Valentina Sandu-Dediu


An Eastern-European musicologist can have nothing but gratitude for Helmut Loos’s extensive and passionate body of work, dedicated to music that was, for a certain period of time, rendered obscure by the “iron curtain”. More than 150 years ago, Robert Schumann composed a work that, although not among his more famous compositions, is both profound and strange called Bilder aus Osten. Helmut Loos made Western musicians aware of his own Bilder aus Osten. For decades, musicologists from Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltics, from Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, from Serbia and Slovenia found an ideal place to carry a dialogue in Chemnitz and Leipzig thanks to the tireless efforts of their host, Helmut Loos. That at the centre of their debates stood the reception – including in Eastern-European countries – of key-figures of German music (Beethoven, Schumann, or Wagner), that various themes inspired colleagues from both Western and Eastern Europe (from Ukrainian and Lithuanian music to the traditions of European cities and churches) testifies to his desire to build bridges. Loos himself, for example, worked on George Enescu (to inevitably choose a Romanian example) and raised interest among his colleagues (from Germany, Austria, and other countries) in Eastern European music.

I have often felt, both at the conferences he organised in Leipzig or in the impressive series of volumes he edited (Musikgeschichte in Mittel- und Osteuropa), the common spirit that unites European traditions (regardless of their obvious national differences). To look for traces of Enescu in Leipzig or of Wagner in Bucharest is to move freely within a space where creative impulses travel in all directions, even if they are sometimes restricted by historic and political conditions. Helmut Loos has demonstrated – through his writing and through the events that he has organised – that he himself believes in this shared space. And more than that, he has convinced those around him with unwavering good cheer and pragmatic enthusiasm.

It was from Helmut Loos that I learned – among others – how historiography is shaped by the spirit of the time. Having graduated university just when Communism was coming to an end, I was trained in the rigid style of Romanian musicology. To avoid any and all ideological references (no matter how absurd that sounds), I tackled subjects from an analytical perspective, reducing their “history” to a simple enumeration of information. I couldn’t have imagined then that a book with a title such as Robert Schumann. Werk und Leben1 could probe so deeply and intimately the relationship between the biographies and scores of composers; nor that the perception of the Clara-Robert couple could change over time (due to the feminist movement); least of all could I have assessed the effects of a “protestantisches Arbeitsethos” on Schumann’s oeuvre. These are all examples from a recent book published by Helmut Loos, and I had but one regret after finishing it: that I had not read it before publishing my own short monograph on Schumann in Romanian. 2 


The book on Schumann is but one of the samples provided by Helmut Loss’s rich career as a professor of historical musicology and as passionate and distinguished researcher. Born in 1950, he studied music education at Bonn, and then musicology, the history of art, and philosophy at the University of Bonn. In 1980, he earned his doctorate, and nine years later, his habilitation, having worked as a researcher at the University of Bonn’s Department of Musicology in the meantime. After a short stint as director of the Institute for German Music in the East at Bergish Gladbach (1983-1993), Helmut Loos was made Professor at the Chemnitz University of Technology (1993-2001), where he organised numerous conferences focused largely on Eastern European music, which were often attended by Romanian musicologists, among them the late Francisc László, Octavian Lazăr Cosma and Viorel Cosma. In 2001, Helmut Loos was made Professor at the University of Leipzig’s Institute of Musicology, and served for a few years as dean of the Faculty of History, Arts and Oriental Studies at the same university. In Leipzig, Helmut Loos set up – through the Erasmus office – a working relationship with the NUMB, and visited us as a professor and as a member of doctorate examination committee in 2004 and 2006, and in 2010 agreed to become a member of the editorial board of the journal Musicology Today. He is likewise on the board of journals in Prague, Vilnius, Ljubljana and Princeton.

We must also mention the title of Professor Honoris Causa of the Lviv (Lemberg) Academy of Music, awarded to him in 2003, or his being an honoured member of the Society for German Culture in South-Eastern Europe (Munich, 2005). All this only partially reveals Helmut Loos’s dynamic personality. His intimate interest in Romanian music indicates, more than anything else, his belief that a culturally united Europe can function, and that knowing and listening to your neighbour can represent precious critical tools. I became aware of many of the German musicologist’s opinions and concerns through an interview he gave to our colleague, Florinela Popa, in 2012 for Acord newspaper. For instance, he first came into contact with Romania when he helped the organists of the Cluj Academy of Music transport an organ from an abandoned protestant church in 1992. He later founded, in 1997, at the suggestion of Francisc László an “International Association for the History of Music in Central and Eastern Europe”, which created a shared platform through a series of “Lectures” (“Mitteilungen“). This made possible not just the critical examination of national historiographies, but the exploitation of never before investigated sources such as “The Letters of Musicians as Mirrors of Inter-Regional Cultural Relations in Central and Eastern Europe” (“Musikerbriefe als Spiegel überregionaler Kulturbeziehungen in Mittel- und Osteuropa”) discussed at a conference in Chemnitz, in 2001.

Helmut Loos also took part in a number of International Symposiums within the Enescu Festival, on the reception of Enescu in the German press or focused on the paradigm of bourgeois musical culture (bürgerliche Musikkultur) towards a better understanding the European context in which the Romanian violinist and composer travelled. But all the Romanian nuances in his work are but drops in an ocean of conferences and volumes coordinated by the professor and musicologist – with a good cheer unspoiled by the worries that such endeavours entail – and which would take dozens of pages to note. I will only name here the monumental recent volume Richard Wagner: Persönlichkeit, Werk und Wirkung, edited by Loos, while he also organised a conference on the same topic in Leipzig. And he has now arrived in Bucharest, shortly after another conference he organised at Leipzig on October 22-26, Beethovenrezeption in Mittel- und Osteuropa.
For Eastern-European music and musicologists, Helmut Loos remains an ideal broker, which is just one of the reasons for which we are grateful. We warmly thank him for agreeing to become a member of our academic community and end this presentation with a few words by our honoured guest:

Traditional German musicology, which still has an important part to play through its academic contributions, must be reviewed. Instead of a sententious science of art, focused on masterworks which have been deemed immortal, we must develop a critical historical approach that views musical culture through a realist lens. Lately, a young generation of musicologists has taken great steps in this direction, which will only become stronger in the next five years. The old-fashioned understanding of the hegemony or global domination of German music has been unmasked as a controversial historical phenomenon and thus stands no chance of surviving. After the 20th century, with its world war of national musical cultures, the map of the history of European music needs a new foundation. This we must work on.3

English Version: Dragoș Manea


1 Helmut Loos, Robert Schumann. Werk und Leben (Wien: Edition Steinbauer, 2010)
2 Valentina Sandu-Dediu, Robert Schumann (Bukarest: Ed.Didactică și Pedagogică, 2011)
3 Florinela Popa, ”Interviu cu Helmut Loos”, in Acord, Year 4, no. 15, October 2012: 5