Die Soldaten

Bernd Alois Zimmermann 
Die Soldaten
Concert on 18 January 2024
Cologne, Germany

For years it was my wish to experience Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten (The Soldiers). Performances of this highly complex and provocative work, both musically and thematically, are rare. The concert performance on 18 January 2024 of Zimmermann's Die Soldaten by the Gürzenich Orchester, Cologne, Germany, under the direction of Francois-Xavier Roth, in collaboration with director Calixto Bieito, was a unique chance that undoubtedly left a lasting impression on me.

This performance of Die Soldaten fully embraced its multifaceted character of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's composition, renowned for its innovative use of sound, juxtaposition of styles, and exploration of existential themes, demands a high level of technical proficiency and interpretative insight from both the orchestra and the conductor. Additional wind ensembles, placed high up in the hall in the four cardinal directions, contributed to the spherical sound experience (“Kugel Klang”). Zimmermann spoke of the “Kugelgestalt der Zeit” (Spherical shape of time). In the 1920s, Andor Weininger, a student of Oskar Schlemmer's stage workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau, conceived of a spherical theatre in sketches. Walter Gropius and Erwin Piscator took up and appropriated this idea. 

Under the baton of Francois-Xavier Roth, the Gürzenich Orchester demonstrated remarkable precision and commitment, navigating Zimmermann's intricate score with apparent ease while effectively conveying the emotional depth and intensity of the music. Roth's interpretation seemed to capture the essence of Zimmermann's vision, balancing moments of frenetic energy with moments of haunting lyricism and drawing out the work's underlying sense of disquiet and unease.

Calixto Bieito's staging added an additional layer of complexity to the performance, transforming the concert hall into a space that was at once intimate and immersive. Bieito, who always works with videos in his productions, deliberately did without them in Die Soldaten. With this complex music and parallel events, video projections would have unnecessarily distracted from the wonderfully complex music and parallel events of the plot. 

Die Soldaten, first performed in Cologne in 1965, conducted by Francois-Xavier Roth, was a thought-provoking and immersive experience that succeeded in bringing Zimmermann's challenging masterpiece to life in a compelling performance concertante. Further performances in the same formation were conducted in January in Elbphilhamonie Hamburg and Philharmonie de Paris. 

Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918 – 1970) was a German composer. 

© C. Raman Schlemmer 

Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf

Photo: C. Raman Schlemmer 

Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf

© Holger Talinski / Die Soldaten

Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Theodora Vischer with Annabelle Selldorf Details