Interview 10: Berndt Leopolder

Interview 10: Berndt Leopolder

Bernt Leopolder

Berndt Leopolder, from Austria, is a guitarist, composer, and arranger.  Since the late 1980s, in addition to writing and performing, he has taught at various music schools in Salzburg.  He is the composer of some 500 published works, mainly for guitar.  Here at Bergmann Edition, we publish a number of his works including ensembles, collections and concert pieces - 



  • Tell me a little about the range of music you have composed and published.

The range of my composed and published work is very wide. In addition to teaching pieces of that range from beginners to advanced players, I write in genres such as Classical, Romantic, Latin, Folk, Jazz, Blues, etc. and try to mix these styles with each other.

  • You are published by other publishers in addition to Bergmann Edition. When did you first start having your music published? What was the first piece or collection?

I published my first work in 1998 with ABC-Edition in Oberalm (Austria),

a series of 5 sheet music books intended for guitar players who already have some playing experience.

  • You often publish collections rather than single pieces. Do you tend to write them as a collection, or do you write them as individual pieces and then put them together in collections afterwards? 

Sometimes I'm guided by a feeling that you can add something to an overarching musical idea, and then in all likelihood it will become a collection.

Sometimes it's also an improvisational moment that gives me the impetus to write a single piece.

  • You write a lot for teaching purposes. What is your process for this? For example, does each piece have a main function in terms of technical development?

My intention is to give many guitarists the opportunity to play my pieces, so I provide playing instructions (fingerings, etc.) on most pieces because I see it as a continuation and further development of an accompanying/completed textbook.

  • It’s a little difficult to find examples of your music to listen to, played on the guitar. There is a lovely video by Angela Mair of “The Secrets In Your Eyes” and there is audio on the Bergmann Edition website of you playing the same piece. Other than that, I find a number of computer-generated versions.  You’re clearly a very good player: would you ever consider recording discs or YouTube video to accompany your collections?
I could imagine recording and releasing CDs. My focus is for example on Spotify users, since platforms like these are often used nowadays (especially by young listeners). I would also envisage using YouTube as a medium for musical presentations.
  • Talking of “The Secrets In Your Eyes”, that doesn’t sound to me like a piece written for instructional purposes – it is a performance piece, full of melodic and harmonic ideas. And it’s published as a stand-alone publication, not in a collection.  Is this your future direction?

I'd like to write more pieces for performance players in the future.

  • One of the pieces on the Bergmann website, “The Big Sweeper”, says it’s Opus 486. That is an extraordinary number of works to have composed.  What proportion of your time do you devote to composition?
Since I take great pleasure in improvisational music, every day begins with musical experiments. If something musically constructive emerges from an experiment, I will put it down on paper and make a piece. This process usually extends over a period of 1 to 2 hours.
  • Can you remember the first thing you wrote? Tell me something about it – what the circumstances were, what sort of piece? 

The first piece I composed was a folk song I wrote when I was a student (1984 - 1991). First the composition was worked out on the piano, then transferred to the guitar. Later, my compositions took place exclusively with the help of the guitar.

  • What motivates you to compose?
The history of music shows that most composers were also very good improvisers - for this reason I practice playing freely every day, because I enjoy playing for fun.
  • What is the balance in your musical life between playing, teaching and composing?

In my opinion, all 3 components are important for a musician

Composing – to be involved in the creative processTeaching – to pass on guitar and musical skills to the studentPlaying – to present the final product to the audience.
  • Do you write for other instruments?
I have written a number of compositions in which other instruments (piano, flute, violin, etc.) accompany the guitar (duos, trios, quartets and guitar orchestra) but my focus remains on the solo guitar.
  • What sort of music do you listen to yourself?
I like any kind of music that is played passionately and masterfully. I like listening to and playing Antonio Lauro's Valses – they are as colorful as a hummingbird in the Amazonas. Beethoven's 6th symphony "Pastorale" invites me to take a walk in the untouched nature. WA Mozart's Sonata in C major for piano KV 545 - which reflects the lightness of a flying balloon. In addition, there are many musicians who inspire me in jazz (e.g. George Benson, Charlie Parker, etc.)
  • Do you perform in concert? If so, what is a typical set-list?

I play with my band “The Silky Way” (trio) and another band “Wunderland” (quartet). These two line-ups are jazz oriented.

  • As an educator, I imagine you have to understand something about the musical tastes of the generation you are teaching. How much is your writing influenced by this?
It is actually the case that many influences have an effect on me when I am composing. Ultimately, taste in music decides which compositional technique is used.
  • I have many questions about your compositional process – it’s always interesting to other composers, and different composers have told me very different things.
  • What is your approach to a new work? Where do you start?  For example, with a melodic fragment, an idea, a feeling, a principle?
In most cases there are feelings that guide my improvisational actions, which I do exclusively with the guitar.
  • Do you record ideas as you go, or maybe video yourself?
I try to capture musical ideas on a piece of paper first, which I then transfer to a music writing program. I can then listen to these ideas on the PC and process them further.
  • Are you in complete control of what you write? Can you hear the whole thing in your head? Do you know exactly where it is going from the start?
With short pieces I have an idea of ​​how the composition should sound.With longer pieces, I rely on the feeling I bring with me and on the willingness to improvise in order to guide a composition in the right direction.
  • Could you produce pieces to order or to a particular specification? For example if you were commissioned to write a waltz in F major of 2.5 minutes duration with an old-time feel, would you be able to do so?
Since I have already done some commissioned work, I am sure I could write a waltz to these specifications, or other pieces.
  • Is it easy for you? Does the music tend to come quickly?
The ideas for musical themes or parts of a piece are created quickly - the elaboration of the individual parts takes much longer, in order to achieve an ideal coordination of the individual parts.
  • When do you start actually writing the notation? Are you creating a score as you create the piece, or does notation come later?
I only start writing a score once I've set the piece in a condensed (harmonic/rhythmic) state.
  • For a substantial piece like “The Secrets In Your Eyes”, how long would you say it took you to complete?
 For the composition and notation of the piece "The Secrets in your Eyes" I needed about 3 weeks, although I didn't work on it constantly.
  • Would you say you compose in bold strokes, or are you more tentative, trying out lots of alternatives before you settle on a phrase or harmony? How much do you focus on the finer detail?

I'm very fond of detail, so it can happen that I only commit myself to a harmonic or rhythmic phrase when it seems successful and well thought out to me.

  • Does anyone else hear or comment on your work in progress?
My compositions are repeatedly performed in the music school.Next school year we have a big composers project in which many of my ensembles will participate.Many pieces are also used in competitions for young guitarists ("Prima la musica", "Jugend musiziert").
  • Do you generally prefer to work on a small scale or larger?
The guitar tends to favour shorter works, although I occasionally approach larger projects.
  • Do you ever have the feeling that you’ll never be able to write another thing?
Since I listen to a lot and constantly strive to further develop my improvisational skills, I have never had to ask myself this question.
  • Being such a prolific writer, are there ideas and themes you keep coming back to? Melodies and phrases you re-purpose in later works?
I try to give each piece its uniqueness, so I want to avoid reusing melodies/phrases in other works.
  • What is your estimate of the balance between inspiration and hard work in your own compositional process?
Of course, inspiration is not only a source of ideas, but also a motivator that keep me up for the fact that the composition process is hard work.
  • Would you say you were influenced by other composers? If so, who?
Being very open to any genre, I can say that I've been influenced by many composers, songwriters and improvisers - it's beyond the scope of this interview to list them all.
  • Do you have any outstanding ambitions as a composer? A particular type of work you want to write?

I am grateful that I can practice the craft of a composer in addition to playing the guitar. I take every reaction/criticism of a listener into my further work. I would like (if I find enough time) to write a textbook for guitar.

Thank you Berndt for your interesting and well-considered answers and for your enthusiasm in participating in this interview.

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