Remembering Eberhard Blum
Flutist, performer, and visual artist Eberhard Blum died on March 5th 2013 in Berlin. We asked his friends and closest colleagues to share their remembrances.
Eberhard came into our lives in the fall of 1973. He had just arrived in Buffalo from Berlin as a new Creative Associate in The University at Buffalo’s Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. He was recruited by Morton Feldman, the group’s Artistic Director, while Morton was spending some months in Berlin. I remember Morton raving about this young, new music flutist he had discovered, so we were all eager to meet him and to begin working with him. Forty years ago — hard to believe. And now he’s gone, which is even harder for me to believe.
Eberhard, Nils and myself; I can’t begin to count the memorable performances. I would not have become the musician I am without Eberhard’s intensity, dedication, uncompromising performance standards, unbounded creativity and devoted friendship. He was a great inspiration. Oh, that I could have seen him one more time. I so wanted to tell him how much his friendship, for more than half of my life, has meant to me, how much those performances have sustained me and what an honor it is to have made music together for so many years. I think about him all the time and the sadness that I feel is at times tough to deal with. But then, the memories. Oh, the memories…..
We were in so many places together – Buffalo, Berlin, Basel, Bremen, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Köln, Münster, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Middleburg, Dartington, Huddersfield, London, New York – usually to play Feldman, but also Cage. Morty’s and John’s pieces seemed designed for Jan, Eberhard and me to perform, the independence of the parts a representation of our solitary preparation. But then you stepped off the plane and began playing and the three parts became one. Especially in Crippled Symmetry the rehearsing was magical because we were discovering the coordination of the music through pacing rather than the vertical alignment of parts.
In Feldman’s three pieces for flutes, mallet percussion and piano/celesta Eberhard, as the breathing instrumentalist, was the key in discovering that pacing. How pleased he was after every performance of Crippled Symmetry to note that the duration was virtually always an hour and a half. “We did it again”, he would say, a big smile illuminating his face.
Of the many times we played together, certain performances stand out in the memory; the premiere of For Christian Wolff in Darmstadt, Morty basking in the ovation; the last time we played For Philip Guston, in Berlin, with Guston’s portrait of Feldman looking over our shoulders; the performance of Crippled Symmetry at June in Buffalo, 2000, a performance now available on a frozen reeds CD. Eberhard stopped playing fairly soon afterwards and devoted the remainder of his life to making visual art. Perhaps he knew this would be the last time we played the piece together.
A performance I know I will never forget was Eberhard, alone, in Schwitter’s Ursonate. It was 1977 in a small Devonshire fishing village, the name of which I cannot recall. The Ursonate was a signature piece for him and his performance of it never failed to astonish. The piece is a text of sounds suggestive of many languages though non-syntactical, structured like a classical sonata. Its realization requires not only virtuosic vocalization but also a dramatic flair in which exuberance and restraint are equally balanced. The audience for this performance was largely local town folk, about 50 of them and I venture to assert that not a one had any idea what they were about to experience. The piece begins thus;
Fümms bö wö tää zää Uu,
While Schwitter’s own performance of this is leisurely and elongated, Eberhard jumped into the piece, differentiating through tempi, register and articulation an enormous gamut of expression in a short time. I had already experienced Eberhard’s performance of the piece many times and the reaction was always the same – within minutes, if not less, laughter and delight were evident. Not this time. I looked at Jan in silent questioning – had Blum and the Ursonate met their match?
And then one stout gentleman in the front row let out a loud ‘har har’ and then another and soon, as though given permission, the whole crowd was whooping it up. Eberhard had “done it again”.
Oh the intensity of Eberhard’s devotion to music, to art! They gave him such joy and he in return transmitted that joy, and much more, to us.
From 1977 to 1986, Eberhard Blum, Jan Williams and Nils Vigeland performed together as Morton Feldman and Soloists. They gave their last performance together in 2000.
Eberhard Blum belongs to a select group of distinguished virtuosi of the avant garde along with cellist Siegfried Palm, pianist David Tudor, and harpist Francis Pierre. In the winter of 1974 following a solo recital, music critic Herman Trotter wrote in the Buffalo Evening News, “His [Blum’s] breath control, tonguing and finger technique are simply staggering . . . He is a flutist to be reckoned with internationally.” Eberhard Blum’s singular dedication to the art of our time was a boon to composers and set a standard for his colleagues.
Renée Levine Packer
I never met Eberhard Blum. We corresponded by email and post over the past decade. I mean – I sent emails via his wife, Ann Holyoke Lehmann, and he replied by post! In his letters he generously provided information about his association with Morton Feldman and his understanding of Feldman’s music. And there was frequently an enclosure – one or more of his visual artworks! He knew how much I liked this work and often sent examples, many of which are now displayed on the walls of my home.
Through his many recordings – many definitive and all exhibiting his consummate mastery of the contemporary flute repertoire – Eberhard Blum will always be remembered as a virtuoso flautist. His visual work is less well known I think outside of Germany. Dynamic images, often in series with subtle internal relationships, instantly commanding and unifying your attention – like flashes of lightning! This work deserves to be more widely appreciated! Take a look at some examples online at: www.cnvill.net/mfblumwk.htm. When he showed his visual work to Morton Feldman for the first time, Feldman studied it for a long time, and then said: “Blum, you found something!” He certainly had! Blum felt he had “passed the examination” and worked for the rest of his life on that “something”.
So long, Eberhard! I’m sorry we never met, and never had the long discussions on Feldman, art and music that would inevitably have resulted. Who knows (I don’t rule it out!), maybe one day – somewhere, somehow – we will meet, and have those discussions after all! I hope so!