Peter Ruzicka

Select your language



Opera in seven stations

Commission by Hamburg State Opera

World premiere: 3 June 2018

Conductor: Peter Ruzicka
Yona Kim (Stage director)
Heike Scheele (sets)
Falk Bauer (costumes)
Reinhard Traub (light Design)
Angela Beuerle (dramaturgy)

Walter B.        Dietrich Henschel 
Asja L.             Lini Gong
Hannah A.      Dorottya Láng 
Bertolt B.        Andreas Conrad
Gershom S.    Tigran Martirossian
Dora S.            Marta Swiderska

Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg
Choir of Hamburgische Staatsoper
Extra choir

What is going through Walter Benjamin's mind when he is fleeing the National Socialists, spending a September night alone in a clearing deep in the Pyrenees? He has no possessions except his briefcase with manuscripts. Before him are the woods that will bring him to the French-Spanish border. Walter Benjamin, always a restless traveller and indefatigable border-crosser in his life as well as in his thought and writings, is now caught in an existential "threshold", in "a zone of dangerous transition" (V, 1025). The "rites of passage" that he holds in this nocturnal forest are those of life and death. And thought itself becomes a question of naked survival; he could continue along the uncertain path through the woods at the break of dawn, and cross the life-saving border after Port Bou without being caught. But the flight could also fail, and the consequence would mean delivery to the National Socialists, which would mean death.

No dialectical thinking, to which he committed himself his entire life together with all vehemence and scepticism, will ever be capable of synthesising the irreconcilable opposition between these two hypotheses. The deep fissure that opens up here is the space where the music theatre BENJAMIN begins. It is a labyrinthine play of remembering and visualisation on the threshold of survival that does not belong to any logic of chronology or unity of location, but becomes solely involved in the vortex, indeed in the flow of blood of the visualisation. Historical and life events, theses and people, real as well as fictitious, will circle round Walter Benjamin, just as erratically flitting as compellingly consistent, and they will always continue to interlock with each other. For the point is not to narrate the biography of Walter Benjamin once again, but rather to attempt a music theatre that wishes to take up, in its dramaturgy, the magical gait of its radically border-crossing thinking that did not search for any closed thought structure or home, but was restless travelling itself. 


A clearing in the forest. The restless change of location that was significant for the life and thought of Walter Benjamin has been brought to a standstill in this forest whilst fleeing the National Socialists. But the forest, a place that initially appears to be static, starts to become transformed unnoticeably. An imaginary change of location is taking place, but it is no less restless or dangerous than the genuine change of place. It is an inward journey, taking place beyond all spatial and chronological laws. These stations, therefore, are not strictly demarcated from each other. Rather, they arise out of mutual friction - impulses pointing the ways towards the next stations rather than the firmly established goals of this journey. Thus the musical interludes between the stations are in a state of flux in which impulses merge together with the ways forward, arriving at new stations.

  • The Seven Stations

First Station

Walter B., Hannah A., Choir, later Gershom S.

   Walter B. is alone with his briefcase in the clearing of a forest. The forest soon reveals itself as a forest of books of the Bibliothéque nationale in Paris, then as the penal colony in Nevers. Walter B. carries on a conversation with Hannah A. about the fact that intellectual cultural assets (Bibliothéque nationale de Paris) can "never be a document of culture" (I, 696), "without simultaneously being a document of barbarism" (Nevers Penal Colony). Acting as these antitheses of culture, the Choir now pushes itself into the middle of the conversation. Gershom S. implores Walter B. to come to Israel to be with him. They are talking about the momentary fissure through which the Messiah can enter.

Musical Interlude

Second Station

Choir, Walter B., Gershom S., Dora K., later Asja L.

   The clearing has become transformed into the port of Marseille. The surrounding dark woods look like the Mediterranean Sea at night. The ship on which Walter B. attempts his first flight to America in disguises as a sailor, turns out to be his nursery in Berlin, and the sounds of the sea reveal themselves as the hectic big-city noise of Berlin during the time of the Weimar Republic. The Choir functions as an acoustical figure of the Mediterranean Sea and of the large city of Berlin. Walter B., Gershom S. and Dora K. are in the midst of a heated argument over the uncertain future of the Weimar Republic. Asja L. appears and makes an ardent speech in favour of the necessity of the Marxist world revolution.

Musical Interlude

Third Station

Asja L., Walter B., later Bertolt B.

   Asja L's speech, interrupted by the musical interlude, now continues in a tender Arioso. During the course of this, the forest clearing soon reveals itself to be a sunny piazza on Capri, then as the Matermania Cave, where Walter B. confesses his love to Asja L. But instead of listening to him, Asja L. suddenly leaps up and joyfully runs into someone standing at the entrance of the cave. It is Bertolt B. Asja L. and Bertolt B. accuse Walter B. of poetic conventionality, challenging him to think and act like a Marxist.

Musical Interlude

Fourth Station

Walter B., Bertolt B., Gershom S., later Hannah A.

   Walter B. is now playing chess with Bertolt B. Whilst Walter B. speaks against the Hitler-Stalin pact, the forest clearing reveals itself to be the Moscow sick-room of Asja L., who has suffered a nervous breakdown. Bertolt B. tries to defend the Hitler-Stalin pact. Gershom S. steps up to the chessboard. He furiously warns Walter B. of the fatal blindness of dogmatic Marxism and again beseeches him to come to Israel. Walter B. is torn between Gershom S. and Bertolt B. Hannah A. joins in this 'tercet'. Everyone is silent. A train appears out of the forest, inexorably approaching all those present. It is the first deportation train rolling over and past 20th century civilisation.

Fifth Station

Choir (Heading of the 4th Draft from CELAN)

Sixth Station

Walter B., Asja L., Children

   Whilst the clouds of dust left behind by the violent train gradually settle, the Berlin nursery of Walter B. becomes visible again. A (surviving?) child appears as rag-and-bone collector and whispers fragments of the poem "Bucklicht Männlein" (Hunchback) to himself. He is joined by several other children. Walter B. with Asja L. try in vain to gather together all the children who are arriving here from all over, in order to organise "the proletarian children's theatre" (II 2, 763). But the children, unimpressed by their efforts, continue to whisper the poem about the slyness and high spirits of the Bucklicht Männlein. "The proletarian children's theatre" appears to be illusory in view of the deportation train. And the burden of the rags of history, carried by the children on their backs, becomes increasingly heavy. They walk ever more hunched over whilst whispering more and more intensively.

Musical Interlude

Seventh Station

Walter B., Asja L., Hannah A., Dora K., Bertolt B., Gershom S.

   Morning has broken. Walter B. stands with his briefcase in the forest clearing as at the first station. But the forest has assumed the form of a Parisian "passage" in the diffuse twilight. The Lied by Henri Duparc "L´invitation au voyage" to the poem of the same title by Charles Baudelaire intones from within this forest passage. It is first sung by Asja L. alone, then with others together polyphonically, in fragmentary fashion and repeated over and over. It is an invitation to continue on the journey. But whither? Walter B. joins in with fragments of sentences from his Baudelaire essay, the cornerstone of his "passages" work, but which comes to an abrupt end. Meanwhile Port Bou has been reached.

Press review

Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin Don’t Talk. They Sing.
"Dietrich Henschel as the doomed German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin in Peter Ruzicka’s “Benjamin” at the Hamburg State Opera."
24 June 2018
Link: The New York Times - Critic’s Notebook


Memorial for trombone and chamber ensemble (2016)

First performance: 15 September 2017, Konzerthaus Blaibach
Ensemble „risonanze erranti“
Conductor: Peter Tilling


String quartet No. 7 (2016)

First performance: 7 May 2017, Hamburg (Elbphilharmonie)
Minguet Quartett

(further performances:  24 October 2017, Wels; 4 November 2017, Berlin)


Erinnerung und Vergessen
for soprano, 18 strings and percussion (2016)

First performance: 5 May 2017, Bremen (Glocke) + 6 May 2017, Hamburg (Elbphilharmonie)

Sarah Maria Sun, Soprano
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie
Conductor: Peter Ruzicka

NEW CD Releases


NEOS CD 11808

NEOS 11808 Ruzicka

"...POSSIBLE-A-CHAQUE-INSTANT, 7. Streichquartett

Minguet Quartett

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin

Conductor: Peter Ruzicka

crossing the border

NEOS CD 11521

NEOS 11521 Ruzicka


(Arrangement of SONATA PER VIOLONCELLO for double bass by Heiko Maschmann)

First performance: 9 January 2017, Kiel, Opernhaus 
Soloist: Heiko Maschmann


Habakuk Traber


Peter Ruzicka. A Monograph of His Works

ruz3 cov-frontPeter Ruzicka is a man of many talents – in the areas of scholarship, linguistics, leadership and creation. His creative passion, composing music, stands at the centre of focus. This monograph concentrates on his musical works. It attempts to trace the composer's path, leading from the "finding of his own language" and early successes up to the present day at the time of writing, 2013. Ruzicka's oeuvre even provided the outline of the book. The presentation follows neither merely the chronology nor the systematology of the genres. The two principal works, the operas, CELAN and HÖLDERLIN, more or less form the focal points of an ellipse; the author progresses through the topography of Ruzicka's composing, in exemplary fashion, in the field of tension formed by this ellipse. Biographical aspects are integrated into this field of tension in those instances where they necessarily interlock with the music.

Wolke Verlag Hofheim 2013, 264 pp.,musical examples
Order free of shipping cost

The present volume places emphasis on Ruzicka's musical production, whereby the circumstances of his life are always taken into consideration insofar as they are linked with the idea and compositional process of the works.
Traber's precise knowledge of Ruzicka's oeuvre is much in evidence from his substantial and linguistically polished presentations of the ideas behind the works and their creative processes, descriptions and analyses of the music as well as the secondary literature to Ruzicka's music. The author's obvious empathy for his subject, however, does not run the risk of becoming a pure hagiography. The ultimate result is an apposite portrait of Ruzicka as a composer who is always concerned with the linguistic competence of music, and one who does not in the least mind writing "music about music" in an unceasing confrontation with the overly rich body of tradition.

Gerhard Dietel, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 1/2014


for orchestra and string quartet (2013/14)

World premiere: 20 June 2015. Linz "Festival Neue Musik"

Minguet Quartett
Brucknerorchester Linz
Conductor: Peter Ruzicka

Further performance:
3 September 2015, Buchurest "George Enescu Festival"
Solartis Quartett
Philharmony "George Enescu"
Conductor: Peter Ruzicka

CLOUDS is a work in progress. The world premiere of the third, considerably expanded version was now performed in Linz; in it, a string quartet is contrasted, in a soloistic manner, with the large orchestra. After the purely orchestral version, premiered at the Rheingau Music Festival in 2012, I was concerned with moving onto an additional level in the musical architecture of the piece. These are factors of introspective contemplation and of developing variation.

My music is searching for an imaginary, remote sound, approaching it without ever completely arriving there. This path leads through sonic clouds: crystalline musical shapes that seem to block one's view in their variable formation and density. A vehement outburst in the entire orchestra, occurring repeatedly, covers up the sonic discourse. Finally, one enters fields containing memories of past events. The path is lined by increasingly fragile, musically over-painted shapes. And gradually, the music appears to return...

Enescu & Ruzicka: Two Premiere Recordings

Peter Ruzicka conducts here the German premiere of the 5th Symphony of George Enescu for tenor, women's choir and orchestra, composed in 1941, and "Isis", a symphonic Adagio, with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, the NDR Choir and the tenor Marius Vlad. The Romanian composer George Enescu only completed short-score versions of these two works, which do not fit neatly into any pigeonhole. They were finally worked out in detail and orchestrated during the 1990s by Pascal Bentoiu to the extent that a considerable co-authorship can be ascribed to him. In "Isis", a symphonic poem for women's choir and orchestra, the beautiful sounds of the women's voices are integrated into the orchestra like instruments. With a larger number of musicians, the Fifth Symphony has a strong sound and is tinged by folklore. Gripping! But "despite his use of a large orchestra, Enescu consistently attains a transparency almost reminiscent of chamber music. The most subtle sound mixtures create a special kind of tension between the complexity of the musical moment and the indefinite expectation of what is yet to come. Enescu's 'forms moved by sound' coalesce to create a more-or-less unending melody, later joined by the human voice in the fourth movement. The setting of the poem by Eminescu appears to sound out from afar; its sonic complexity results in an orchestral part extremely rich in timbres, taking up musical shapes of the previous movements again." (Peter Ruzicka)

Source: (as of: 23.06.2014)

Enescu Symphony5

Enescu: Symphony No. 5
+ Isis
Marius Vlad (Tenor)
Deutsche Radiophilharmonie Saarbrücken/Kaiserslautern
NDR Choir
Peter Ruzicka (conductor)

More Important than all the Mahler Remakes of the Past Decades: Peter Ruzicka with George Enescu's Fifth of 1941
George Enescu's Fifth (1941) exists as a short score; he orchestrated two thirds of the first movement himself, and the rest was accomplished by Pascal Bentoiu in such an impressive way that "ideally matched" almost seems like an insult. Also breathtaking is the way in which the interpreters grasp Enescu's music - these landscapes in evening light with deeply glowing colours, long shadows and underlying murmuring voices. This is a passionate, enraptured song of farewell to a world whose spiritual essence is sensual beauty. Isis (1923), also unfinished, uses the same incantatory formulas. Enescu was modern but not avant-garde in the academic sense; not a constructor, but a natural event. His creations are absolutely unique, without models or successors. It is high time that we finally recognise him as Bartók's brother.

concerti Juli/August 2014 - Volker Tarnow

A better interpretation of these works, more true to the style, can hardly be imagined. The recording of the works by the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken is a true discovery and a deed for which we owe Peter Ruzicka a great deal of gratitude. It gives the orchestra an excellent testimony.

Fono Forum - September 2014 (Star of the Month) - Giselher Schubert

New Enescu World Premiere with Ruzicka

FonoForum acclaimed our first Enescu CD as its »Recommendation of the Month«: »A better and stylistically more faithful interpretation could hardly be imagined. The Enescu recording with the German Radio Philharmonic and Peter Ruzicka is a genuine discovery.« The present recording, like the Symphony No. 5 in D major (cpo 777 823-2), is a world-premiere release conducted by Ruzicka. It emphatically underscores Enescu’s rank as a great symphonist of the twentieth century. Nothing more in his late symphonies appears to us to be Rumanian. And yet this idiom is present in a subtle manner. In many instances he employs the old church mode scales, the scales based on the Byzantine tradition, and combines them with the familiar keys of the major-minor system. Intervals such as the second, fourth, and seventh, demonized by classical harmonic doctrine but loved by Rumanian folk musicians, are frequently encountered in his music. Much later, in Paris, Enescu composed his Chamber Symphony op. 33 for twelve solo instruments, his last work. The composer was in poor health, and it in every way has the character of his last will and testament. The instrumentation has been thinned out, the musical material has been submitted to an absolute standardization, and the four movements vaguely correspond to the formal parts of the classical sonata movement, occurring in succession more or less in the manner of an exposition, a development section, a recapitulation, and a coda. The lament of the trumpet heard in the third movement, which was initially entitled »Adagio funebre,« impressively depicts Enescu’s bitter summation of his life.

Source: (as of: 20.7.2015)

george enescu

Enescu: Symphonie Nr.4 e-moll
+Nuages d'Automne sur les Forets; Kammersymphonie op. 33
NDR Radiophilharmonie
Peter Ruzicka (conductor)