Thomas Fortmann has achieved what repeatedly eludes others. Performer/composers who cross the divide separating pop music from classical are a rare, and typically flawed breed. In reality they should have little or nothing in common with those who dabble in ‘crossover’ which is typically neither fish nor fowl.
Among those who have aspired to create something ‘classical’ the better known include Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney.
The fact is German pop idol Thomas Fortmann has achieved what repeatedly eludes others, here and in America. Within his first few opening bars one is aware that the music possesses an integral sense of direction, sure compositional integrity, and a degree of emotional content that immediately engages the attention.
At seventeen he wrote an international pop hit, and within a decade completed one hundred titles published in a total of twenty seven countries. Among the performers were Udo Lindenberg, Alexis Korner, Love Generation, Juergen Drews, Su Kramer, Thor Demon and Toni Vescoli. Ten years later, however, he abruptly turned his back on pop music. Prior to writing these works (now on Divine Art), Fortmann had married, become a father, and moved to the mountains of Intrania in Ticino, Switzerland. There he wrote La Preghiera del Signore, a deeply spiritual piece, performed in churches across Europe. In 1988 he purchased a castle in Tuscany, Italy, and wrote the opera Pinocchio, premièred at Zurich’s Opera house (1991). Pinocchio starred legendary Swiss kabarettistin Ines Torelli and proved Zurich Opera’s biggest success in fifteen years.
Fortmann’s Tango Catolico, a two-movement, nineteen minute ‘dance-chorale’, grows in its stature with increasing acquaintance, invariably a compelling yardstick. After preliminary whisperings and pizzicato punctuation, the quartet proceeds to a lovely increasingly powerful string episode and in turn (two minutes and forty three seconds) introduces a heavily accentuated theme central to the work. The pivotal core of Fortmann’s invention (at six minutes and forty three seconds) culminates in a song-like coda, proceeding without break to the pizzicato-arco tango ‘El Baile’, interrupted midway with stabbing chords. The work melds twelve tone and all-interval elements; and in doing so reveals Fortmann’s distinctive compositional ‘imprint’.
Received with widespread acclaim in Europe, Requiem for an Unborn Child combines absorbing, discomfiting words, and heterogeneous, distinctive composition; it’s an unconventional yet approachable musical language drawing upon German music-theatre tradition found in the work of Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and the Buntes Theater. Caution — do not confuse with composer John Boyle (born 1952), a proponent of spiritual themes, living and working in Montana. Boyle’s thirty-minute Requiem for the Unborn (1995) in four movements — ‘Death’, ‘Hell’, ‘The Void’ and ‘Redemption’ is the principal item on Sacred Music of the 20th Century (Life Art CDs) with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Warsaw National Chorus, conductor Kurt Sprenger. The Fortmann work is a nine-part secular requiem best approached via the composer’s Nietzschean-Dawkinite text. The movements lasting from one minute and fifty eight seconds to five minutes and forty seven seconds are titled ‘The Child’, ‘The Parents’, ‘The Society’, ‘The Creation’, ‘Future 1, 2 & 3,’ ‘No Title’ and ‘Courage’. His thesis — ‘You believe your deeds are eternal. Yet they are not, neither are Nature’s, nor God’s. Change alone is eternal where nothing and all remains in the space of time.’ The Requiem is scored for clarinet quartet and soprano (Danielle Jungblut), periodically in ‘singspiel’ mode. It is highly episodic and seems to lack the more certain impact of Fortmann’s two adjacent works.
Ladyboy (violin, viola and cello — thirteen minutes and twenty six seconds) is intended as an expression of Gesamtkunstwerk — a fusion of the arts, devised by the ancient Greeks and reinvented by Wagner. Launched in full at the Zyklorama exposition in Zurich, this comprehensive art work utilized music, text and visualization. Starting out with growing rhapsodic intensity, the work develops along quasi-elegaic lines with the three instruments in close accord for the first three minutes and twenty seconds. Then, after gruff interjections, the strings return to closely knit unity, beginning in a high register.
Five minutes and twenty seconds into Ladyboy, Fortmann introduces a forward-driving rhythmic segment lasting a minute and ten seconds and returning us to the opening theme. After a lyrical viola solo we find ourselves in step with a quick march eventually settling to a more deliberate rhythm — a brief ponticello moment brings the trio back firmly to Ladyboy’s opening motif.
Amiata Ensemble was founded in Tuscany by composer Fortmann (born Bern, 1951) in the 1990s and during subsequent concert tours it has established a reputation for programmes with works of Messiaen, Bartók, Fortmann, Zappa, Piazzolla and Walton. The ensemble has made many radio broadcasts and given rise to the creation of Accademia Amiata with its Festival Toscano delle Culture.
Thomas Fortmann has crossed the divide separating pop from modern classical music. Best of all, he hasn’t plummeted into the chasm separating both, and littered with the fallen.