This text analyzes the development of the choreographed instrumental theater of the two Austrian composers Otto M. Zykan and HK Gruber, taking into account the predecessor works of Mauricio Kagel. Zykan’s Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste: Oper oder Ode oder Opernode (Singer’s sewing machine is the best: Opera or ode or opera-ode) of 1966, his Inscene 1 and Inscene 2 of 1967, and Gruber’s Frankenstein!!, composed and expanded from 1970 to 1978, serve as subjects for analyzing this Austrian development. The purpose of this article is to study literature and other material on early Austrian choreographed instrumental theater. The method employed to present the different stages of development and variants of choreographed instrumental theater is the study of literature and the comparative analysis of musical material, as well as interviews with Gruber, which are interpreted in terms of qualitative social research (oral history). The results show three different types: first, choreographed instrumental theater, whose development Zykan continued, second, choreographed vocal theater, and third, Gruber’s imaginary theater. The term choreographed instrumental theater describes a musical piece in which the instrumentalists not only make the music but also perform as “actors.” Gestures and other actions are composed too. This technique was later transferred to vocal music when the singers also had to perform specific movements, and in 1977 a final step in the development of imaginary theater was taken with Frankenstein!! Here, there are fewer movements and facial expressions that have to be performed. This work can be useful as a point of reference for academics, musicians, and students working on the issue of music theater from Austria after 1945, as well as for developing it further through familiarization with the first works of the most important representatives.

Introduction: Mauricio Kagel

Mauricio Kagel (1931–2008) studied literature and philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires and received his musical training in piano, cello, and conducting with Teodoro Fuchs (1908–69). He acquired his knowledge of harmony and counterpoint through intensive self-study.[1] At a young age he made a name for himself as a composer, filmmaker, playwright, and performer.[2] In 1949, at the age of 18, he was appointed artistic advisor to the Agrupación Nueva Musica in Buenos Aires. Six years later, he became director of studies and conductor at the renowned Teatro Colón, and again only a year later—that is, at the age of barely 25—he was appointed to the university of his hometown to act as musical advisor as well as head of the department for cultural work. In 1957, a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service took him to Germany, where he worked in the electronic music studios of Westdeutscher Rundfunk or WDR (West German Radio). Between 1960 and 1966, Kagel served as a guest lecturer at the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music. He subsequently undertook numerous lecture and concert tours and in 1947 was appointed to a chair at the Cologne University of Music.[3]

Above all, however, it was his understanding of the musical work concept that made him a particularly iconoclastic figure in New Music. His revolutionary concept of music, in which the extra-musical actions of the protagonists also contribute to the sound image, served as a model for many other composers in the field of “instrumental theatre” in particular.[4] However, this concept did not arise from a motivation to be a pioneer for a completely new genre but from observations and reflections on the current problems of musical representation. His critical view of concerts of his time, which were characterized by acoustic performance without any visual elements, led him to develop instrumental theater and the “theatricalization of music.”[5] Kagel also derived the idea of instrumental theater from the conviction that musicians were generally poor performers because they were not trained for choreography.[6] It was important to him that the audience should not be entertained by the actions of the performers, but that these actions were also a significant component of the work. In his musical work Antithese, he even had actors perform to show how important the visual component was to him. But the concept of his instrumental theater was based primarily on his experience in the multimedia field. He was particularly concerned with establishing an interdisciplinary aesthetic.[7] Kagel’s conceptualization of instrumental theater was based on diverse nineteenth-century tendencies, his multimedia experiences, and his efforts to establish his own interdisciplinary aesthetic.

Instrumental Theatre in Kagel’s Work

In Kagel’s first instrumental theater work, Sur scène, a narrator, a mime, a bass soloist, and instrumentalists appear, all of whom take on a role in addition to their musical part. Their position on stage is determined by the composer, as are their movements and actions. All interactions between the actors are recorded in the score, and both sounding and non-sounding elements are composed and choreographed. Kagel also added elements of parameterization and gave indications of dynamics and tempo to the choreographic instructions. By deforming the texts borrowed from different eras and recomposing them, he also created the effect of alienation—vowels are interchanged, sentences inverted, or phrases omitted—making the speaker seem incomprehensible and ridiculous, and thus also approaching surrealism. The score, however, is not recorded in the form of notes but corresponds to verbal indications and therefore still leaves interpreters a certain amount of leeway:[8]

Figure 1: Mauricio Kagel, Sur Scene (score); copyright 1962 by Henry Litolffs Verlag; reprint with kind permission

In Kagel’s work Pas de cinq, five performers with prepared shoes, walking sticks, or umbrellas create sounds and noises by means of precisely calculated walking on lines that connect the points of a pentagon.[9] Pas de cinq is reminiscent of Jack Foley’s techniques from Hollywood, where studio-produced sounds are synchronized with the moving picture. It seems quite evident that in this work Kagel drew on his experience in the fields of film, media, and music. There is a video recording of Pas de cinq by the Parisian “Ensemble intercontemporain” on the internet: in 2012, they performed the work and uploaded a video of the performance to YouTube.[10]

Figure 2: Mauricio Kagel, Pas de cinq: Wandelszene (London: Universal Edition, 1967), cover page; copyright 1967 by Universal Edition A.G., (London) Ltd., Leipzig, London, New York

Otto M. Zykan’s Movement Scores

The introduction focused on the historical context and Kagel’s groundwork, some of which was known to Otto M. Zykan (1935–2006)—Sur scène, for example, was not.[11] Kagel himself wrote about his works in these fields, which Hartmut Krones summarized in 1987 under the term “optical compositions” (“optische Kompositionen”):[12] “I have tried to stage different forms of music-making and noise-making compositionally. It is not enough to make musical processes visible, but musical forms should rather become music again in its optical realization.”[13] Nevertheless, Kagel’s “optical compositions” on the one hand, alongside the earlier “sound compositions” (“Lautkompositionen”)[14] of Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) and György Ligeti (1923–2006) on the other, form the basis of Zykan’s and later also HK Gruber’s (born 1943) “choreographed instrumental theater.”[15] Other important works in and around the field of choreographed instrumental theater that influenced Zykan were written by Cage, Dieter Schnebel (1930–2018), and Vinko Globokar (born in 1934).[16]

The main chapter of this essay explores the development of Zykan’s and Gruber’s choreographed instrumental theater from 1966 to 1978. The first section focuses on Zykan’s Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste: Oper oder Ode oder Opernode (Singer’s sewing machine is the best: Opera or ode or opera-ode) of 1966 and Inscene 1 and Inscene 2 of 1967. These pieces illustrate Zykan’s journey from choreographed instrumental to choreographed vocal theater. The second section is about the genesis of Gruber’s Frankenstein!!

Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste: Oper oder Ode oder Opernode

Zykan, who began experimenting with new theatrical forms in the mid-1960s, chose double bass player Gruber as a singer during rehearsals for the world premiere of his work Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste in 1966.[17] At the time, Gruber was a double bass player in the ensemble “die reihe” and the MOB art & tone ART group, as the ensemble of the Viennese Salonkonzerte (“salon concerts”) series founded by Kurt Schwertsik (born in 1935) and Zykan in 1965 was called from 1967 onwards. In Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste—the very title refers to a poem by the Flemish lyricist Paul van Ostaijen[18]—Zykan “combined … achievements from Sur scène and Anagrama by Mauricio Kagel, from Cage’s action compositions as well as from Dadaist poetry, … inspiration also being drawn from the Vienna Group … as well as from Peter Greenham.”[19] Gruber recalls in an interview:

I don’t think that Zykan has consciously taken over some things from Kagel … We discussed how some texts, including Artmann’s texts, could be transformed into an opera or ode and so on… he then developed this word play further. He composed a few musical numbers and derived some body language gestures from them, which he then fixed by synchronizing the music and the body language to the extent that he wrote down what the body was doing parallel to the music. We were five people in the MOB art ensemble; each of us also played an instrument. Zykan played the piano, I played double bass, Volker Altmann horn, Roland Altmann drums, Kurt Prihoda also drums, and so we accompanied ourselves when we sang and spoke, and out of the function of making music, a body language developed that was fixed in the score, and we didn’t have to develop any acting qualities. It was more of a mechanistic process, not coming from dance or acting, but from the idea, just as one organizes sounds, that one also processes body language gestures in a quasi-motivic-thematic way.[20]

The “opera or ode or opera-ode” Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste is written for seven actors and a choir, the “first” Singer-Singers. A successful five-member vocal ensemble later performed under the same name at the Viennese salon concerts, and after the salon concerts stopped taking place, a third group of singers was formed under this name:

The Singer-Singers were originally a chamber choir composed of volunteers from the [Viennese] Jeunesse-Chor (Vienna Youth Choir). This formation appeared for the first and only time at the end of 1966 at the premiere of Zykan’s seven-part, half-hour work for a speaker, a dancer, four instrumentalists, a composer, and a choir … In the spring of 1967 … [Eva Pilz, Melitta Heinzmann, Christian Bauer, Hartmuth (sic) Krones, and Bernd Richter] got together to form a vocal ensemble and called themselves Singer-Singers. This ensemble performed at the salon concerts for two years, had great success, and performed at every tour. … After the end of 1968 … another group performed briefly and rarely under the name Singer-Singers; these were actually instrumentalists who had previously played with the … Singer-Singers and now also sang: Roland Altmann, Volker Altmann, Rudi Prihoda, and Otto M. Zykan himself.[21]

The fourth number in the 1966 program, “Genoveva,” went down in history as the mallet-scene. On the score, the genre designation Ballett (ballet) is used here. It is a piece for piano, vibraphone, double bass, oboe, crumhorn, timpani, castanets, and a dancer.[22] At the beginning, the composition of “Genoveva” is still of a motivic-rhythmic nature. In addition to repeated notes and motifs, it is dominated by chordal decompositions, trill-like sequences, and running figures, and reminiscences of previous numbers can also be heard.[23] As the piece progresses, the intensity of the musical events increases, first through rhythmic acceleration and later “through insistent tone and motif repetitions as well as through extended, wedge-shaped chromatic notes in the piano.”[24] After the climax of tension is reached, the music noticeably disintegrates: “The previously exact notation is contrasted here by a very sparse indication of what is to be played.”[25] Precise indications are found again on the last page of the score, where an exchange of instruments between all musicians is planned: “This scenic-actionistic component also explains the now only isolated notes or motifs that characterize the concluding musical dialogue. The instrumentalists would not be able to play more on an instrument that was ‘foreign’ to them.”[26] This exchange is triggered by the dancer “stumbling through the music” (“durch die Musik stolpernde”) as she leaves the stage:[27]

Her farewell gesture to the instrumentalists took the form of taking each musician’s mallet or bow in turn, playing a note on their instrument, and then leaving the stage. This seemingly spontaneous parodic idea was finally elevated to a formal system. The musicians continued the process of exchanging instruments until “the passing of the mallets became a ritual.”[28]

Why this number from Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste became famous not under its name “Genoveva” but as the “mallet-scene” is explained only at the very end of the piece: “The last part of the piece was made up of three musicians facing each other, handing the mallets to each other, and taking them from one another’s hands in a precisely defined sequence. The piece ended with one mallet falling to the floor, intentionally of course.”[29] The dancer, who also wants to play a little music, and the instrumentalists, who consequently also feel like trying something new, are thus Zykan’s first “actors.” He himself later described this piece as the starting point for all his important works.[30]

Inscene 1, Inscene 2

Gruber and Zykan’s collaboration for Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste proved to be extremely successful: “Zykan … had found his ‘alter ego’ in Gruber. As ‘twin brothers,’ the two bearded and rather similar-looking artists … triggered ‘a witch’s cauldron of enthusiasm’ with their whimsical and virtuosic performances.”[31] From here, Gruber launched his career as a chansonnier, and his experiences with Zykan inspired and encouraged him to write musical theater himself.[32]

Gruber was particularly impressed by the fully composed gestures that Zykan developed further in two other works in 1967, Inscene 1 and Inscene 2. In the first work, Zykan for the first time applied “in a creation gestures and other actions that derive from the circumstances of the text and, as it were, comment on them, clarify them, or even lead them ad absurdum.”[33] The text on which Inscene 1 is based, Plakattheorie (Billboard theory), was written by Helmut Heißenbüttel (1921–96). It is “a grim indictment of a consumer society dominated by advertising and the manipulation of opinion, whose linguistic structures, working with permutative language games, were reflected in the (almost exclusively spoken) composition.”[34] Plakattheorie reads as follows:

that what they say they like they also want or do not
want or always only during which decide i.e.
not decide at all but so to speak let decide
or become decided and then want what they don’t like at all
or what they don’t like but always want to like
something because that’s what they want nothing else but that’s
just the greed unreasonableness senselessness that they
always want to like something at any or at no price at all
no matter what else or what actually and even if
what they don’t want at all but they want it and it’s
this pushing falling for it plus being ripped
off even if they don’t like it i.e. that they want to like what
they don’t like then and also don’t want because they don’t want to
like that they want it and then nevertheless because it is
likely that they find it likely because on the other side with
such greed unreasonableness senselessness on it and
nothing else than like to like to like it and find
it likely and so they actually don’t like what they like although
it is likely that they want it if not likely
anyway but they like it in the end in any case
or maybe one should say that they always put value on it
that value is put on it and where value is put on it that is
where they put value on it because just on this putting value on it where
value is put on it is put value on it and one who puts value on it
doesn’t even come to put value on what is not put value on
even though he will always believe for better or for worse
to have done so but by the fact that
someone puts value on it at all he also always already puts value on
what is put value on
although of course all those who put value on it
put value on it that this is free opinion.[35]

The climax of Zykan’s development of choreographed instrumental theatre is marked by Inscene 2, a piece for four singer-actors: “They have to sing, speak, stride, point, look ostentatiously at other partners, to turn around and conduct” (see figures 3–8).[36] In the course of the piece, the emphasis of their initial primary function as singers undergoes a successive transformation to actors. This transformation does not take place arbitrarily but according to strict serial rules, which results in a paradoxical “tension and interplay of structure and anti-structure” (“Mit- und Gegeneinander von Struktur und Antistruktur”).[37] “The entire course of the setting is based on a seven-part interval series,”[38] which in itself is nothing special. Zykan, however, deliberately composed errors. Every error in the series—that is, an out-of-order or unnecessary sound—is visualized through the instruction to perform an action, such as taking a step or looking at the “culprit” (“Schuldigen”).[39] Certain errors require specific actions, for each of which Zykan invented its own special characters:[40]

Figure 3: 360 degree rotation, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 3.
Figure 4: Singer faces the audience, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 3.
Figure 5: Singer stands facing away from the audience, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 3.
Figure 6: One step forward, backwards, left or right, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 3.
Figure 7: One, two or three steps, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 1.
Figure 8: Look at the one who has prescribed the sign at the same time, Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Instructions (Unpublished score, 1967), 1.

Zykan subsumed works in which pitch organization, text, and choreography are interlinked under his own neologism “peripathesis” (Peripathese).[41] He developed the compositional method of “peripathesis” through his preoccupation with serialism. As he felt that serialism was insufficient for his compositional intentions, he expanded it to include two aspects: On the one hand, language is also organized musically, and on the other hand, the strictness and consistency of the organization of language and music gives rise to theatricality.[42]

For Inscene 2, Zykan wrote a text himself: “It’s so hard to compose something good. Does he have the right tone or not? No, he doesn’t! Now listen to this passage; it is composed most consistently; but the second just now was wrong again, as was this. Wrong was only I, the soprano, and the consequence is lost.”[43] Both Inscenes were recorded by ORF during a salon concert and broadcast in the program Nachtstudio (Night studio) on May 9, 1968. The program can be viewed in the ORF archive.

Further Development by HK Gruber: Imaginary Theatre

Gruber later called Zykan’s choreographed works “movement scores” (“Bewegungspartituren”).[44] In his first work for the MOB art & tone ART group, Revue for chamber orchestra op. 22 of 1968, Gruber incorporates influences from Schwertsik and Zykan. “Cantabile curves … and orgiastic upswings” (“kantable Rundungen … und orgiastische Aufschwünge”)[45] from Schwertsik’s Draculas Haus- und Hofmusik: Eine transsylvanische Symphonie für Streicher (Dracula’s house and court music: A Transylvanian symphony for strings) op. 18 of 1968 meet Zykan’s movement scores: “The motifs consist of POP phrases as well as gestures characteristic of the respective soloist.”[46] At first glance, the composed gestures of Revue are less reminiscent of Inscene 1 or 2 than of “Genoveva.” On the one hand, this is obviously due to the instrumentation—it is instrumental music—and on the other hand, the gestures do not follow such a strict serial logic as in Zykan’s Inscene works. The fact that certain gestures are assigned to individual instruments is somewhat reminiscent of Zykan’s Inscene compositions. When and how they are placed, however, does not emerge consistently from the musical construction in the way it does in Inscene 1 and 2. Gruber therefore orients himself more strongly toward “Genoveva,” while incorporating the achievements of Inscene 1 and 2.

The Genesis of Frankenstein!!

Zykan’s Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste was the first big success of the salon concerts and—in retrospect—of the MOB art & tone ART ensemble. The biggest success of MOB art & tone ART, also internationally, was landed by Gruber, with his Frankenstein!! Ein Pan-Dämonium für einen Chansonnier nach H.C. Artmann: Kindliche Phantasie kollidiert mit comichaften Alpträumen (Frankenstein!! A Pan-Semonium for Chansonnier after H.C. Artmann: Childish Fantasy Collides with Comic Nightmares). The first version, the Frankenstein Suite, was written in 1970. This was a commissioned work for H. C. Artmann’s poems Allerleirausch as a musical reading on record. Originally, Artmann had approached Schwertsik with the request to write background music for Allerleirausch, as the two had already worked well together a year earlier. Schwertsik could not accept the commission at the time and asked Gruber if he could step in.[47] This was the first and pivotally happy coincidence in a long series, because “the Suite later became Frankenstein!! for chansonnier & orchestra & an ensemble version for 12 instruments & chansonnier.”[48] Gruber composed the music within a week and recorded it with the MOB art & tone ART ensemble. The poems were spoken by an actress, Jutta Schwarz.[49] Because the Frankenstein Suite was written as background music for a reading on record, there is not yet anything to see. However, the Suite already contains an essential feature of the later Pan-Dämonium versions, namely the use of toy instruments:

Gruber thus reacted to the specific tone of the alienated nursery rhymes by musical means, supported by melodic motifs from well-known children’s songs. … Onomatopoeic effects such as the twittering machine to the wings of the bat … additionally provide a coherently spooky atmosphere.[50]

Schwertsik was also largely responsible for the further course of the story of Frankenstein!!, as Gruber remembers: “I went to Schwertsik with this background music, and he said: ‘Hey, this is too good for background music! You have to make something out of it.’”[51] Encouraged by this, Gruber set about writing a version for baritone voice (himself) and five instrumentalists (the MOB art & tone ART ensemble).

As the manuscript shows, … no major changes and new compositions were necessary. … [Gruber was] able to enter all instrumental changes and additions directly into the score; even the text could be notated on existing melody lines …. Apparently, Gruber instinctively took the word rhythm of the poems into account when composing the accompanying music.[52]

In this second phase of the creation of Frankenstein!!, Gruber also received support from Zykan, “who suggested, for example, that he gradually let his breath run out during the constant repetitions of the little dancing monster.”[53] The second version was released in 1976, again as a record and not as a stage work, yet it already had theatrical features. It was entitled An einen Haushalt (To a household) and was published by Jeunesse Musicale.[54]

Upon receiving a commission, a chamber opera for the Vienna Festival in 1976, Gruber searched for a stage publisher. This time he received support from his teacher Gottfried von Einem, who was himself under contract with Boosey & Hawks, and recommended him to them.[55] This was another decisive step in the final development of Frankenstein!! The first project that the new music director of Boosey & Hawks, David Drew, had in mind was an extended orchestral version of the Frankenstein Suite. Drew did not just leave it at the orchestral version but also arranged for a translation into English. The premiere took place in Liverpool on November 25, 1978, under the direction of Simon Rattle and was a success.[56] So after eight years, the Frankenstein Suite advanced to Frankenstein!!, a live stage performance. At this point, precise choreographic instructions for the chansonnier and the orchestral musicians became necessary. However, unlike the earlier works for MOB art & tone ART, Frankenstein!! has fewer movements and facial expressions to perform. It is more a matter of avoiding superfluous gestures and facial expressions as far as possible:

You can only achieve comedy … with absolute discipline on the part of the performers. In the score, before the list of orchestral instrumentation, it says in bold print: “To all performers! Please keep a poker face! No laughing, no grinning!” … Only in this way can jokes have an exaggerated effect and clamor be avoided when music professionals handle slide whistles and plastic tubing.[57]

The score of the orchestral version from 1977 has, in addition to the instructions to the orchestral musicians, a very precise description of what Gruber expects from the chansonnier:

The soloist must be able to perform sudden and complete transformations: for example, from screeching to falsetto, from whispering to exaggerated operatic singing, from normal song-singing to very private singing to oneself (as in the bath). The articulation should be friendly, but very sharp and clear with toned onomatopoeia, and the singer must never lose himself in bel canto. A little ad lib. Off-beat singing is permissible, according to personal taste. Visible gestures should be extremely economical; the main emphasis should rather be in the facial expression.[58]

With these conditions, Gruber consciously follows Hanns Eisler, who advises singers to always “present rather than express the content” (“die Inhalte eher zu referieren als auszudrücken”).[59] The international success of Frankenstein!! was crowned by the commitment of yet another promoter, Leonard Bernstein. It was Bernstein who arranged the premiere of Frankenstein!! in the USA: after he was sent the BBC live recording of the Frankenstein!! premiere by Boosey & Hawkes,[60] Bernstein sought personal contact with Gruber in Vienna in 1979 and arranged an invitation from the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Gruber to perform his Frankenstein!! at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1980, where Gunther Schuller conducted the American premiere.[61] In Gruber’s opinion, the role of the conductor, whose career had already taken off by this time, cannot be overestimated. This is how the piece, and with it Austrian choreographed instrumental / imaginary theatre, became known even outside Europe.

Frankenstein!! can be viewed in both German and English on the internet on YouTube. A version in German was recorded in 2018 at the Elbphilharmonie with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.[62] And in 2021, the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra recorded an English version at the Taidetehdas Culture and Congress Center in Porvoo, Finland.[63] In both cases, one can experience Gruber as conductor and chansonnier.

As was the case for Zykan, Gruber also gives top priority to the exact execution of his specifications, which is why he—like Zykan before him—prefers to conduct and interpret his works himself. If, for example, he does not conduct a performance of Frankenstein!! himself, he attends orchestra rehearsals in order to be able to intervene in a corrective manner.[64]

A typical feature of MOB art is that it is staged and performed by the composers themselves, in terms of a Mahlerian composer-conductor.

“It’s just the way it is when a composer hears his piece performed by someone who hasn’t really dealt with the piece, then he is frustrated because what he came up with at his desk doesn’t really work because the conductor just can’t get the screws to fit together, and the gears don’t mesh, and then it sounds so icky!, dirty! And then you sit there as a composer and have to have such a mess delivered to you. And that was the great advantage of Gustav Mahler. Gustav Mahler defines a professional image, namely that of the composer-conducter.”[65]


This is particularly relevant in the choreographed instrumental theater or the imaginary theater of Zykan or Gruber. Gruber, who will turn 80 in 2023, is still active as conductor and chansonnier. Zykan died in 2006. For him, it was a “question of moral and artistic integrity whether or not to give up one’s concerns to the cycle of endless interpretations and ultimately to nothing more than commercial recycling.”[66] Zykan therefore interpreted his pieces himself: “A personal concern seemed to me only personally, that is, immediately, executable.”[67] This is why he did not want to publish his works. This decision had unfortunate consequences: some pieces have been lost, and since he often reused smaller pieces of music, his unpublished works have survived in a rather fragmentary form.

“You need to know, Mr. Zykan was a composer who was not really interested in performances of his music without him, that’s why he never threw the things away, but he didn’t leave them in order either. … He took parts from older plays into Staatsoperette, he put parts of Staatsoperette into other plays, but then didn’t define it in any way, it was simply missing and was in there somewhere else.”[68]

They are currently in “handover mode” and will in future be stored in the Archives of Contemporary Arts at Danube University Krems, where those of Gruber are already kept.


The aim of this text was to trace the Austrian developments of Kagel’s choreographed instrumental theater from the 1960s to the 1980s, using Zykan and Gruber as examples. For this purpose, we consulted partly unpublished music material, interviews, and YouTube videos, in addition to the existing literature. We were able to interview three people involved: HK Gruber repeatedly made time for our questions and inquiries by email, on the phone, or in Zoom interviews. Professor Krones provided us with hints, literature, and, above all, his own musical material. This is particularly noteworthy, because Zykan’s unpublished works are still in the process of being handed over to the Archives of Contemporary Arts (University for Continuing Education Krems, Austria). The third interviewee, Michael Mautner, is engaged in both restoration and performance of Zykan’s oeuvre.

Our research revealed the following: Zykan’s perfection and further development of Kagel’s choreographed instrumental theatre can be subsumed under the term “movement scores.” In his Inscene works, he conveys his “concerns” in different ways: while he expresses a critique of capitalism with his predominantly spoken (and moving) Inscene 1, the “flawed” Inscene 2 is a highly intellectual play with, or rather a reckoning against, serialism. Gruber’s Frankenstein!! is about forming chains of associations and emancipated listening:

Music is the best example of not explaining anything. … I am actually interested in the uninterpreted. That’s when I start to wake up and then my mind wanders around in the room, and the music doesn’t throw anything more than a stick that I pick up and then derive something for myself from, depending on my talent for association. We hear some pieces differently today than we did 20 years ago. That is also a form of development of ourselves as listeners.[69]

That is why his imaginary theater is strongly oriented towards Hanns Eisler and Arnold Schoenberg’s preface to Pierrot Lunaire: “What Schoenberg writes there … is a very precise instruction on how a singer should deal with his tasks. Above all, Schoenberg writes to the performer: ‘Don’t put anything in, don’t interpret anything. Everything is already composed.’”[70]

Gruber and Zykan are concerned with weaving meaning into the score and thus creating an overall construct of sound, movement, gestures, and facial expressions. Any further interpretation is undesired by them as creators. As composers, they have the sole sovereignty of interpretation and guarantee through explicit information in the score that their works will be received as they have conceived them. On the one hand they take up international trends of that time, and on the other hand they position themselves very clearly in the Viennese tradition.

With this article, our aim was to present the Austrian development of Kagel’s invention in a historical context, rather than looking at one work or person in isolation. Therefore, several possibilities for future research remain. These include, for instance, detailed work analyses, analyses of the relationship between word and sound, and analyses of the texts and poems.


  1. Alfred Beaujean and Gerhard Persché, “Mauricio Kagel,” in Harenberg Opernführer: Der Schlüssel zu 500 Opern, ihrer Handlung und Geschichte; mit CD-Tipps der “Opernwelt”, 2nd ed., ed. Alfred Beaujean, Gerhard Persché, and Bodo Harenberg (Dortmund: Harenberg Kommunikation, 2001), 420.
  2. Josef Häusler, “Mauricio Kagel,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Publishers, 1980), 766–67.
  3. Beaujean and Persché, Harenberg Opernführer, 420.
  4. Häusler, “Mauricio Kagel,” 767–68.
  5. Makoto Mikawa, “Anarchy in the Unity: Compositional and Aesthetic Tensions in Mauricio Kagel’s ‘Antithese für einen Darsteller mit elektronischen und öffentlichen Klängen’ (1962)” (PhD diss., University of Western Ontario, 2012), 15, accessed November 1, 2022.
  6. Mauricio Kagel, “On Music Theater,” quoted after Ibid., 16.
  7. Ibid., 16–18.
  8. Ibid., 2–4; Laskewicz, “The New Music-Theatre of Mauricio Kagel,” Nachtstimmen, accessed April 10, 2023; and Barbara Zuber “Theatrale Aktionen in und mit Musik: Zum Handlungs- und Rollenbegriff in John Cages und Mauricio Kagels Musiktheater,” in Musiktheater als Herausforderung: Interdisziplinäre Facetten von Theater- und Musikwissenschaft, ed. Hans-Peter Bayerdörfer, Theatron: Studien zur Geschichte und Theorie der dramatischen Künste 29 (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999), 190–209.
  9. Beaujean and Persché, Harenberg Opernführer, 420.
  10. “Mauricio Kagel, Pas de cinq – Ensemble intercontemporain,” YouTube, May 15, 2012, accessed June 22, 2022.
  11. Hartmut Krones, “Otto M. Zykan: Inscene 2,” Melos 49, no. 2 (1987): 89.
  12. Ibid. 89.
  13. Mauricio Kagel, Tamtam: Monologe und Dialoge zur Musik (Munich: Piper, 1975), 89–90, quoted after Ibid., 89. Original wording: “Ich habe versucht, verschiedene Formen des Musizierens und des Geräuschemachens kompositorisch zu inszenieren. Es genügt nicht, musikalische Prozesse sichtbar zu machen, sondern musikalische Formen sollen vielmehr in der optischen Realisation wieder Musik werden.” Unless indicated otherwise, all translations are our own.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Andrea Zschunke, HK Gruber: Musik in Kommunikation (Vienna: Lafite, 2014), 52.
  18. Paul van Ostaijen, “Huldegedicht aan Singer,” Avontuur 1, no. 3 (1928): 27–29, quoted after Elisabeth Bögl, “‘Genoveva und die schlingernde Singer Nähmaschine’: Musik-Text-Verhältnis in Otto M. Zykans beiden Singer-Opern” (PhD. diss., University Mozarteum Salzburg, 2010), 16–22. Paul van Ostaijen Gedichten (Antwerpen: De Sikkel, 1935, 2nd ed.), 147–49, accessed November 1, 2022.
  19. Hartmut Krones, “Dadaistische und asemantische Verfahren in der österreichischen Vokalmusik des 20. Jahrhunderts: An Beispielen von Logothetis, Cerha und Zykan,” in “Wiener Schriften zur Stilkunde und Aufführungspraxis,” ed. Hartmut Krones, special issue, Symposien zu WIEN MODERN 1 (Vienna: Böhlau, 2001), 147. Original wording: In Singers Nähmaschine ist die beste “faßte [Zykan] … Errungenschaften aus Sur scène und Anagrama von Mauricio Kagel, aus John Cages Aktionskompositionen sowie aus der dadaistischen Dichtung zusammen, wobei … auch Anregungen durch die Wiener Gruppe … sowie durch Peter Greenham Pate standen.”
  20. HK Gruber, interview by the authors, April 28, 2021. Original wording: “Ich glaub nicht, dass der Zykan vom Kagel ganz bewusst Einiges übernommen hat … Wir haben darüber diskutiert, wie man einige Texte, darunter auch Artmann-Texte, umsetzen könnte, so dass daraus eine Oper oder Ode und so weiter… er hat dann dieses Wortspiel weiterentwickelt, entstehen könnte. Er hat ein paar Musiknummern komponiert, und daraus einige körpersprachliche Gesten abgeleitet, und die hat er dann fixiert, indem er die Musik und die Körpersprache insoweit synchronisiert hat, als er eben aufgeschrieben hat, was parallel zur Musik, der Körper macht. Wir waren im MOB art-Ensemble fünf Leute, jeder von uns hat auch ein Instrument gespielt. Der Zykan Klavier, ich Kontrabass, Volker Altmann Horn, Roland Altmann Schlagzeug, Kurt Prihoda auch Schlagzeug, und so kam es, dass wir uns beim Singen und Sprechen selbst begleitet haben, und aus der Funktion des Musizierens heraus, hat sich dann eine Körpersprache entwickelt, die eben aus der Partitur heraus fixiert war, und wir haben keinerlei schauspielerische Qualitäten entwickeln müssen. Es war eher ein mechanistischer Prozess, nicht vom Tanz kommend oder vom Schauspiel, sondern aus der Idee heraus, so wie man Töne organisiert, dass man auch körpersprachliche Gesten quasi motivisch-thematisch verarbeitet.”
  21. Hartmut Krones, interview by Rainer Buland, quoted after Rainer Buland, “Die ‘Neuen Wilden’: Die musikalische Entwicklung der Komponisten Otto M. Zykan, Kurt Schwertsik und Heinz-Karl Gruber bis zu den Salonkonzerten und der Konzeption der ‘MOB art & tone ART’” (PhD diss., University of Vienna, 1989), 18–19. Original wording: “Die Singer-Singers waren ursprünglich ein aus Freiwilligen zusammengestellter Kammerchor des [Wiener] Jeunesse-Chores. Diese Formation trat zum ersten und einzigen Mal Ende 1966 bei der Uraufführung Zykans siebenteiligem, halbstündigen Werk für einen Sprecher, eine Tänzerin, vier Instrumentalisten, einen Komponisten und einen Chor, auf. … Im Frühjahr 1967 taten sich … [Eva Pilz, Melitta Heinzmann, Christian Bauer, Hartmuth (sic) Krones und Bernd Richter] zu einem Vokal-Ensemble zusammen und bezeichneten sich Singer-Singers. Dieses Ensemble trat zwei Jahre bei den Salonkonzerten auf, hatte große Erfolge, war auf allen Tourneen dabei. … nach Ende 1968 … trat noch kurze Zeit und selten eine andere Partie als Singer-Singers auf; es handelte sich dabei eigentlich um Instrumentalisten, die zuvor bei den … Singer-Singers mitgespielt hatten und jetzt auch sangen: Roland Altmann, Volker Altmann, Rudi Prihoda und Otto M. Zykan selbst.”
  22. Bögl,“Genoveva,” 145.
  23. Ibid., 145–46.
  24. Ibid., 146. Original wording: “durch eindringliche Ton- und Motivwiederholungen wie auch durch ausgedehnte, keilförmig auseinander laufende chromatische Tonleitern im Klavier.”
  25. Ibid., 147. Original wording: “Die vorher exakte Notation wird hier von einer sehr spärlichen Angabe des zu Spielenden kontrastiert.”
  26. Ibid. Original wording: “Aufgrund dieser szenisch-aktionistischen Komponente erklären sich auch die nur noch vereinzelten Töne oder Motive, welche den abschließenden musikalischen Dialog prägen. Zu mehr wären die Instrumentalisten im Spiel auf einem ihnen ‘fremden’ Instrument nicht in der Lage.”
  27. Karin Riessner, “Otto M. Zykan. Ein Portrait” (master’s thesis, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, 1985), 185, quoted after Ibid., 148.
  28. Ibid., 148. Original wording: “Ihre Verabschiedungsgeste von den Instrumentalisten gestaltete sich derart, dass sie der Reihe nach den Schlägel bzw. Bogen eines jeden Musikers in die Hand nahm, einen Ton auf dessen Instrument spielte und darauf hin die Bühne verließ. Dieser spontan wirkende parodistische Einfall wurde schließlich zum formalen System erhoben. Die Musiker setzten den Vorgang des Instrumententausches fort, solange bis ‘die Schlägelübergabe zum Ritual wurde.’”
  29. Riessner, “Otto M. Zykan,” 185, quoted after Ibid., 148. Original wording: “Den letzten Teil des Stückes bildeten drei einander gegenüberstehende Musiker, die einander in genau festgelegter Abfolge die Schlägel übergaben und aus der Hand nahmen. Das Stück endete damit, daß ein Schlägel, beabsichtigt natürlich, auf den Boden fiel.”
  30. Ibid.
  31. Otto M. Zykan, interview by Andrea Zschunke, February 19, 2004, quoted after Zschunke, HK Gruber, 52. Original wording: “Zykan … hatte mit Gruber sein ‘Alter Ego’ gefunden. Als ‘twin brothers’ lösten die beiden bärtigen und sich recht ähnlich sehenden Künstler … mit ihren skurrilen und virtuosen Auftritten ‘einen Hexenkessel von Begeisterung’ aus.”
  32. Buland, “Die ‘Neuen Wilden,’” 22.
  33. Krones, “Dadaistische und asemantische Verfahren,” 148. Original wording: “in eine Schöpfung Gesten und andere Aktionen ein, die sich aus Gegebenheiten des Textes herleiten und diesen gleichsam kommentieren, verdeutlichen oder auch ad absurdum führen.”
  34. Ibid. 147–48. Original wording: “eine grimmige Anklage gegen die von Werbung und Meinungsmanipulation beherrschte Konsumgesellschaft, deren sprachliche, mit permutativen Sprachspielen arbeitende Strukturen sich in der (nahezu ausschließlich gesprochenen) Komposition niederschlugen, aber auch eine wichtige Ergänzung durch Selbstständige formale musikalische Strukturen fanden.”
  35. Helmut Heißenbüttel, Textbücher 1–6 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2021), 130. Original wording: “daß sie was sie sagen sie mögen es auch möchten oder nicht möchten oder immer erst währenddem sich entschließen d.h. garnicht entschließen sondern sozusagen entschließen lassen oder entschlossen werden und dann was sie garnicht mögen möchten oder was sie nicht mögen möchten aber immer was mögen wollen denn das wolln sie ja nichts andres als das das grade ist ja die Gier Unvernunft Besinnungslosigkeit daß sie immer was mögen möchten um jeden oder um garkeinen Preis ganz egal was sonst noch oder was eigentlich und wenn auch was was sie gar nicht möchten aber sie möchten es eben und es ist dieses Drängeln Draufreinfallen plus Übersohrgehaunworden-sein auch wenn sies nicht mögen d.h. daß sie mögen möchten was sie dann nicht mögen und auch nicht möchten weil sie nicht mögen möchten daß sie es möchten und dann denn doch weil es möglich ist daß sies möglich finden weil auf der andern Seite mit solcher Gier Unvernunft Besinnungslosigkeit drauf aus und nichts andres als mögen mögen es mögen mögen und möglich finden und so mögen sie tatsächlich nicht was sie mögen obwohl es möglich ist daß sie es möchten wenn nicht möglicherweisesowieso aber mögen tun sie es letztenendes auf alle Fälle oder vielleicht sollte man sagen daß sie immer wert drauf legen daß wert drauf gelegt wird und wo wert drauf gelegt wird das ist das wo sie wert drauf legen denn eben auf dies wertdrauflegen wo wert darauf gelegt wird wird wert drauf gelegt und einer der wert drauf legt garnicht dazu kommt auf was wert zu legen auf was kein wert gelegt wird obwohl er immer im guten und schlechten Glauben bleiben wird dies getan zu haben sondern dadurch daß jemand überhaupt wert drauf legt daß wert drauf gelegt wird legt er auch immer schon wert auf was auf was wert gelegt wird obwohl natürlich alle die wert drauf legen daß wert drauf gelegt wird wert drauf legen daß das freie Meinung ist.”
  36. Krones, “Dadaistische und asemantische Verfahren,” 148. Original wording: “Sie müssen singen, sprechen, schreiten, zeigen, jeweils andere Partner ostentativ ansehen, sich umdrehen und dirigieren.”
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid., 149. Original wording: “Die Vertonung basiert in ihrem gesamten Verlauf auf einer siebengliedrigen Intervall-Reihe.”
  39. Ibid.
  40. Reproduced with kind permission from Irene Suchy. The graphic design of the special characters was created by Tobias Zotter based on the model from Hartmut Krones’s copy of the score.
  41. Irene Suchy, “Musizieren geht über Sezieren—Körper. Sprache. Form. Otto M. Zykans gestische Partituren und ihre politische Stoßkraft,” in Partituren des Körpers: Geste in Komposition und Aufführung, ed. Irene Suchy and Susanne Kogler (Weitra: Verlag Bibliothek der Provinz, 2017), 48.
  42. Ibid., 54.
  43. Otto M. Zykan, Inscene 2. Satz (Unpublished score, 1967). “Es ist so schwer, etwas Gutes zu komponieren. Hat er den richtigen Ton oder nicht? Nein, er hat ihn nicht! Nun hören Sie diese Stelle an, sie ist weitgehendst konsequent komponiert; doch die Sekund jetzt im Moment war schon wieder falsch wie auch das. Falsch war nur ich, der Sopran, und die Konsequenz ist vertan.”
  44. Zschunke, HK Gruber, 52.
  45. Gruber’s explanation of Revue, quoted after Ibid., 47.
  46. Gruber’s explanation of Revue, quoted after Ibid. Original wording: “Die Motivik besteht aus POP-Floskeln sowie aus für den jeweils agierenden Solisten charakteristischen Gesten.”
  47. Ibid., 67.
  48. HK Gruber, e-mail message to the authors, November 30, 2020. Original wording: “aus der Suite wurde später Frankenstein!! für Chansonnier & Orchester & eine Ensemble Version für 12 Instrumente & Chansonnier.”
  49. Zschunke, HK Gruber, 72 and 67.
  50. Ibid., 72. Original wording: “Damit reagierte Gruber mit musikalischen Mitteln auf den speziellen Ton der verfremdeten Kinderreime, unterstützt durch melodische Motive aus bekannten Kinderliedern. … Lautmalerische Effekte wie etwa die Zwitschermaschine zu den Schwingen der Fledermaus … sorgen zusätzlich für eine stimmig-gruselige Atmosphäre.”
  51. Gruber quoted in Christoph Becher, “HK Gruber-Programm,” Wiener Konzerthaus, May 24, 1998, 5, quoted after Ibid., 73. Original wording: “Mit dieser Background-Musik marschierte ich zum Schwertsik, und der sagte: ‘Heast, für a Background-Musik is des vü zu guad! Da muaßt wos draus machen.’”
  52. Ibid., 73. Original wording: “Wie das Manuskript zeigt, waren … keine größeren Änderungen und Neukompositionen nötig. … [Gruber konnte] alle instrumentatorischen Änderungen und Ergänzungen direkt in die Partitur eintragen, selbst der Text ließ sich auf bestehenden Melodielinien notieren …. Offensichtlich hat Gruber bei der Komposition der Begleitmusik instinktiv den Wortrhythmus der Gedichte mit berücksichtigt.”
  53. Ibid. Original wording: “der ihm beispielsweise vorschlug, bei der ständigen Wiederholungen des tanzenden Monsterchen allmählich den Atem ausgehen zu lassen.”
  54. Ibid., 74.
  55. Ibid., 76.
  56. Ibid., 78.
  57. Ibid., 85. Original wording: “Komik zu erzielen … funktioniert nur bei absoluter Disziplin der Ausführenden. In der Partitur steht noch vor der Liste zur Orchesterbesetzung fett gedruckt: ‘An alle Mitwirkenden! Bitte um Pokerface! Kein Lachen, kein Grinsen!’ … Nur so kann Witz demaskierend wirken und Klamauk vermieden werden, wenn Musikprofis mit Zugflöten und Plastikrohr-Schläuchen hantieren.”
  58. Ibid, 86. Original wording: “Der Solist muss imstande sein, plötzliche und vollkommene Verwandlungen zu vollführen: Zum Beispiel von Kreischen zu Falsett, von Flüstern zu übertrieben opernhaftem Singen, von normalen Lied-Gesang zu ganz privatem Vor-sich-hin-Singen (wie im Bad). Die Artikulation soll freundlich, aber sehr scharf und klar mit betonter Lautmalerei sein, und niemals darf sich der Sänger im Belcanto verlieren. Ein wenig ad lib. Off-Beat-Gesang ist zulässig, je nach Geschmack. Sichtbare Gebärde soll extrem ökonomisch sein, die Haupt-Emphase soll vielmehr im Gesichtsausdruck liegen.”
  59. Hanns Eisler, Ernste Gesänge für Bariton und Streichorchester nach Texten von Hölderlin, Bertolt Viertel, Leopardi, Helmut Richter und Stephan Hermlin (Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik) 1978, preliminary remark in the score, quoted after Ibid., 94.
  60. HK Gruber, e-mail message to the authors, December 3, 2020. Original wording: “Die Aufnahme von der Frankenstein!!-UA hat er von Boosey & Hawkes zugeschickt bekommen. Es war ein BBC-Mitschnitt.”
  61. Telephone conversation with Gruber, December 2, 2020.
  62. “Elbphilharmonie LIVE | Swedish Chamber Orchestra und Heinz Karl Gruber,” YouTube, September 6, 2018, accessed June, 22, 2022.
  63. “Avanti! | Frankenstein!!, Porvoo 1.7.2021,” YouTube, July 1, 2021, accessed June 22, 2022.
  64. Gruber, “HK Gruber über ‘Frankenstein!!’: Gruselstimmung,” Klassik aktuell: Eine Sendung des BR-KLASSIK, Munich, March 20, 2019, 3:49–4:29, accessed September 23, 2020.
  65. HK Gruber, interview by the authors, March 16, 2021. Original wording: “Es ist halt nun einmal so, wenn ein Komponist sein Stück aufgeführt hört, von jemandem, der sich nicht wirklich mit dem Stück befasst hat, dann ist er frustriert, weil das was er sich am Schreibtisch ausgedacht hat, nicht wirklich funktioniert, weil der Dirigent einfach die Schrauben nicht zueinander bringt, und die Zahnräder nicht ineinandergreifen, und dann klingt das so wäh!, schmutzig! Und dann sitzt man als Komponist da, und muss sich so einen Schmarren abliefern lassen. Und das war der große Vorteil des Gustav Mahler. Der Gustav Mahler bestimmt ein Berufsbild, nämlich des Composer-Conducters.”
  66. Otto M. Zykan, Stilbeschreibung, 1991, accessed October 13, 2022. Original wording: “Immer mehr scheint es mir eine Frage moralischer und künstlerischer Lauterkeit zu sein, ob jemand seine Anliegen dem Waren-Kreislauf endloser (endlos nachfolgender) (Regie)Interpretationen—und damit letztlich nichts anderem als der kommerziellen Wiederverwertung—anheimfallen läßt oder nicht.”
  67. Zykan, Stilbeschreibung. Original wording: “persönliches Anliegen schien mir schon damals nur mehr persönlich (also unvermittelt) exekutierbar.”
  68. Michael Mautner, interview by the authors, December 16, 2021. Original wording: “Sie müssen wissen, der Herr Zykan war ein Komponist, der an Aufführungen seiner Musik ohne ihn, nicht wirklich interessiert war, deswegen hat er die Sachen zwar nie weggeschmissen, aber auch nicht in Ordnung hinterlassen. … Er hat Teile aus älteren Stücken in die Staatsoperette hineingenommen, er hat Teile der Staatsoperette in andere Stücke hineingegeben, hat das dann aber nicht irgendwie definiert, sondern es hat einfach gefehlt und war irgendwo anders drin.”
  69. HK Gruber, interview by the authors, April 28, 2021. Original wording: “Wir haben doch in der Musik das beste Beispiel dafür, dass nichts erklärt wird. … Mich interessiert eigentlich das Uninterpretierte. Da fange ich an, aufzuwachen und dann wandert mein Geist in dem Raum herum, und die Musik wirft ja weiter nix als ein Hölzl, das ich aufgreife und dann je nach Assoziationsbegabung etwas für mich ableite. Wir hören heute manche Stücke anders, als wir sie vor 20 Jahren gehört haben. Das ist auch eine Form der Entwicklung von uns selbst, als Hörer.”
  70. HK Gruber, interview by the authors, March 16, 2021. Original wording: “Was der Schönberg da … schreibt, ist eine sehr präzise Anweisung, wie man als Sänger mit seinen Aufgaben umgehen sollte. Der Schönberg schreibt dem Interpreten vor allem: ‘Legen Sie nichts hinein, interpretieren Sie nichts. Alles ist schon komponiert.’”


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