twentieth-century music

Articles

Trying To Speak: Between Politics and Aesthetics, Darmstadt 1970–1972

MARTIN IDDON

Abstract

In the historiography of the Darmstadt Ferienkurse, the 1970s, when they are examined at all, are generally regarded as a period of stagnation, between the fervour of serial activity in the 1950s and the resurgence of the courses in the 1980s under the banner of various inflections of New Complexity. Yet, in a period of political upheaval after 1968, dissent was felt at Darmstadt too, and protests in 1970 and 1972 saw the institution at its most politically volatile. These protest movements caused the courses’ director, Ernst Thomas, to institute wide-scale changes in their structure and content. Key roles in these protests were taken by journalists: indeed, clear parallels can be drawn between the seemingly egalitarian calls from journalists for Mitbestimmung (co-determination) at Darmstadt and the similar demands being made by their trade unions in the West German federation. Thomas’s failure to deal with journalistic pressure and his heavy-handed treatment of individual protesters (notably Reinhard Oehlschlägel) meant that, shrewd and durable though his reinvention of the courses was, it would be only in 1982, with the accession of a new director, that the press would begin to speak positively about the Darmstadt courses once more. A close reading of these two protests shows the sometime ‘citadel of the avant-garde’ at a distinctly precarious moment in its history. At the time, some felt that such protests could lead to the demise of the courses, and it was far from clear whether Thomas’s reforms would be successful. But, even within this period of uncertainty, the Darmstadt Ferienkurse were anything but stagnant.