about

Gottfried Michael Koenig, born in 1926 in Magdeburg, Germany, studied church music in Braunschweig, composition, piano, analysis and acoustics in Detmold, music representation techniques in Cologne and computer technique in Bonn. He attended the Darmstadt music summer schools for several years, later as a lecturer. From 1954 to 1964 Koenig worked in the electronic music studio of West German Radio in Cologne, assisting other composers (including Stockhausen, Kagel, Evangelisti, Ligeti, Brün), and producing his own electronic compositions (Klangfiguren, Essay, Terminus 1). During this period he also wrote orchestral and chamber music (for piano, string quartet, woodwind quintet).

From 1958 he was an assistant in the radio drama department at the Cologne academy of music, where he taught electronic music, composition and analysis from 1962. In 1964 Koenig moved to the Netherlands.

Until 1986 he was director and later chairman of the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University. During this period the Institute acquired a worldwide reputation, particularly for its annual Sonology course. Koenig also lectured extensively in the Netherlands and other countries and developed his computer programs Project 1, Project 2 and SSP, designed to formalise the composition of musical structure-variants. He continued to produce electronic works (Terminus 2, the Funktionen series). These were followed by the application of his computer programs, resulting in chamber music (Übung for piano, the Segmente series, 3 ASKO Pieces, String Quartet 1987, String Trio) and works for orchestra (Beitrag, Concerti e Corali).

Since 1986, when the Institute moved from Utrecht University to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Koenig has continued to compose, produce computer graphics and develop musical expert systems. The first three volumes of his theoretical writings were published between 1991 and 1993 under the title Ästhetische Praxis by Pfau Verlag; an Italian selection appeared under the title Genesi e forma (Semar, Rome 1995). A fourth volume followed in 1999, a fifth in 2002; the sixth (2007) contains a complete thematic index. An English selection was published under the title Process and Form by Wolke Verlag in 2018.

In 1961 Koenig received an incentive award from the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, in 1987 the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize from the City of Amsterdam, in 1991 the Christoph and Stephan Kaske Prize. In 2002 the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Saarbrücken, Germany, awarded Koenig an honorary doctorate. In the winter semester of 2002/2003 he was Visiting Professor for Computer Music at the Technical University, Berlin. In 2010 Koenig received the Giga-Hertz Prize of ZKM, Karlsruhe. In 2016 he was elected a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Photo: Rineke Dijkstra

press reviews

Electronic works

Klangfiguren II
The young G.M. Koenig's piece bears witness to an unparalleled mastery of the new material, an unmistakable virtuosity with which he handles it. (Darmstädter Echo, June 4 1956)
His are the purest electronics of all, Klangfiguren II – clean, hard, unspectacular, wonderful. (WIRE, Sept. 1991) 

Essay
Gottfried Michael Koenigs 'Essay' is an electronic study that fascinates because of the counterpoint of moving sounds, a far echo of traditional music-making. (Der Tagespiegel, no. 3817)

Funktionen
The colour-coded Funktionen are brillant: witty, pithy exercises in stereo counterpoint. (WIRE, Sept. 1991)
One thing that strikes my attention when listening to these works is that Koenig does not try to simulate any sound space or psychoacoustic behavior at all. It is important to listen to the music of this collection (CD BVHAAST9001/2), in which the composer's goal is to present the sounds and their transformations as abstract as they are. It is a music that goes beyond our cultural barriers to perception. (LEONARDO, 2/1 1992)

Instrumental works

Two Piano Pieces
Gottfried Michael Koenig's Two Piano Pieces are among the very best of their kind. Their complicated construction in 'layers' is merely a means to an end; a well-balanced harmony predominated. (Neue Kurier, Vienna, 24.11.1960)

Woodwind Quintet
Gottfried Michael Koenig's quintet for wind instruments was rehearsed for three months before its premiere. Everyone involved could be satisfied with the result: the performers, for the 34 year-old electronic music student from Cologne had clearly become acquainted with the best of the best woodwind playing and adapted his skills correspondingly, and the audience for recognizing in Koenig's time-table many an interesting, attractive range of register variation, of colour and ornamental density and of highly effective chord pillars. (Die Welt, April 28, 1960)

String Quartet 1959
The Koenig work, Quartet 1959, dedicated to the LaSalle Quartet, is a glassy, brittle affair, full of interesting stabs in unexpected places. It is squeaky, thin to the point of scrawniness, and like much of the music written by young men today, it makes a few notes do where many were needed by their predecessors... Mr. Koenig's music is game and sassy. It puckers up its face and says 'blah', and this is an attitude which I find commendable wherever it occurs. (The Post & Times-Star, April 6 1960)
Koenig takes as his point of departure the music of Webern… His quartet is paradoxical music, full of tiny detonations and tiny assurances of a familiar fragment that disappears before it can be identified or grasped. Koenig is playing a wild, fantastic little game with us, demonstrating that two and two are five, that up is down, and regularity and convention are for regression. But all artists play some tricks, at least those with a sense of irony, among whom are often the best. (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 6, 1960) 

Segmente 99–105
Most rewarding was the totally original way in which the instruments related to each other: unforseeable yet always justifying, in retrospect, their particular mode of dialogue. Also astonishing was the balance of 'tonality' and 'atonality' (the former being defined by pitch cell repetition rather than chordal structures). In short, Segmente was a well-crafted, well-balanced work. (Computer Music Journal, 7/2, 1983) 

3 ASKO Pieces
This work, entirely instrumental but written with the aid of a computer, raised once again the issue of algorithmic music. The composer's task is divided in two: first, he must determine his working environment and his decision criteria. Second, he must extract all relevant musical variables and fix them in terms of an explicit program comprehensible to a computer. It was very interesting to note that even at a first hearing, the degree of coordination of 'primitive' musical elements (density, reduction, tension, resolution, predictability) emerged in so natural a manner from an automated procedure. Altogether superb work, the 3 Asko Pieces were splendidly performed and directed (notwithstanding notational difficulties). (Computer Music Journal, vol.9, no.2, 1985)
The machine did not produce the customary synthetic sounds here but made even the composition – in accordance with the program which Koenig had devised himself and which constituted his actual contribution to this work. The execution of the composition was a matter of approximately one minute for the computer. – Koenig had not only given the computer precise instructions but also specified the freedom with which the computer – by means of a random generator – could decide how to go on. The machine – and this is the crucial difference from the electronic music of the 1950s – had learned how to compose. In those days composers had to start off with the labourious task of producing sounds, then to transform them and finally splice them in order to make the piece. One could produce synthetic sounds in those days, but there were no computers to help. (Darmstädter Echo, December 29 1986)

Segmente 92–98
Gottfried Michael Koenig requires complex, virtuoso figures of his players in Segmente 92–98 for violin and cello. He conducts quasi-systematic experiments with contrapuntal interplay, solo interludes and excursions into borderlands which result in a eerily fragile sonority. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24.9.1996)
The seventy- year-old's succinct idiom is so conscious of form that every tone and every figure is pleasingly anchored in the structure of the piece, at the same time forming perpetually new constellations. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19.9.1996)

Beitrag
Beitrag is a large-scale, entirely instrumental work for twenty-five instruments, the score of which was computer-generated using the composer's well-known PROJECT 1. The composition is vintage Koenig with excellent orchestration and great orchestral dynamicism. It is an important and significant work: Koenig has accomplished another step in the use of automated compositional structures, giving a palpable demonstration of how such procedures in the right hands can produce an authentic composition... Koenig has successfully blended his extensive experience with the formalization of compositional structures with a refined taste for orchestration and the dynamic use of timbre. (Perspectives of New Music)
Gottfried Michael Koenig's computer-generated orchestral piece Beitrag is an artistically well-balanced, sensitively perceived sound-puzzle with the coolness of expression so typical of Koenig. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nov. 1986)

String Quartet 1987
The Darmstadt school is clearly audible: serial thinking all over the place. What the musicians play is some kind of exchange of thought: short and sweet, but expressively tense. In the background there is a string quartet tradition, especially the late Beethoven. Koenig has subtly filtered this tradition. (Darmstädter Echo, August 10, 1988)

Theoretical writings 

Ästhetische Praxis (Aesthetic Practice)
Koenig has not lowered his standard one bit in the 40 years since the first essay. In terms of content and relevance his Äesthetische Praxis is unrivalled in New Music after 1945. (Positionen, May 1994)
It supplies invaluable insights into the concepts of aesthetic and physical sound of a time which, under the paradigm of a hackneyed post-modernism, has receded into a much too distant past. … Koenig's texts read as lucidly formulated theoretical discourses; they are also a fascinating record of a steadfast reformulation, relativation and elaboration of mental approaches, of the transmission of conceptual ideas and knowledge. (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Nov. 1992)
Mr. Koenig's originality both as a composer and theoretician is well known. Less well known is the streak of social criticism pervading his early writings, and deriving from the Frankfurt School. For the American reader, G.M. Koenig's peculiar notion of work with computers in music, which does not endorse 'computer music', is of interest, since it provides a critical perspective of mindless acceptance of technology. In his writings, Mr. Koenig clearly articulates a 'European' view of the function of computers in music, and in the arts generally, which is much influenced by his sophisticated reflections on electronic music in the tradition of the Cologne School. (However, G.M. Koenig is of no 'school'.) It is to be hoped that some of his writings will appear in English in the future. (Computer Music Journal, Winter 1996)

discography

Klangfiguren I
BVHAAST 9106 ("Acousmatrix 6")
Studio PANaroma Eletroacústica da UNESP ("Musica Eletroacústica 1955-93")
CD SONOPRESS 199.001.115

Klangfiguren II
BVHAAST 9001/2 ("Acousmatrix 1/2")
BVHAAST 06/0701
Koch/Schwann 350 373 ("Andere Welten, 50 Jahre Neue Musik in Nordrhein-Westfalen")

Zwei Klavierstücke
RZ 2003-4

Streichquartett 1959
RZ 2003-4

Suite
RZ 2003-4

Essay
BVHAAST 9001/2 ("Acousmatrix 1/2")

Terminus 1, Terminus 2
BVHAAST 9001/2 ("Acousmatrix 1/2")

Terminus X
DeGEM 2 ("Noisy Colour")
RZ 2003-4

Output
BVHAAST 9001/2 ("Acousmatrix 1/2")
Funktion Grün
DEGEM 2 ("Noisy Colour")
RZ 2003-4

Funktion Gelb
RZ 2003-4

Funktion Orange
Sub Rosa SR 164 ("Institute of Sonology 1959-1969, Early Electronic Music")
Funktion Rot, Blau, Indigo, Violett, Grau
BVHAAST 9001/2 ("Acousmatrix 1/2")

3 ASKO Stücke
Wergo WER 2022-50 ("Computer Music Currents 2")

Segmente 85–91
ambitus amb 97 955

Beitrag (2, 4, 6)
DAAD 206-1 (see Bibliography/Gottstein)

60 Blätter
RZ 2003-4

Polychromie
Electroshock Volume IX ("Electroacoustic Music")

"Event 4" (from Klavierbuch)
Post Scriptum: Music from the Institute of Sonology

instrumental compositions

TitleYearPublisher
Concerto for harpsichord, string orchestra and two flutes1948/49TON
Horae, 3 ballet scenes1950TON
Concerto for flute and chamber orchestra1951TON
Fantasie für Orchester1951/52TON
Concerto for chamber orchestra1952TON
Two orchestral pieces1952TON
Composition for 26 instruments1953TON
Diagonalen for orchestra1955TON
Two piano pieces1957TON
Woodwind quintet1958/59TON
String quartet 19591959TON
Orchesterstück 11960/61TON
Orchesterstück 21961/62TON
Orchesterstück 31963TON
Project 1 – version 1 for small orchestra1965/66HIN
Project 1 – version 3 for small orchestra1967HIN
Übung für Klavier1969/70TON
Segments 1–7 for piano1982TON
Segments 99–105 for violin and piano1982TON
3 ASKO Pieces for small orchestra1982TON
Segments 92–98 for violin and cello1983TON
Segments 85–91 for flute(s), bass clarinet, cello1984TON
Beitrag for orchestra1985/86TON
Intermezzo (Segments 85–91) for flute(s), clarinet(s), piano1987TON
String quartet 19871987/88TON
Concerti e Corali for orchestra1992TON
60 Blätter for string trio1992TON
Das A und das O for soprano, contralto, harp, cello1993SEM
Per Flauti for 2 flutes1997TON
Variants 1 for clarinet, string trio and piano2011
Variants 2 for orchestra2011
Book for Piano (Klavierbuch)2013
Sketches (Skizzen) for solo violin 2014
Intervals (Intervalle) for 2 pianos 2016
Canon (Kanon) for flute, clarinet, bassoon 2016
Interjections (Einwürfe) for piano and wind ensemble2018
String quartet 20192019

TON: TONOS Musikverlags GmbH, Darmstadt
HIN: Hinrichsen Edition, London
SEM: SEMAR Editore, Rome

electronic compositions

TitleYearTracksStudio
Klangfiguren I19551WDR
Klangfiguren II1955/564WDR
"20004TAZ, digital reconstruction
Essay *1957/581WDR
"19991KOE, new digital realization
"19991TAZ, digital reconstruction
Materialien zu einem Ballett19611WDR
Suite (from "Materialien ...")19611WDR
Terminus 119624WDR
"19984TAZ, digital reconstruction
Terminus 21966/674SON
Terminus X19672SON
"20168TAZ, digital reconstruction
Funktion Grün19674SON
Funktion Gelb19684SON
Funktion Orange19684SON
Funktion Rot19684SON
Funktion Blau19694SON
Funktion Indigo19694SON
Funktion Violett19694SON
Funktion Grau19694SON
Output19792SON
Polychromie20018KOE/TAZ
Polytopie201016KOE

* The score of Essay contains all the necessary data for the realisation of the piece and its compositional application. It is is available from PFAU-Verlag, Darmstadt, Germany.

WDR: Produced in the Studio of West German Radio, Cologne
SON: Produced in the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University
TAZ: Produced in association with Studio Tazelaar, Netherlands
KOE: Produced by the composer