Wolfgang Berndt

Composer

France

Author

About

I grew up in Beethoven’s home town, Bonn in Germany, and had piano lessons for most of my school time. As a teenager, I used to compose a bit, mainly in a Beethoven-like style, and when I attended a conservatory in Cologne starting at age about 13, I also took some composition classes there, but as the teacher seemed to have as his main goal to get me towards his own preferred style (12-tone), it was not a big success, and I gradually dropped composing altogether.

I had never planned a musical career anyway, but rather studied mathematics (which had been always my favorite discipline), married in France and worked firstly as a mathematician, then several years in Senegal in linguistic research and Bible translation. I rediscovered composing only in 2017, and since then I am at almost 120 finished piano pieces in different styles, often more or less romantic with influences of Brahms, Débussy, Albéniz or Fauré, but sometimes also in a somewhat jazzy style. More than half of them are already on my Youtube channel.

Sheets

Interview

What does music mean to you personally?

It is a great means to relax, for me personally more by playing than by listening. And composing is a great way to express myself, as for somebody else that may be painting, writing a blog or poetry.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

I’d say it is about creativity. For a composer anyway, while for the person listening to music it is indeed up to their fantasy what to make out of it.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Well in fact, I’m not a professional musician. As a teenager, when I attended a conservatory in Cologne, my piano teacher always assumed that I was going to become a professional pianist – or at least a piano teacher like himself. But I kept telling him that from my early childhood on, I had wanted to study mathematics (which was what I then did). I can be very perfectionist for certain things, but when it comes to piano practising, I never spent more than half an hour a day with that. And when at age about 16, I started to get interested in jazz, he was quite unhappy about that, insisting that jazz destroys the technical skills… Besides music and mathematics, I am also passionate about linguistics, and currently I am working as a freelance translator between English, French and German. But making music gives me a great balance.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

It doesn’t really make me worry. I’d just say it is a pity that many things become more superficial nowadays, including music, starting with things like harmony schemes, which tend to become rather simple. The younger generations are more and more used to zapping, to being less concentrated, everything must be available immediately. But we are all influenced by that, and I am not an exception… thus it doesn’t really happen e.g. that I just sit down at home and listen to a good piece of music (as my father still used to do) without doing anything else in parallel. I am living in France, where classical music is even less part of the culture than in Germany. Some years ago, when we visited a cousin in Eastern Germany, she took us along to a classical concert, where there were many young people in the audience, and each time I mention that to French people, they have a hard time imagining that.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

Most ideas come when I wake up in the middle of the night. It is a bit like with dreams – I need to write the main theme down rapidly, or go to the living room and record some bars with my digital piano, otherwise I’d forget it soon. When I look at that next morning (or later, as I have time), I am often surprised, as I don’t remember at all the idea that came in the night. I have many favorite pieces. The two biggest favorites are probably “Unterwegs” (“on the way”) and “Schneewittchen” (“Snow White”). The first one has an interesting history. In early 2018, I was in Brussels for a seminary, and when I arrived at my airbnb, I learned that they didn’t have wifi… Imagine that! So instead of spending the evening with some random internet surfing, I got out one of my empty music sheets and the composition just started flowing like that. The other big favorite, the quite recent “Schneewittchen”, has a very unusual 7/4 rhythm and comes close in style to Fauré. It just came to me like that and took me only a few days to finish it

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Just discover, be open for new (or, for that matter, old) ideas, try imagining to feel how the composer may have felt in his or her environment!

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Usually not, as my idea is rather to express myself. But for some pieces, I deliberately leave the “classical mindset”, realizing that nothing obliges me e.g. to stick to the rules of contrapunkt when it comes to polyphony, and that supposedly extremely few people care anyway. This being said, when I listen to pieces e.g. on Musescore, I sometimes notice that where in polyphonous contexts, the most basic rules of contrapunkt are not respected, it just "sounds bad" to me (though I am aware that this may be a very subjective perception)! Recently, I have nevertheless come up a growing proportion of “simpler” pieces with less sophisticated harmonies and modulations, and I realize that I am not urged to keep up a stylistic deepness worthy of a Brahms, Albéniz or Fauré. Germans used to distinguish between E-Musik (E for “ernst” = serious) and U-Musik (U for “Unterhaltung” = entertainment), the latter being considered very inferior in my classical upbringing. My father was a gifted violin player and schoolteacher, who BTW had managed at some point to set up a full orchestra in a completely average German secondary school. He also lead a string quartet for many years and his favorite composer was Mozart (the main reason for my parents’ choice of my name!), and though he did like jazz as well (and even integrated it into his school teaching), any other kind of pop music was just considered not serious at home, too superficial. My mother used to play all kinds of recorders and flutes and preferred baroque music as well as traditional popular songs (“Volkslieder”, which maked me rather shiver).

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I have constantly new ideas for pieces. As music is mainly a hobby for me, I am not currently developing a big project, though I would sure like to provide good moments with quality music to more people. I have started to compose some Christian songs, which I would like to introduce gradually in my local church and then, why not, elsewhere. In francophone evangelical churches, about 90% of the current worship music is translated from English.