er is undoubtedly a Viennese original. Anyone who has had the opportunity to talk to or interview Heinz Karl Gruber will be surprised by the wealth of quirky anecdotes that the musician born on January 3, 1943 tells with pithy wit. This creative wealth of ideas likely inspired him to develop his musical talent in a variety of fields: as composer, conductor, conductor, and double bass player.
The latter has almost fallen into oblivion, although Gruber, who taught from 1957 to 1963 at what was then the Vienna Academy of Music, was the chief double bassist at ORF Radio Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
The last time since his 1976/77 production of “Frankenstein!!” For baritone chansonnier and orchestra, the fact that Heinz Karl Gruber was also a breadwinner receded into the background. Because with this black ironic “Pan-Dämonium” based on the poems of HC Artmann, which allows a similarly deep look into the Austrian soul as the legendary “Herr Karl” by Helmut Qualtinger and Carl Merz, Gruber also entered concert stages internationally as composer.
He had already caused a stir in Austria with the ensemble’s “Drei MOB Stücken” (1968/1977) or the satirical “Reportage from Gomorra” (1975/1976), especially since these works openly relied on elements of folk and light music that he did not want to fit into. With the strict traditions of the Viennese avant-garde.
This puts “Nalli” Gruber, as he is called in Vienna, in the line of Austrian composers who are difficult to categorize in terms of musical history, including Kurt Schwertzik, Gerhard Röhm and Otto M. Zikan. They all share a humorous approach to the music, and its irony can be felt even where the lyrics aren’t used.
He is an incomparable leader himself
However, Gruber’s most grueling work relies on vocals. Especially when he himself appears as an incomparable leader, as in his movie “Frankenstein!!”. With his Viennese charm and fierce rage, he even convinced the legendary Austrian composer Friedrich Serha, who wrote his “Keintate” (1980/1982) and “Eine Art Chansons” (1985/1987) down his throat, so to speak.
Gruber’s vocal focus is not only on contemporary music, but also on songs by older composers, such as Hanns Eisler or Kurt Weill. For works of the latter, such as “The Threepenny Opera” (1999 with the Modern Ensemble), Gruber has also committed himself as conductor with great enthusiasm. The Viennese composer’s operas are also inspired by Weill’s theatrical works. The chamber opera “Gloria von Jaxtberg” (1992/1994) and the Horváth theater “Tales from the Vienna Woods” (2014) have attracted international attention.
In both operas, Heinz Karl Gruber’s social-critical spirit is evident, which still flashes in the erratic rogues or crooked marches. I hope the original Viennese artist continues to write many more sharp-tongued pieces after his eightieth birthday.
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