Interview 10: Berndt 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 - https://bergmann-edition.com/collections/leopolder-berndt
- 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” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHRsCratsPA 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- What is the balance in your musical life between playing, teaching and composing?
In my opinion, all 3 components are important for a musicianComposing – 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?
- What sort of music do you listen to yourself?
- 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?
- 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?
- Do you record ideas as you go, or maybe video yourself?
- 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?
- 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?
- Is it easy for you? Does the music tend to come quickly?
- When do you start actually writing the notation? Are you creating a score as you create the piece, or does notation come later?
- For a substantial piece like “The Secrets In Your Eyes”, how long would you say it took you to complete?
- 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?
- Do you generally prefer to work on a small scale or larger?
- Do you ever have the feeling that you’ll never be able to write another thing?
- Being such a prolific writer, are there ideas and themes you keep coming back to? Melodies and phrases you re-purpose in later works?
- What is your estimate of the balance between inspiration and hard work in your own compositional process?
- Would you say you were influenced by other composers? If so, who?
- 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.