In memoriam: Gottfried Michael Koenig

13 January 2022

On the afternoon of 30 December, my friend, inspirer and predecessor Gottfried Michael Koenig passed away peacefully at the impressive age of 95.

Koenig retired when the Institute of Sonology moved from Utrecht University to the Royal Conservatoire in 1986, but he has followed developments closely until very recently.
Almost every conversation I have had with him over the years would start with the question “Hoe gaat het op het instituut?”. A superficial answer would not satisfy him: he wanted to hear details about the students, teachers, studios, concerts, etc.
I also reported regularly about the move to the new building and have shown him photos at every next step in the development of Sonology's new facilities, and he was delighted.

He will be missed very much but his radical ideas about composition, his texts, but most of all his music will stay.
I am convinced that we only have begun to understand what the impact of that body of work is.

Let’s end this sad message with a quote from the maestro himself:

“Space is music’s medium of transformation.”
(Bilthoven Course 1961/62)

My very best wishes,
Kees Tazelaar

Gottfried Michael Koenig, born in 1926 in Magdeburg, Germany, studied church music in Braunschweig, composition, piano, analysis and acoustics in Detmold, music representation techniques in Cologne and computer technique in Bonn. He attended the Darmstadt music summer schools for several years, later as a lecturer. From 1954 to 1964 Koenig worked in the electronic music studio of West German Radio in Cologne, assisting other composers (including Stockhausen, Kagel, Evangelisti, Ligeti, Brün), and producing his own electronic compositions (Klangfiguren, Essay, Terminus 1). During this period, he also wrote orchestral and chamber music (for piano, string quartet, woodwind quintet).

From 1958 he was an assistant in the radio drama department at the Cologne academy of music, where he taught electronic music, composition and analysis from 1962. In 1964 Koenig moved to the Netherlands.

Until 1986 he was director and later chairman of the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University. During this period the Institute acquired a worldwide reputation, particularly for its annual Sonology course. Koenig also lectured extensively in the Netherlands and other countries and developed his computer programs Project 1, Project 2 and SSP, designed to formalise the composition of musical structure-variants. He continued to produce electronic works (Terminus 2, the Funktionen series). These were followed by the application of his computer programs, resulting in chamber music (Übung for piano, the Segmente series, 3 ASKO Pieces, String Quartet 1987, 60 Blätter for string trio) and works for orchestra (Beitrag, Concerti e Corali).

Since 1986, when the Institute moved from Utrecht University to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Koenig has continued to compose, produce computer graphics and develop musical expert systems. The first three volumes of his theoretical writings were published between 1991 and 1993 under the title Ästhetische Praxis by Pfau Verlag; an Italian selection appeared under the title Genesi e forma (Semar, Rome 1995). A fourth volume followed in 1999, a fifth in 2002; the sixth (2007) contains a complete thematic index. An English selection was published under the title Process and Form by Wolke Verlag in 2018.

In 1961 Koenig received an incentive award from the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, in 1987 the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize from the City of Amsterdam, in 1991 the Christoph and Stephan Kaske Prize. In 2002 the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Saarbrücken, Germany, awarded Koenig an honorary doctorate. In the winter semester of 2002/2003, he was Visiting Professor for Computer Music at the Technische Universität Berlin. In 2010 Koenig received the Giga-Hertz Prize of ZKM, Karlsruhe. In 2016 he was elected a member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

Video: Concert dedicated to Gottfried Michael Koenig's instrumental and electronic music