotte Hug , Matthias Ziegler , Christian Wolfarth , Günter Heinz and Barry Guy in various chamber music ensembles.

Until 2014 he organized new music (“ musica aperta ”, since 1999) and jazz concerts (“JazzAmMittwoch”) in the Theater am Gleis in Winterthur. From 1985 to 1993 he was president of this cabaret theater, after which he remained on the board until 2005. In 1985 he was one of the co-organizers of the days for political music in the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich with the cultural workers Christoph Keller , Mathias Knauer and Jürg Stenzl . The event was crowned by the staged performance of Schenker's Missa nigra by the East German group Neue Musik Hanns Eisler . Keller then represented the Swiss Tonkünstlerverein at the Berlin Music Biennale (GDR). From 1989 to 1991 he was a board member of the IGNM Zurich. As the successor to Jean-Luc Darbellay, he was President of the Swiss Society for New Music (SGNM) from 2007 to 2010 . Since 2014 he has been secretary of the SGNM, which is now managed by Javier Hagen . In addition, Keller regularly participates in public discussions on Swiss cultural and educational policy with articles in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung as well as in the Landbote and Tages-Anzeiger .

Since the 1970s he has composed around 180 pieces, including electronic music. His works have been performed in Europe, Australia, South Africa, North and South America, Russia, Korea, China, Mongolia and Azerbaijan. The interpreters included u. a. the orchestra Musikkollegium Winterthur , the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich , the Neue Musik Hanns Eisler group and the Sortisatio ensemble . The World Music Days of the International Society for New Music (IGNM / ISCM) in Zurich (1991) and Mexico City (1993), the New Music Miami ISCM Festival (2002) and the Berlin and Paris Biennials included him in their program. A composer portrait of him was held in Montevideo in 1995. With a grant from the Canton of Aargau (1999), he stayed from January to March 2000 in a Berlin studio at Hackesche Höfe . A total of two Grammont portrait CDs of Musiques Suisses were made by Keller, including the recording of his orchestral music Mondlandschaft (1999) with the Tonhalle Orchestra under the direction of the American conductor David Zinman .

Keller lives with his family in Winterthur.

Audio language

Max E. Keller belongs to the so-called '68 generation , which is also expressed in his tonal language. Keller grew up with improvisation music and defined it in 1973 as: «Improvisation [...] tends to abolish the division of labor between composer and performer, which always implies a relationship of domination. An interpreter no longer has to act out what a composer tells him to do, but the improviser is at the same time the creator and player of the sound. Within a collective, the individual player tries to realize himself musically, to develop freely in the dialectical relationship with his fellow players. " The Tübingen musicologist Otto Paul Burkhardt therefore sees his works with "a certain distance from common spellings". Some of Keller's compositions are deliberately not fully composed and have free jazz elements. In his rhythmic works Grundgesetz I for four speakers and symphony orchestra (1977) and tenuto, battuto, fulminante for symphony orchestra (2001), echoes of jazz can be found.

Max E. Keller at the piano with Dani Schaffner, Hans Suter and Stefan Wyler (2000)

Through the study of new music under Helmut Lachenmann in the 1970s, Keller found access to so-called «serious music». Influenced by his German composition teacher, he developed a sympathy for "noise music" ( musique concrète ). He later composed several electroacoustic pieces using tapes and synthesizers . He tries to express his left-wing socio-critical concern through the combination of music and text ( Fried , Weibel , Geerk ). In doing so, he refers stylistically to Hanns Eisler , who also pursued expressionist approaches. Keller allowed both serial and free approaches to flow into his works . He used design techniques from the Schönberg School , such as dodecaphony . A special turn to music theater can be observed at Keller . His more extensive scenic works include u. a. the miniature opera Egon - from the life of a bank clerk (1981), the cantata Fontamara (1984–1986) and the chamber opera Die Axt (2004–2006). Through his scenic-theatrical contributions such as Achuapa / Nicaragua (1986), Swissfiction (1990) and Configurations III (1991), he binds the listener to his works despite the complexity. Since the 1990s he has been composing mostly without text for instrumental ensembles. According to the Zurich composer Alfred Zimmerlin , Keller is currently trying to “look for new, unfamiliar sound arrangements in terms of chamber music”.


Max E. Keller has received several awards and grants. He received his first prize in 197? for being safe ... at the Concours international de musique electroacoustique in Bourges (France). This was followed in 1995 by a sponsorship award from the Swiss Bank Corporation in Zurich for crossing paths , which he shared with Werner Bärtschi , Ulrich Gasser , Martin Sigrist and Peter Wettstein . In 1997 he was awarded the Carl Heinrich Ernst Art Prize, endowed with 10,000 francs, for his services to contemporary music in Winterthur . In 2001 he received a grant from the Aargau Board of Trustees for tenuto, battuto, fulminante . This was followed by a contribution to the artistic work of the Aargauer Kuratorium (2003). In 2006 he received the City of Winterthur's Culture Prize for his “great musical oeuvre that attracts international attention” . Another contribution to the artistic work of the Aargau Board of Trustees was awarded to him in 2008. Most recently, Keller was awarded a second prize in the composition competition of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (for: wanawizzi ) in 2012.

Catalog raisonné


  • Procuste Deux Étoiles / Windows / repetitions I – V (plans 1988) with Martin Derungs // repetitions I – V
  • Chamber music ( Col Legno 1990) with David Riniker , Burkhard Glaetzner , Gerhard Erber , Béatrice Mathez Wüthrich, the ensemble for new music Zurich under Dominik Blum and the Basel Radio Symphony Orchestra under Bernhard Wulff // Dornenbahn, peace song of an oboist, condition I-VII , Achuapa / Nicaragua, configurations II
  • Klingen im Gegenwind [Chamber music 1986–1993] (Jecklin 1995) with Teodoro Anzellotti, Christoph Jäggin, Martina Bovet, Heinrich Mätzeer, Christine Theus, the Ensemble Opera Nova, Christoph Brunner, the Ensemble Aventure and Johannes Nied // Enduring and moving, memories IV, chants IV, neon form, blown to pieces
  • Crossing paths - Zurich composers' office (Grammont MGB 1997) with the Sinfonietta Wetzikon under Howard Griffiths // Pentalog
  • ex machina (Cybele 2001) with Hans Suter // Sie
  • Rotondo or “the art of joining” (STV / ASM 2002) with the Aventure ensemble under Christian Hommel // Rotondo
  • Max E. Keller (Grammont MGB 2003) with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich under David Zinman , Johannes Nied, Victoria Ifrim, the Gruppo Musica Insieme di Cremona, Susanne Stelzenbach , Ralf Hoyer , Eiko Morikawa, Sarah Hornsby, Daniel Göritz and the Silesian String Quartet // lunar landscape, dialog fields, progressions, string trio, acting and reacting, deformations, string quartet No. 2
  • Festival l'art pour l'Aar - Concert November 2003 ( M&S 2006) with the Leipzig percussion ensemble // insieme, a coppie, indipendente
  • accent - figure - layer (Dreamscape 2010) with Christoph Erb , Dani Schaffner, Max E. Keller, Egidius Streiff, Muriel Schweizer and Dominique Girod // accent, unione e tremolo, layer, figure, accent and layer, all three, nononono, from three to one
  • Marcela Pavia - Max E. Keller (NEOS 2011) with Werner Bärtschi , the Quadriga Bassoon Ensemble and the Trio Flair // Self-Discussions, Cinque, Trio Fluido
  • Grammont Sélection 5 (Grammont MGB 2012) with Katja Guedes and Matthias Bauer // The Sisters
  • Four Political Compositions for Tape (Tochnit Aleph 2015) // Be Safe…, Hymns, You, Basic Laws I
  • Grammont Sélection 8 (Grammont MGB 2015) with the trio Aventure // grow and wilt
  • wider-wege (streiffzug 2017) with the mdi ensemble under Robert HP Platz , Werner Bärtschi, the LEX VOIX choir under Nicolas Farine , the Aventure trio, the UMS 'n JIP ensemble , Jürg Henneberger, Tomasz Herbut, the Zurich Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Schweizer, Satoko Inoue , Laura Pohl, the Ensemble Horizonte under Jörg-Peter Mittmann , the Ensemble ECLAT under Jinsoo Kim, Egidius Streiff, Sabina Matthus-Bébié, Peter Zimpel, Susanne Böke-Kern and the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester NOS Hilversum under Francis Travis // Keim - con sorpresa, triad, farewell, grow and wither, mobile, the whole of life, Mi ricordo, mother nature, 5th string quartet, peace, Sette forme di muoversi, fog, television (seh) - pity, basic laws I.
  • Max E. Keller / Sheldon Suter / Marco von Oreilli: Blow, Strike and Touch ( hatOLOGY 2017)
  • Klee impressions, music and «polyphonic» pictures (M&S 2018) with the Sortisatio // ensemble like cabbage and beet

Publications (selection)

  • Heard and composed structure in Stockhausen's “Kreuzspiel”. In: Melos 39 (1972) 1, pp. 10-18.
  • The Darmstadt delegation from 1970 draws the conclusion. In: Melos 39 (1972) 6, pp. 360-361. (in cooperation with Rudolf Frisius, Reinhard Oehlschlägel, Nicolaus A. Huber and Ernstalbrecht Stiebler )
  • Improvisation and engagement. In: Melos 40 (1973) 4, pp. 198-203.
  • The resistance is dead! Long live the resistances! In: Dissonanz 105 (2009), p. 23.


Radio broadcast:

Web links

Commons : Max E. Keller  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Sibylle Ehrismann: Max E. Keller: Music as a political protest. In: Aarauer Neujahrsblätter 80 (2006), pp. 46–59, here: p. 46.
  2. Rolf Urs Ringger: Von der Enge in Switzerland , a conversation with Max E. Keller, p. 27.
  3. ^ A b Sibylle Ehrismann: Max E. Keller: Music as a political protest. In: Aarauer Neujahrsblätter 80 (2006), pp. 46–59, here: p. 51.
  4. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n KDG 1996.
  5. a b c Christina Omlin: From quotation to alloy - the slow merging of jazz and art music in the Alpine country. In: Bruno Spoerri (ed.): Jazz in Switzerland: history and stories . Chronos, Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-0340-0739-6 , pp. 373–393, here: p. 383.
  6. a b c MGG 2003, Col. 1627.
  7. Max E. Keller: Improvisation and Engagement. In: Melos 40 (1973) 4, p. 198.
  8. a b biography ( memento of the original from October 15, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Musinfo website. Retrieved January 13, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. ^ Sibylle Ehrismann: Max E. Keller: Music as a political protest. In: Aarauer Neujahrsblätter 80 (2006), pp. 46–59, here: p. 48.
  10. Max E. Keller in the archive of the International Music Institute Darmstadt , URL: accessed on February 10, 2018.
  11. Klaus Trapp: Darmstadt and the 1968 movement. In: Rudolf Stephan et al. (Ed.): From Kranichstein to the Present: 50 Years of Darmstadt Summer Courses; 1946-1996 . DACO-Verlag, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-87135-028-1 , pp. 369-375, here: p. 370.
  12. Anna Schürmer: Klingende Eklats: Scandal and New Music (= History . Volume 118). transcript, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8376-3983-4 , p. 254.
  13. ^ Albrecht Dümling : Against the affirmative function of music. Two new anthologies on cultural change after 1968 . In: nmz 57 (2008) 7.
  14. ^ Wolf-Eberhard von Lewinski : Darmstadt defends itself. In: Melos 39 (1972) 6, pp. 359f .; see. Rudolf Frisius et al .: The Darstadt delegation from 1970 draws the conclusion. In: Melos 39 (1972) 6, p. 360f.
  15. ^ A b Sibylle Ehrismann: Max E. Keller: Music as a political protest. In: Aarauer Neujahrsblätter 80 (2006), pp. 46–59, here: p. 59.
  16. a b c d Hans Steinbeck, Walter Labhart (ed.): Swiss composers of our time , p. 219.
  17. Trio Ampio ( Memento of the original from September 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Musinfo website. Retrieved January 14, 2013. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  18. concert. Ten years of openness. Ten years ago… . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. June 13, 2009, p. 52.
  19. a b Theater am Gleis (TaG) in the Winterthur glossary.
  20. Reinhard Oehlschlegel : Political Music. To a Zurich event. In: MusikTexte 13 (1986), p. 62.
  21. Stefan Amzoll: The anarchy and sharpness of jazz: The left composer Max E. Keller for the 70th In: Neues Deutschland online. 18th March 2017.
  22. New President for SGNM ,, February 6, 2014, accessed on February 17, 2018.
  23. Max Eugen Keller ,, accessed on February 13, 2018.
  24. ^ Keller, Max E. Living Composers Project. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  25. Kürschner's Musicians Handbook 2006.
  26. Max E. Keller distinguished. In: Tagesanzeiger. June 23, 1998, p. 20; see. Excerpt from Max E. Keller's studio report in: Murielle Schlup, Hans Joerg Zumsteg: “We were filled with jam”. Reports about the studio stays, Aarau 2005, no p.
  27. ^ A b Alfred Zimmerlin : Fulminant, understandable. A world premiere by Max E. Keller with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. October 13, 2003, p. 24.
  28. Beate Kutschke: New Left, New Music. Cultural theories and artistic avant-garde in the 1960s and 70s . Böhlau, Cologne [a. a.] 2007, ISBN 978-3-412-17906-9 , pp. 41-42.
  29. ^ Otto Paul Burkhardt : Marcela Pavia - Max E. Keller. In: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 06/2012, p. 90.
  30. Hanns-Werner Heister : accent - figure - layer. In: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 06/2011, p. 88.
  31. Barbara Eckle: Between improvised and composed music . DLF, January 8, 2012.
  32. Composed and improvised . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. May 13, 2011, p. 50.
  33. ^ Albrecht Dümling: Music iced. The Ensemble Junge Musik Berlin at comPositionen in Podewil. In: Der Tagesspiegel , December 9, 1997, 26.
  34. ^ Carl Dahlhaus (Ed.): The Vienna School Today. 9 posts . Schott, Mainz [a. a.] 1983, ISBN 3-7957-1764-7 , p. 151.
  35. Winterthur artists receive an award. In: Neue Zuercher Zeitung. January 28, 1995, p. 58.
  36. Notes. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. September 15, 1997, p. 36.
  37. Thomas Ribi: Prize of the Carl Heinrich Ernst Art Foundation to Max E. Keller. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. October 14, 1997, p. 54.
  38. Max E. Keller . Different music. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  39. ↑ Laying the basis for cultural deeds. In: Aargauer Zeitung , May 26, 2003, p. 9.
  40. Culture Prize 2006 to Max E. Keller. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung. November 3, 2006, p. 52.
  41. Aargau supports music and art with 150,000 francs. In: Badische Zeitung, May 30, 2008, p. 12.