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Kraftwerk and Franz Schubert

Kraftwerk and Franz Schubert
July 01, 2012, 02:20:53 PM
I have often wondered what is behind the title of the concluding track from Kraftwerk's timeless classic Trans Europa Express. Was it that they borrowed one of Schubert’s melodies or were paying homage to his style, perhaps, though it wasn't overt and I'm inclined to believe everything in Kraftwerk has a reason. More likely I have found that they choose to align themselves with this composer much in the way that they choose to label themselves as Robots or Showroom Dummies. That is to say that they correctly identified a large amount of their art as sharing in the same essential qualities that exemplify Schubert's body of work.

Namely simplicity, not necessarily minimalism but the ability to build their music out of solid fundamental elements no matter how grand in scope it sets out to be. Thus they recognize their music as a language of ideals in the abstract and use no more of it than is necessary to communicate to the listener, lest it becomes ambiguous.

Looking at Schubert's symphonies, they were renowned for their simplicity in a time where the orchestra was rapidly expanding (following the innovations set out by Beethoven) yet he chose to work within the tried and tested forms established by Mozart. Even his most developed symphonies seem to flow so naturally and in such an uncomplicated manner, showing little hesitation of artistic inspiration. Likewise Kraftwerk have developed a profound sense of simplicity in their compositional language despite the vast potentials inherent in all the equipment they use.

To that end, both have a natural propensity for creating a rather joyous, lyrical type of melody and phrasing it with the most spontaneous sense of expression imaginable. The type of melodies that might just spring to mind while wandering through an open field or mountain range. This is coupled with a remarkable economy of compositional devices, resulting in the ability to build various themes of great contrast out of a few basic melodic variations. And on that note I find this quote most appropriate:

"If we can convey an idea with one or two notes, it is better than to play a hundred or so notes" - Ralf Hütter

Not least, both artists share a driving sense of the poetic. Schubert of course excelled primarily in the domain of the German art song or lied, writing almost 600 pieces of flawless musical poetry. But Kraftwerk's interests also lie in having some bearing on the domains of speech and poetry despite the fact that a lot of their music stands alone as purely instrumental, really it is a fusion of using the voice as an instrument and writing melodies that appear to speak, much like the perfect lied.

Above all of this there is a remarkable sense of positivism underlying the approach to their conceptual material. Both seem fixated on contemporary subjects and exalt the beauty to be found in the simplicity of everyday life or rather the essential elements of it as opposed to the often dysfunctional and over-complicated life that we might associate with criticism for the modern world. I find this particularly evident in the case of Kraftwerk with their simple, almost ironic lyrics about the humanity/technology duality and their unerring optimism for the future.