Hans-Karsten Raecke

From Unearthing The Music

Hans-Karsten Raecke with his Blasmetalldosenharfe. Photo courtesy of Hans-Karsten Raecke

Hans-Karsten Raecke (born September 12, 1941 in Rostock) is a German composer and inventor of musical instruments. In 1991, he founded the Klangwerkstatt eV in Mannheim, which later moved its headquarters to the "music distillery" in Rheinsberg.


Raecke grew up in a musical family. His father, a commercial artist by trade, played the piano and his mother the violin. After his father had died in the Soviet Union in 1944 and his mother went to the Federal Republic of Germany after her second marriage, he grew up with his grandmother in Bad Sülze in Mecklenburg, where he received his first piano lessons and later clarinet lessons at the age of five.

From 1962 to 1968 he studied composition, choir and ensemble conducting, piano and clarinet at the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin under Rudolf Wagner-Régeny and also led several choirs. After his graduation, he taught as a lecturer at the Humboldt University in Berlin in basic music theory training, piano practice, harmony, counterpoint and composition. In 1972, he received a prize in the international choir competition of the socialist states in Prague for the cantata "Klagegesang gegen den Krieg" (lament against the war) for baritone solo, twelve choir soloists, choir, speakers and screen projections. From 1972 to 1975, Raecke taught a master class in composition at the Academy of Arts along with Paul Dessau. He later taught at Humboldt University in 1974 before founding the Berlin Klangwerkstatt.

Since then, Raecke has gone his own way with the construction of new wind and string instruments, exploring sonic extensions for the grand piano and delving into electronic music. Performances in Eastern Europe, several appearances at the Warsaw Autumn and a working scholarship at the electronic studio Warsaw followed these activities. Conflicts with the GDR cultural policy prompted Raecke to move to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1980.

In 1980, Raecke was awarded the Kranichstein Music Prize for his solo performances at the Darmstadt Summer Courses. He received scholarships in 1981 from the Experimental Studio of the Heinrich Strobel Foundation in Freiburg im Breisgau, in 1982 from IRCAM in Paris and in 1990 from the Kunststiftung Baden-Württemberg. In 1985, invited by the University of Music Würzburghis, he presented his newly developed instruments as part of the "Days of New Music", in which unusual sound generators and sound sculptures were exhibited by around 30 artists from 5 European countries and acoustically tested in experimental forms of performance. This participation led to Raecke's composition "Das Mecklenburger Pferd" being included on the double-LP "sound sculptures", alongside works by Anestis Logothetis, Klaus Ager and others.

From 1986 to 1993, Raecke taught musical subjects in the Department of Music Therapy at the SRH University of Heidelberg. Concert tours using his custom built instruments and electronics led him through Europe from 1990 onwards, including performances in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm, Vienna, Graz, Basel, Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Brno and Tallinn, as well as in the USA. In 1991 he founded the Mannheimer Klangwerkstatt and was the organizer and artistic director of the Klangwerkstatt Musiktage Mannheim. At the EXPO 2000 in Hanover conceived and presented a musical contribution. In 2014, he relocated to Rheinsberg near Berlin, where he began work on the project "Music Distillery".

Artistic Activity

Hans-Karsten Raecke is one of the composers who, through the construction and construction of new sound generators, the modification of existing instruments and the incorporation of improvisation, have taken the composition process out of the confines of traditional academic content. He understands the work processes of musical invention, writing and playing in the sense of holistic artistic thinking as an indissoluble unity. In many cases, live electronics feature as an important part of this ethos. Initially he had created works for traditional instruments, which were permeated and determined by serial and aleatoric elements. As early as 1971, he had begun to experiment with the preparation of the grand piano in search of possibilities for expanding its sound. The preparation system, which has grown over many years, is tuned to a tone-row mode and consists of 12 sound groups, which follow the line from pure piano sounds to noise. Sampling technology made it possible to transfer this preparation system to a master keyboard. Here, Raecke carried out the compositional development from the bitonal, 12-tone, serial and aleatory mode of operation to forms of model composition. In many of his scores, he overcomes the narrowness of traditional musical notation and, due to its sophisticated and differentiated visual design, is an exponent of musical graphics. Since 1975, around 70 novel wind and string instruments have sprung up in Raecke's workshop, for each of which he has created striking compositions. Raecke followed his own impulses and developed his instruments for his performances as an improviser. In doing so he unmistakably got close to jazz and eventually developed, in co-operation with the jazz musician Günter Sommer, "The secret thoughts of a pachyderm at an inopportune time" for his new wind instruments and percussion.

In addition to all the original enthusiasm and desire for experimenting with sound, the music productions that were created in the GDR in the 1970s are the expression of an unlimited desire for independence. Raecke, who never "denies his musical and political origins", is convinced "that music must have a social claim." For example, some compositions carry titles which, in the spirit of Bertolt Brecht, are to be understood as a political statement, such as the aforementioned "Lament against the War", the "Epitaph on Martin Luther King" (1969) or "The Ashes of Birkenau" (1998). In the style of Igor Stravinsky's and "George Orwell's "1984" Raecke planned a new story of the soldier as "sharp criticism of the military". Writing his music in graphic scores, which give the performers a maximum of creative freedom, may be regarded as an indication of the rebellion against any form of patronizing. Raecke's world of sound and ideas "unmistakably has its landmarks in European as well as in non-European music."

Selected works

Vocal works

  • Lamentations against the war ; Cantata for choir, 12 choral soloists, baritone solo, speaker and image projection; Texts: René Schwachhofer (1972)
  • The ashes of Birkenau ; Solo cantata for male voice and sonorous four-handed piano with live electronics; Texts: Stephan Hermlin (1998)
  • Germany, a winter fairytale ; A musical-dramatic cycle for voice and sound-extended grand piano; Texts: Heinrich Heine (2003)

Orchestral Works

  • Stages and Variation Suite for Orchestra (1968)
  • Journey with three chords for electronic organ and orchestra (1974)

Chamber Music

  • 5 canons on a fugue theme by JS Bach for string quartet (1970)
  • Temperaments for cello solo (1977)
  • Piano / sound-extended grand piano
  • Theme with Variations for Piano (1964)
  • SONATA ON D for piano (1968)

Works for own instruments

  • So......? (A warning song) / ... Or something? (A Song of Repentance) for tenor bambuphone and tape (1978)
  • Kalamos for Bamboo Scarf and Tape (1979)
  • Water music for rubber siphon with and without water (1979)
  • In the Draft for Blas Bamboo Wire Can (1979)
  • Out of the rest for variable Steckbambuphon, tape and Iron Triangle (1979)
  • Air Pressure Zones for Tenor Tension Metal Supon (1982)
  • The sources of blown metal can harp (1982)
  • Proton gallop for tenor train metal uphone, electronic sound and percussion (1982)


  • Montage for trombone and tape (1972)
  • Biotron tape composition with new instruments and electronics (1980)
  • Constellations I - III for Sound Image Generator (2000)


  • Mussorgsky : Pictures of an exhibition (adaptation: Hans-Karsten Raecke)


  • The Mecklenburg Horse - Warmblood for tenor - suraphone and sonically extended grand piano, on: LP "sound sculptures" WERGO SM 1049/50 (1985)
  • Because we should learn the nature again for sound-extended grand piano and speaking voice, on: "Instrumental Theater", a publication in the series "Music in Germany 1950 - 2000" of the German Music Council; BMG Classics; Best.Nr. 74321 73653 2 (year of publication 2004)

Published in Raecke-Klangwerkstatt-Edition:

  • Germany, a Winter's Tale - A musical-dramatic cycle for voice and sound-extended grand piano
  • Air - pressure - zone and because we should learn the nature again and other works on: New Instrument Art for New Music 1
  • Raster 2 and Raster 4 as well as shamrocks (selection) and further works for sonically extended grand pianos on: New instrument art for new music 2
  • Grid 6 , grid 7 , grid 9 and cloverleaf (selection) on: The sound-extended grand piano 1
  • Timing 3 and other works on: The sound-extended grand piano 2
  • Time Without Hope and other works (improvisation) together with Joe Hackbarth
  • Elements for pipe bowl (with live electronics) and blue for blow-metal can harp (with live electronics)
  • Art finale (a musical play in 14 acts)
  • Asleep (master keyboard and sampler)
  • Sound pictures for instruments by Hans-Karsten Raecke and Hugh Davies
  • Shiva Bells , Mandala and other works (together with Mani Neumeier ) on: Prescanned Passages
  • Pictures of an exhibition (adaptation of music by Mussorgsky for choir and instrumental ensemble)
  • Music in the park (an open air canon for the trees and people in the Luisenpark Mannheim)
  • As well as 6 CDs with recordings of the Klangwerkstatt Musiktage Mannheim (from 1992 to 2001)

Written works

  • Riemann Music Encyclopedia, Supplementary Volume Person Part, Mainz (1975), p. 438.
  • U. Stürzbecher: Composers in the GDR - 17 Conversations ; Hildesheim 1979, pp. 332-248.
  • G. Crepaz: Fun and Bitter Serious - Some Remarks on Hans-Karsten Raecke , in: Neuland III (1982/83) pp. 78-80.
  • D. Töpfer: With home-made instruments - Hans-Karsten Raeckes Blasrohr- and string music , in: MusikTexte No. 9 (1985), pp. 32-36.
  • E. Ditter-Stolz: Hans-Karsten Raecke , in: Composers of the Present (Edition Text + Kritik), loose-leaf edition, 5. Nachlieferung.
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd Edition) Vol. 20 (2001) ISBN 0-333-60800-3

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