Excerpts from scores and sketches by Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Georg Friedrich Haas, Adriana Hölszky, and Luciano Berio. Photograph: Betty Fleck © ZHdK

Jörn Peter Hiekel, what is a polywork?

“Polywork” is a relatively new concept within the discourse on music. This fascinating idea plays a major role within contemporary music. Essentially, it refers to groups of single works, in which each can stand alone, but which can also be interlinked simultaneously, i.e., vertically. Not only European composers but also composers from all over the world have applied this principle, often independently and for different reasons, in order to revive the age-old idea of polyphony. In this respect, one speaks of “form polyphony.” Based on in-depth analyses and reflections, our research project, “Concepts of the Polywork in 20th and 21st Century Music,” offers the first extensive discussion of different “polyworking” strategies and explores the questions and insights arising from their comparison. Thus polyworks research also attempts to cast new light on the hitherto often-neglected category of form in contemporary music.

“Concepts of the Polywork in 20th and 21st Century Music” is a two-year research project (2016–2018) undertaken by the Research Focus in Music Interpretation at Zurich University of the Arts. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF, the project investigates new music created by composers from very different countries and aesthetic contexts, including Luciano Berio, Chaya Czernowin, Julio Estrada, Vinko Globokar, Georg Friedrich Haas, Adriana Hölszky, and Klaus Huber.
Prof. Dr. Jörn Peter Hiekel teaches music history at ZHdK. He runs the SNSF research project “Concepts of the Polywork in 20th and 21st Century Music” jointly with Karin Wetzel.
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