On 20th March we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s birth. For this reason, many concerts featuring his compositions will be performed worldwide, including one of his most famous works, the Konzert “Nobody knows de trouble I see” für Trompete in C und Orchester. This week, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Fabien Gabel and with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist, will play it on 23 March, and on the following day it will be performed by Paul Hübner together with the WDR Sinfonieorchester, conducted by Brad Lubman in the Funkhaus in Cologne.
Originally, the NDR commissioned Zimmermann to compose a piano concerto. However, by referencing the existence of countless piano concertos, Zimmermann was able to convince the NDR to promote the trumpet, which was somewhat neglected as a solo instrument, thereby making repeat performances of the work more probable. He had already made drafts of a trumpet concerto years earlier and completed them after he was commissioned. It was premiered on 11 October 1955 in the Studio X in Hamburg with the Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks and the trumpeter Adolf Scherbaum under the direction of Ernest Bour. At the time of the world premiere, the work was titled “Darkey’s darkness”. After a few years, however, Zimmerman learned that the word “Darkey” was used to describe a person of color in a contemptuous way, so he changed the title of his work to “Nobody knows de trouble I see” in reference to the spiritual that is used in the composition as cantus firmus.
Bernd Alois Zimmermann – Trumpet concerto: Crossover to reconciliation
The spiritual is at the center of the concerto and its structure is similar to that of a chorale prelude. Apart from this modern kind of a cantus firmus, Zimmermann also uses jazz elements and a twelve-tone-row as the basis for the composition. This special row appears frequently in Zimmermann’s work: It is also used in his Concerto for oboe, his film music for “Methamorphose”, and in his ballet Alagoana. By fusing these three formal principles, Zimmermann hoped to demonstrate a kind of fraternal connection in the music in response to the political realities of his time. As a soldier in the NS-regime and during the composition of the piece, Zimmermann’s awareness of the struggle of people of color in the USA to achieve equality and overcome endemic racial discrimination was heightened. He honors this struggle in the spelling of the title: Instead of “the”, Zimmermann uses a spelling based on the sound of the word as it was passed on through oral tradition, “de”.
“By the way I have recently finished a trumpet concerto with the title “Darkey’s darkness”. The negro spiritual “Nobody knows de trouble I see” underlies the work and the musical characteristics of the spiritual inform and imbue the work with the struggles of the coloured people.” –Bernd Alois Zimmermann, 1954
After this week’s concerts, the concerto can even be heard again. On 6 April, it will be performed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist under the conduction of John Storgårds. In addition, as part of a Zimmermann concert series, the SWR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Ingo Metzmacher will perform the trumpet concerto on 28 April with Håkan Hardenberger again as soloist.
The most recent edition of the Schott Journal is dedicated to Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Therein you can find all events about the anniversary and an insight into his most important works.
- Bernd Alois Zimmermann – composer profile
- Trumpet Concerto “Nobody knows de trouble I see” – work details
- Schott Journal: Zimmermann centenary issue