New Simplicity

New Simplicity

New Simplicity (in German, die neue Einfachheit) was a stylistic tendency amongst some of the younger generation of German composers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, reacting against not only the European avant garde of the 1950s and 1960s, but also against the broader tendency toward objectivity found from the beginning of the twentieth century. Alternative terms sometimes used for this movement are "inclusive composition", “new subjectivity” (neue Subjektivität), “new inwardness” (Neue Innigkeit), “New Romanticism”, “New Sensuality”, “New Expressivity”, “New Classicism”, and “New Tonality”.



At the end of the 1970s, the German movement was first recognized by Aribert Reimann, who named seven composers, not previously associated as a group, who had each come to similar positions "in an entirely personal fashion" (Reimann 1979, 25). These seven composers were: Hans-Jürgen von Bose, Hans-Christian von Dadelsen, Detlev Müller-Siemens, Wolfgang Rihm, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Ulrich Stranz, and Manfred Trojahn. In general, these composers strove for an immediacy between the creative impulse and the musical result (in contrast to the elaborate precompositional planning characteristic of the avant garde), with the intention also of communicating more readily with audiences. In some cases this meant a return to the tonal language of the 19th century as well as to the traditional forms (symphony, sonata) and instrumental combinations (string quartet, piano trio) which had been avoided for the most part by the avant garde. For others it meant working with simpler textures or the employment of triadic harmonies in non-tonal contexts. Of the composers most closely identified with this movement, only Wolfgang Rihm has established a significant reputation outside of Germany. At least two writers have gone so far as to argue that one of the Darmstadt avant-garde composers against whom the New Simplicity was ostensibly rebelling, Karlheinz Stockhausen, had anticipated their position in the radical simplification of his style between 1966 and 1974 (Faltin 1979, 192; Andraschke 1981). Another writer finds Rihm's inclusive aesthetic better viewed as "an expansion of constructivist concerns . . . than as a negation of them" (Williams 2006, 384).

Other groups

There is a quite distinct group of composers also active in Germany and elsewhere, to whom the term 'New Simplicity' is occasionally applied. These are particularly associated with the Cologne School and include such figures as Walter Zimmermann, Johannes Fritsch, Clarence Barlow, as well as others from different countries such as Christopher Fox, Gerald Barry, and Kevin Volans. Most of these composers tend to use quite sparse, pared-down musical material (sometimes showing the influence of the early 'naive' period of work from John Cage, and that of Morton Feldman, especially in the case of Zimmermann) to which are applied more intricate musical processes; in the latter respect, the influence of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel is clear, though some of the figures concerned believed their aesthetic to constitute a break with the avant-garde as represented in particular at Darmstadt.

In Denmark some fifteen years earlier than the German movement, a less widely known group also called "The New Simplicity" (Den Ny Enkelhed) arose, including composers Hans Abrahamsen, Henning Christiansen, and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen. This was seen as a specifically Danish response to the complexity of music of the Darmstadt School, but differed from the later German group in that these composers sought to increase rather than decrease objectivity by using the simplest, impersonal musical material in order to liberate it from the composer’s attitudes and feelings (Beyer 2001; Jakobsen 2001).

Some other composers, older and/or of other nationalities, such as Alfred Janson, Aaron Jay Kernis, Wilhelm Killmayer, Ladislav Kupkovic, György Kurtág, Roland Moser, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, Kurt Schwertsik, and Howard Skempton have also occasionally been mentioned in connection with the “New Simplicitists”. This term has also been used essentially synonymously with the related but distinct style of composers referred to as "Holy Minimalists", such as Arvo Pärt and John Tavener.


By the 1990s a new radical approach to composition began to emerge in Germany, reacting against the New Simplicity's pluralism, which tended to acquire arbitrary features in composers lacking solid technical ability. Reference to earlier styles provoked unfavourable comparisons: the aim of comprehensibility and accessibility was seen to have been better achieved by music of the past and in more authentic forms (Schubert 2001).

Other New Simplicity composers


  • Andraschke, Peter. 1981. “Kompositorische Tendenzen bei Karlheinz Stockhausen seit 1965”. In Kolleritsch 1981, 126–43.
  • Beyer, Anders. 2001. "Abrahamsen, Hans." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Blumröder, Christoph von. 1982. "Formel-Komposition—Minimal Music—Neue Einfachheit: Musikalische Konzeptionen der siebziger Jahre". In Neuland Jahrbuch 2 (1981/82), edited by Herbert Henck, 183–205. Bergisch Gladbach: Neuland Verlag.
  • Burde, Wolfgang. 1984. "Junge Komponisten in der Bundesrepublik—auf der Suche nach einer neuen Identität". Universitas 39, no. 5 (May): 559–67.
  • Dibelius, Ulrich. 1995. "Positions—Reactions—Confusions: The Second Wave of German Music After 1945." Contemporary Music Review 12:1, 13–24.
  • Faltin, Peter. 1979. “Über den Verlust des Subjekts in der neuen Musik: Anmerkungen zum komponieren am Ausgang der 70er Jahre.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 10, no. 2. (December): 181–98.
  • Hentschel, Frank. 2006. "Wie neu war die 'Neue Einfachheit'?". Acta Musicologica 78, no. 1:111–31.
  • Jakobsen, Erik H. A. 2001. "Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Pelle". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Kolleritsch, Otto (ed.). 1981. Zur Neuen Einfachheit in der Musik. Studien zur Wertungsforschung 14. Vienna and Graz: Universal Edition (for the Institut für Wertungsforschung an der Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz). ISBN 3-7024-0153-9.
  • Reimann, Aribert. 1979. "Salut für die junge Avantgarde." Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 140, no. 1:25.
  • Reynolds, William H., and Thomas Michelsen. 2001. "Christiansen, Henning". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Schubert, Giselher. 2001. "Germany, Federal Republic of I: Art Music, §5: Since 1918". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Schweinitz, Wolfgang von. 1980. “Points of View” trans. Harriett Watts. Tempo new series, no. 132 (March): 12-14.
  • Volans, Kevin. 1984. Summer Gardens: Conversations with Composers. Newer Music Edition. ISBN 0-620-08530-5. Includes interviews with various composers associated with the 'Cologne School'.
  • Williams, Alastair. 2006. "Swaying with Schumann: Subjectivity and Tradition in Wolfgang Rihm's Fremde Szenen I–III and Related Scores". Music and Letters 87, no. 3:379–97.

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