Franui (c) Julia Stix
Franui (c) Julia Stix

The FRANUI MUSICBANDA will soon enter its 28th year and in the meantime is ennobled with performances in major opera houses and at renowned festivals. Its mastermind ANDREAS SCHETT has an unimaginable wealth of stories at hand that seem to provide endless material for new music. In conversation with Sylvia Wendrock, working on contemporary music finds its expression in a very causal understanding.

Our appointment suffered from a large commission from the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation for the new program “Wohin ich geh”, which was to have premiered on May 16 in Munich’s Prinzregententheater. How did this commission come about, what is the background to this collaboration?

Andreas Schett: Last year we had a project for which the province of Tyrol spent a lot of money: the 500th anniversary of the death of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I. At that time the Emperor had moved his headquarters to Innsbruck, so this city was for once in history a European centre, also for music. All the important musicians and composers of the time were at the court in Innsbruck. From that time too comes the song “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” by Heinrich Isaac. In any case, the province of Tyrol commissioned Manos Tsangaris and Daniel Ott to create something contemporary for the occasion, and we too were to compose a part for it. So we dealt with the music at the court of Emperor Maximilian and soon realized that a choir was absolutely necessary to reproduce this music in its original form which we could then paint over again. During our internet research we came across the name of Howard Arman, a specialist who was known to many of us from the episcopal boys’ seminary near Innsbruck. In the late 1980s, early 1990s, we did not go to the district capital Lienz to attend grammar school, but to an episcopal grammar school with a boarding school in North Tyrol, 200 kilometres away. The director of the boys’ choir there was a young Briton named Howard Arman, and now he is the artistic director of the Bavarian Radio Choir.

And why Mahler?

Andreas Schett: Along with Franz Schubert, Gustav Mahler is one of our patron saints. There is also this geographical proximity to Toblach. If you go up the mountain in Innervillgraten, where most of us come from, you look down on Toblach – the place where Gustav Mahler spent his last three summers. He was often called a “summer composer” because he was an acknowledged conductor in winter. So he retired to the so-called composer’s cottage in the summer: he had one at the Attersee, one at the Wörthersee, where his daughter died, and then, following the fashion, had one built in the forest in Toblach. The area was fashionable because at that time the southern railway line had been built which provided a railway connection through southern Austria to northern Italy. Along this line noble southern railway hotels were built everywhere, including one in Toblach. That is why the place suddenly became such an attraction for the Viennese “hautevolée”, but also for the entire European aristocracy. It was there in this composer’s cottage that Mahler wrote the 9th Symphony and the “Lied von der Erde”. This was therefore to become our source material for the collaboration with the BR Choir. For me it is a clear reference to our childhood, the mountains, Toblach. And the “Lied von der Erde” consists of six parts, the sixth part, “Der Abschied”, being just as long as the other five previous Lieder together, and there is this sentence that has always inspired me: “Where am I going? I am walking, I am hiking in the mountains. I am seeking peace and quiet for my lonely heart”.

It is, after all, no coincidence that first all eight, then ten musicians of the banda come from the same place with the same musical attitude – did you all go to this boarding school?

Andreas Schett: There are several connections. We all come from the same area, four of us have been to this boarding school, three of Franui are siblings (Angelika, Bettina and Markus Rainer), Angelika, the harpist, is my wife – so there is a family bond which is also very strong. It is the epicentre of the whole thing. But apart from that, it is also a mystery to us why it stays that way. It’s just that our common understanding has always carried us forward.


Have your compositional intentions been part of the motivation for the foundation in 1993?

Andreas Schett: In the beginning it was not at all clear who does what. Everybody wrote pieces, I had already specified the content of one or the other and had picked out texts to set to music. We took turns with the direction of rehearsals. But very quickly it became clear who could do what best. And so it all grew together, and I have been writing everything hand in hand with Markus Kraler for 25 years. That means to really be in a dialogue while writing. It’s after all enormously important to rummage through the respective material together. Many of my artistic creations are happening by way of dialogue and that is the most beautiful thing for me.

“Der Abschied” lasts just as long as the first five parts of the “Lied von der Erde”, death is being paid special attention, although or precisely because it is a taboo in our society. Franui often plays with that…

Andreas Schett: We are not consciously breaking a taboo. All our music takes place in two locations, namely on the dance floor and in the cemetery. And what sounds so funny is only deep truth. The filmmaker and author Alexander Kluge recently pointed out to me in a conversation that one should actually talk about the “banda principle”, because precisely that is striking: “Whenever things become really essential in life, the banda plays!” And it’s the same in Italian opera: when someone gets married, when someone dies, they play. Only, where is the banda at birth?” Banda music always happens in the most crucial of moments and this I always liked so much: This music is about existential things. And that’s exactly what we want to do: we want to touch people on an existential level.

There is a video by Alexander Kluge “Regen / Wetter des Lebens” to your music…

Andreas Schett: The idea was that we would create new montages with his film language, his incredible cinematic cosmos (he owns thousands of hours of film material) and our music. A triptych has already been created: “Regen”, actually a song by Alban Berg from his youth, clashes with Kluge’s worlds of images in a new arrangement of ours. This superimposition resp. the interplay of music and film, but also the encounter with Alexander Kluge are an incredible enrichment for us, and we would very much like to continue working on it. But at the moment everything lies still. We don’t know at all how things will continue in the next six months.

Is the collaboration with visual techniques resp. media a current development of your work?

Andreas Schett: This development is there, but the collaborations are more manifold. For fifteen years now, we have been making music theatre again and again, working with actors and actresses, with puppetry and mask theatre, with singers and writers. There was a wonderful evening with Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, the program was called “Lieder mit Worten”. We met at the great music and literature festival “Wege durch das Land” in Ostwestfalen-Lippe. As editor of the cultural magazine Quart, I had wanted to win over Hans-Magnus Enzensberger as an author for years, but I had never reached him, and the Vienna Konzerthaus had also wanted to book him for an evening for years; only the chance meeting in Detmold made collaborating possible. So our collaborations are rather coincidental. And we agree with Hanns Eisler: “If you only know something about music, you know nothing about that as well.”

Nevertheless, your music seems to grant a very special access to words, to language, as if your instruments were speaking.

Andreas Schett: We are in a field that no one is playing in anymore. The interplay of word and music was once very important, as you can see in music history. For instance in our core repertoire, the romantic Lied. That is no longer being dealt with today.

Are you romantics then, that you have chosen the romantic song as the essence of your work?

Andreas Schett: No, it’s more about the love we feel for this music. Schubert as the centre is enough to occupy oneself with it for a whole life. I needn’t even be a romantic for that. Nor am I a specialist for the romantic period. But something speaks to us from this music that still touches us today. For example, when I read a sentence by Joseph von Eichendorff that actually stands for the whole romantic period: “We long for home and don’t know where to go?” That is … great!


It’s more existential than romantic…

Andreas Schett: It has to do with life. And that gets us again and again. That’s why this is the music we are setting out from. In the meantime, we of course have played with set pieces or motifs by Bartók or Satie and many others, but we always come back to Schubert.

How do you actually come up with your program ideas – for example the idea of your latest CD “Ennui”, on which you confront divertimenti by Mozart with the phenomenon of boredom, among other things?

Andreas Schett: There are many different kinds of research, but even here there’s research without any intention. To remain with the example: Matthias Schulz, now director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, initially a young director of the Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg, asked us: Couldn’t you do something with Mozart for once? But Mozart’s music is difficult to reduce to our instruments. With our banda you can produce an incredible number of colors, which makes writing so much fun, but Mozart would just sound kind of rustic. So we thought of Mozart’s light music which he wrote for the alley beneath the window, as background music while playing cards. Most of the time these pieces are called divertimento which means something like: distraction, entertainment. In German-speaking countries there is still this anachronistic distinction between light music and serious music – for Mozart it would have been light music. Satie also wrote “Divertissements”. A German dance by Schubert or a Divertimento by Mozart for three basset horns is great, but how does a larger form come about? You need a dialogue partner for it and that partner became Satie, where the piece becomes a new game across times and borders. That’s how these references come up in our music. In the end, we connected all of this with the subject of boredom, because Søren Kierkegaard, by the way, a Mozart connoisseur and lover, claimed that boredom cannot be overcome by work, only entertainment can remedy boredom. That was for us the link to the divertimenti.

When you are writing, is it an issue giving everyone a voice?

Andreas Schett: Sure, once we have the sound in our heads, we then see to it very carefully while we’re writing that everyone has something beautiful to play and that everyone enjoys what they can play, that everyone is challenged too and has a lot to do. We’re already having an eye on the ensemble while writing. It’s perhaps a pragmatic challenge, but also an incredibly grateful concern. In many scores you can immediately see that the composer only cares about himself and zero about the musicians. To me this is incomprehensible.

The Franui musicians always have a very obvious pleasure in playing on stage…

Andreas Schett: And that can’t be staged, you can’t tell your musicians which countenance to have. It’s really only about content. For the “Gemischter Satz” festival at the Vienna Konzerthaus which I curated, the basic idea was to combine wine drinking with enjoying music. The special thing about the wine “Gemischter Satz” which is well known in Vienna, is that the different grape varieties all grow together in one vineyard and then have to be harvested and stored in the cellar together. This was a guarantee for the winegrower, because the weather does not suit every grape variety every year in the same way. And so, this wine always became a success. And I have found that this term also applies in a wonderful way to the interplay of different arts, be it musical styles, literature, visual arts. For six years now, we have been staging this festival at the Konzerthaus – unfortunately, this year’s edition in May is cancelled like everything else. In any case, the classical orchestra or ensemble musicians were often the happiest festival visitors at the end of the festival, because enjoying the completely different content which also grasps the audience in a completely different way, is so inevitable. We don’t do anything special, we simply play good music in a completely new context. And in between there’s literature that is interwoven with the music. And then there’s a visual artist who, with a minimalist intervention, changes the space, and really changes the perception. And in between you take a sip of wine – that’s all.


“Understanding exactly what it’s all about is boring, after all” you said in another interview. But it’s definitely about penetrating and going deeper…

Andreas Schett: Definitely. We don’t want to scrape away superficially. And there certainly have been long lines of development, as we’re actually sticking to one issue for quite a long time.

Until the thing shows itself to you, opens up to you…

Andreas Schett: That also requires an incredible freedom to be able to stay in one activity for a long time. For example, it was very interesting for us now to rewrite especially Mahler for choir. Ten years ago, we had already dealt with Mahler once and meanwhile we’re aware that we have a completely different kind of freedom to deal with him.

Playing the waltz extremely slowly, leading the funeral march at four times the tempo into a polka – doesn’t this speak of the necessity of rhythm in music, something often suppressed in classical music education?

Andreas Schett: Rhythm is generally frowned upon in contemporary or serious music, one should not notice any rhythm at all, if possible. Serious music has a problem with rhythm, perhaps understandable due to its development in the post-war period, from the knowledge that regular pulse can also mean something bad. After 1945, one was never allowed to sound like folk music or “folkloristic”, as it is also called in Germany. But you aren’t allowed to feel any rhythm, and everything should be unstable and float. Yet the pulse too belongs to life in an insanely compelling way. And in music it’s the same: music without rhythm lacks a musical parameter, an essential part of music. And the change of tempo is perhaps such a trick, but at the same time such a trick only makes sense if it is based on a content-related consideration. The bands in the Alps actually used to play one and the same march four times slower at the cemetery first and four times faster after the funeral on the way to the inn. That’s why these tempo shifts occur. That is highly interesting! Or Schubert’s “Kupelwieser-Walzer”, which we simply noticed among Schubert’s dances, recorded in a very much unmotivated or unlovingly way, as a gap filler on albums. Our research then revealed that Schubert wrote this dance for the wedding of his friend Kupelwieser, a painter of portraits, who portrayed Schumann and his contemporaries. In the Kupelwieser family, this waltz was always passed on only orally; a later descendant by marriage was chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and a close friend of Richard Strauss, who in turn wrote this waltz down on January 4, 1943 – in the middle of the Second World War – as a guest of the aforementioned descendant in Vienna and at the request of his wife, with phrases that could only have come from Richard Strauss. And against the backdrop of this story one simply knows: you have to play it in slow motion.

Many thanks for the interview!

Sylvia Wendrock

April 3 & 5, 2020, Berlin (CANCELLED)
April 22, 2020, Gmunden: Postponed to October 20, 2020
April 25, 2020, Graz: Postponed to October 23, 2020
April 27, 2020 Vienna: Postponed to July 7, 2020

Franui Musicbanda

Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld