A Brief Glimpse into an Omnipresent Subject
No trumpeter, no singer can do without them, nor can a concert choir: accompanists accompany their fellow musicians in the most comprehensive sense of the word. And at the mdw, they’re virtually omnipresent—because the course Literaturstudium mit Solokorrepetition (Literature Studies with Solo Repetiteur) is a component of all music-related artistic majors.
This private study with accompaniment is rounded out by accompaniment at lessons with one’s teacher (Klassenkorrepetition), which the mdw’s instrumental studies curriculum likewise describes as “an integral component of instruction”. Recitals for students learning to accompany others on their own are held in cooperation with the performance departments for both bowed and plucked instruments as well as winds and percussion, and the Department of Piano holds dedicated recitals for those studying Lied accompaniment with Markus Hadulla. The former arose from an initiative by mdw instructors Herbert Rüdisser and Meinhard Prinz, who established the specialisation Korrepetition in Instrumentalfächern (Accompaniment of Instrumentalists—now called “Repetiteur for Pianists”) 15 years ago. “Our goal was to embed this emphasis in the piano curriculum and thereby qualify trained pianists to accompany instrumental soloists in order to ensure that they’re able to do so at the highest possible level, which considerably improves their employment opportunities,” explains Rüdisser.
So accompanists accompany students—but beyond that, of course, they also generally help numerous musicians who do solo work to learn new repertoire, prepare for recitals, take part in auditions and competitions, and give major performances in the concert halls of our world.
The well-known flutist, harpsichordist, pianist, and composer Astrid Spitznagel, whom the mdw featured in a portrait concert in May 2019, is one of the individuals who works here as an accompanist. She describes how she conceives of herself and the core competencies involved in this profession as follows: “Accompanists have to fulfil myriad requirements, and the demands placed on them are both high and very specific. You have to be a very good sight-reader and quick to process new information. So when you see a piece of music for the first time when accompanying an entrance exam, for instance, the job is to play it correctly and additionally provide support to the applicant in terms of interpretation or regarding any insecurities they may be dealing with. You also need a great deal of flexibility along with the capacity to listen well, to breathe together with your counterpart, and to be responsive in working with them—not to mention being flexible in terms of your calendar. Thirdly, you have to be capable of error-free transposition—in other words, to be able to play things perfectly in a different key than the one in which they’re written, which is required sometimes when you’re accompanying singers. And finally, the ability to realise a figured bass is likewise extremely valuable in this profession.”
As far as a flexible calendar is concerned: “I’m given the dates of the recitals at which I’m supposed to play, and I also orient myself on the curricula of the students in the harp and contrabass classes that I serve. Then I go looking for a free room,” explains Spitznagel. “I need to either have time or make time on my assigned dates—those are mandatory. Happily, we’ve got a fantastic atmosphere here and a wonderfully collegial working relationship with each other—so we help each other out whenever someone’s unable to play at short notice, which is really great.”
Solo accompaniment makes it possible to try out various different versions and interpretative approaches, developing entire interpretations along with their technical realisation. And soloists are confronted and familiarised with the orchestral parts. On this, Astrid Spitznagel says: “For me, it’s also an opportunity to bring together theory and practice. Technical factors like breathing technique, bowing, attack, and fingerings along with music theory basics such as harmony and theory of form can be combined to produce an interpretation of a particular work.” She views thorough analysis of a given piece as an important part of enabling students to approach its technical realisation with an understanding of its structure, harmonic progressions, form, and history. With this sort of work, she seeks to nurture students’ individuality, ability to reflect, and personality, for which reason she also poses questions that motivate them to be independent in their musical thinking.
“Ours is a very fulfilling profession: we often continue accompanying individual musicians long after they’ve graduated, so we really get to know each other musically and personally, know each other’s individual qualities—and numerous friendships are the result. The joy of repeatedly discovering an oft-played piece anew and the enthusiasm for making music together are always there,” sums up Astrid Spitznagel in conclusion. And it goes without saying that for this versatile musician, mutual respect and esteem as well as the ability to interact respectfully are basic requirements that can’t be prized too highly.
There are several ways one can study accompaniment. In the mdw’s conducting programme, one can specialise in “Opera Accompaniment” as a major. “Piano Vocal Accompaniment” can be studied in dedicated bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes run by the Department of Piano, and the Piano Performance MA programme includes the above-mentioned “Repetiteur for Pianists” as a possible area of specialisation.