Ulf Bästlein

Ulf Bästlein

“Art is a form of knowledge - as the other knowledge does not provide a full understanding of the world.” Goethe



“Beauty is nothing other than freedom in appearance.”


Teacher, researcher, artist

Before devoting myself to singing, I studied Latin, Greek, German, Italian, Philosophy and Art History in Freiburg, Rome and Vienna. Having passed the state exams in German and Classics, I was awarded a doctoral degree by the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg in 1989 (my doctoral studies were funded by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes). My thesis dealt with the relationship between notes and words (“Notation of orally recited texts”) in early medieval epics.

In parallel, I began to study singing at Freiburg University of Music. Following the advice of my teacher Professor Albrecht Meyerolbersleben, I began to teach singing towards the end of my own studies and continued to do so during the time I spent at various opera houses. Teaching singing responsibly and successfully requires empathy. After all, each student represents a “cosmos” of his or her own, for which the teacher needs to develop a suitable language and method. Naturally, a teacher also needs to possess a wealth of artistic and academic knowledge. However, over my many years of teaching singing, I have become more and more aware of the major role played by intuition and the growing experience of teaching. – Vocal training always means to train and educate not just the voice, but the whole human being. Teachers need to make a constant effort to understand their students. If someone is unable to empathise with their learners as physical and psychological beings, they will remain unable to find the methodological and didactic means and ways appropriate to the young singers in question. The teacher must (want to) develop to the same degree as the student.

In 1993, I was appointed as a Tutor for Singing (as a major and minor subject) at the Lübeck Academy of Music, from 1996 to 2001 I taught at Folkwang University in Essen as a cover professor (singing as a major subject), and in 1999 I was appointed as a professor at the Academy of Music in Lübeck. In 2000 I was offered a position as Professor of Singing at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria.

As a student, doctoral candidate and research assistant at the University of Freiburg, the Sapienza in Rome and the University of Vienna, I often found myself suffering – to use somewhat casual terms – under a certain “barrenness and narrowness” that characterised academic teaching, at least in part. Equally, as a singing student and an opera and concert singer, I was (and am) bothered by many of my colleagues’ (including teachers’) lack of willingness to develop their knowledge beyond a purely reproductive artistic practice. In my opinion, however, it is precisely the detours, the interconnections, the openings between disciplines, subjects and ways of thinking and production that lead to new, fruitful stimuli and insights: in teaching, in artistic practice and in scholarly research.

When I was appointed by the Graz University of Music and Performing Arts (KUG), I was surprised to find that besides offering a very high standard of artistic training, the university was home to an extraordinarily broad (for a music university) and well-positioned scholarly research landscape. In 2007, I was entrusted with directing a board tasked with developing a curriculum for a planned “Artistic Doctoral School”. I thus played a key role in the planning and realisation of this new academic project. It was and is our aim to create a free academic space in a Humboldtian sense that makes a synthesis of conceptual and sensual insight possible and actively contributes to bridging the divide between artistic and scientific research and education. In 2009, the first artistic doctoral school at a music university in a German-speaking country took up its work in Graz. I was chosen as its first director and remained in this position until 2018. From the very beginning, we were of the opinion that this project of an artistic-scientific doctoral school could only succeed if we aimed for an equivalence of artistic activity and scholarly reflection: an “artistic-scientific research”. We have made significant contributions to the (highly controversial!) discourse on artistic research, supervised exciting doctoral projects, organised numerous conferences (which attracted international attention) and developed a successful organisational structure for this completely new kind of graduate school. Furthermore, I have been involved in various publications on artistic-scientific research as an editor and author.

Constantly engaging with this topic, realising and directing the doctoral school, the associated public and private discussions, concerts, lecture recitals and rounds of talks have changed and shaped me as an artist, researcher and teacher. I would not want to have missed these experiences.

In the past years I have also been able to realise my own projects as an artistic researcher (or a researching artist?). From 2008/09 onwards, three volumes of “Lieder by Anselm Hüttenbrenner” (first scholarly, critical edition, Accolade Verlag) were published. In 2009, the Austrian label Gramola published the premiere recording of Lieder by Anselm Hüttenbrenner titled “Die innere Welt” (“The inner world”, piano: Charles Spencer). Four further CDs with numerous premiere recordings for Gramola followed (Sascha El Mouissi: piano): Lied settings of poetry by Friedrich Hebbel (“Und nie vernahm ich noch ein schöneres Lied von Glück und Sieg. Umso verfluchter dann”, 2014), Lied settings of poetry by Johann Heinrich Voß (“Und laut ertönt’s im Hochgesang: Seid menschlich, froh und gut”, 2016), Lied settings of poetry by Karl Gottfried von Leitner (with recited poetry, double CD, “Wie tut mir so wohl der selige Frieden!”, 2017) and Lied settings of poetry by Emanuel Geibel (“Ich blick in mein Herz und ich blick’ in die Welt”, 2017). In 2020 the label NAXOS published the premiere recording of Gustav Jenner's Lied settings of poetry by Theodor Storm und Klaus Groth (titled "Die Welt ist lauter Stille, nur mein Gedanke wacht"; piano: Charles Spencer). All of the CDs were published with extensive booklets including informative, scholarly essays (including by myself) on the topic in question.

In all of this, my aim is to question the criteria that inform the canonisation of entire epochs and work oeuvres. All too often, a hierarchical musical and literary historiography has led to blatant errors of judgement. This goes especially for the authors and composers of the Biedermeier era. Some of these artists, who are well worth rediscovering, were very famous during their own lifetimes. Others – completely undeservedly – never found an audience. My philological and music-historical research and own artistic activity have led to the discovery of some real cultural treasures. These include – to mention just a few representative names here – works by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, Sigismund Thalberg, Franz Paul Lachner, Martin Plüddemann, Emil Matthiesen, Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, Franz Xaver Sterkel, Karl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner, Walther von Goethe and Gustav Jenner. Over recent years, I have developed new concert formats to bring these compositional and linguistic gems closer to the contemporary public; at these events, panel discussions on literary and music history, introductions, poetry recitals and Lied performance come together to create a mutually enriching whole. This gives today’s audiences direct, unobstructed access to these undeservedly forgotten works.  

In 2000, I founded die „Liedkunst“ in Husum (Schleswig-Holstein)in cooperation with the renowned pianist Charles Spencer: http://liedkunst-schloss-vor-husum.de. This annual Lied festival (a cooperation between the state government of Schleswig-Holstein and the Stiftung Nordfriesland) includes the promotion of rising talent in the field (masterclasses and a competition with an awards ceremony) and concerts which have garnered international acclaim. Masterclasses focusing upon a range of content (vocal chamber music, vocal technique, opera, oratorio) often take me to Russia, Turkey, Slovenia, Finland, the Kosovo and Italy. Furthermore, as the Director of the Austrian Chinese Music University, I teach at the China Conservatory in Beijing and the Shanghai Conservatory.

Many of my former students are engaged at various opera houses throughout Europe, have won prizes in international competitions and work at different universities as teachers and professors.

In 2018 the District of North Friesland awarded me its highest accolade, the Hans Momsen Award, for my “outstanding contributions to the cultural life of North Friesland”. 2021 I received the Order of Merit (the highest award of the state of Schleswig-Holstein) for extraordinary services to cultural life in Schleswig-Holstein. In 2023 I was appointed "Distinguished Fellow" of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar.Distinguished Fellow‚ der Klassik Stiftung Weimar ernannt.

Since 2022, I have been co-directing with the Old Testament scholar Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c.. Irmtraud Fischer the "Ausseer Gespräche": an interdisciplinary symposium format that brings science and art together.