Parallels

How electro musician Christian Löffler reimagines Shellac records from more than 120 years ago

By Deutsche Grammophon

Artwork from Christian Löffler's "Parallels" (2021) by Christian LöfflerDeutsche Grammophon

Dialogue between past and present

Deutsche Grammophon is not just the world’s oldest record label, looking back at more than 120 years of bringing music to the people; it also holds one of the oldest sound archives in the world, dating back to 1898.

On the occasion of its anniversary in 2018, the label partnered with Google Arts & Culture to digitise a part of this treasure trove - more than 400 Shellac tracks from master composers and performers, dated between 1900 and the 1930’s, have thus been rendered accessible again. 

Artwork from Christian Löffler's "Parallels" (2021) by Christian LöfflerDeutsche Grammophon

When the world celebrated Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020, Deutsche Grammophon invited electronic music producer Christian Löffler to rework four Beethoven tracks from original 1920 recordings of the pieces. This cooperation sparked the idea for the record “Parallels”, bringing together Löffler’s atmospheric signature soundscapes with works by Bach, Chopin, Wagner, Smetana, Bizet and, of course, Beethoven. 

Artwork from Christian Löffler's "Parallels" (2021) by Christian LöfflerDeutsche Grammophon

"I was just following my ears choosing them.”, says Löffler about how he picked the works and composers he wanted to rework. “I was searching for parts that really caught my attention. I was jamming on my synths or on the piano to find melodies and sounds that kept the original idea but took it into my universe.“ 
Thus, Löffler would listen attentively to the original recordings searching for hidden gems, tiny moments or melodies that he could unpick, loop, extend and develop. 

Find out more about how he worked with the musical material - and have a listen to “Past” and “Present”:

Thomanerchor Leipzig, Helmut Walcha (organ) - Bach: “Dir dir Jehova will ich singen” BWV 452 (1927) by Thomanerchor Leipzig, Helmut Walcha (organ), Cond. Karl StraubeDeutsche Grammophon

Johann Sebastian Bach: "Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen"

Recorded in 1927 by Leipzig's Thomanerchor and then-Thomanerkantor Karl Straube, "Dir, dir Jehova will ich singen" is a choral composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1736, praising the love for the lord and his mercy. 

Being one of Bach's lesser known compositions, Christian Löffler immediately felt the appeal of the choir's interpretation: “The performance of the Thomanerchor is just breathtaking,” he notes. “I knew from the first listen that this would work very well with my music.”

Christian Löffler: "Dir Jehova"

For his re-imagination of the piece, Christian Löffler removed the original organ sound, adding his own electronic soundscapes beneath the original vocals. The music achieves an even stronger emotional impact through the accompanying film by filmmaker Matias Montecinos, a snapshot of a couple’s relationship through highs and lows.

Richard Strauss, Staatskapelle Berlin - Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (1928) by Staatskapelle Berlin, Richard StraussDeutsche Grammophon

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is certainly one of the most legendary pieces of music history, with the first bars and the famous “fate motive” known around the world even to people less familiar with classical music. 
Yet for his recomposition, Christian Löffler didn’t go for the iconic introduction, but chose the more melodic second movement, as interpreted on this Shellac track by Richard Strauss and the Staatskapelle Berlin in 1928.

Christian Löffler: "Fate"

For “Fate”, Christian Löffler added beats around one of the most renowned string sequence in music history. “When listening to the recordings, I got the idea that Beethoven’s music was actually very human and accessible but became somewhat unearthly with decades of replaying and overthinking it. I wanted to bring it back to the very basic feels.”, he says about his approach. 

Hans Pfitzner, Staatskapelle Berlin - Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" (1930) by Staatskapelle Berlin, Hans PfitznerDeutsche Grammophon

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral"

Almost as famous as the Fifth Symphony is Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, bearing the name “Pastoral”. In it, Beethoven translates his deeply felt love for nature into music, interpreted in this recording from 1930 by Berlin’s Staatskapelle and Hans Pfitzner. 

Christian Löffler: "Pastoral"

Beethoven is present on Christian Löffler’s ‘Pastoral’ track, but only as a far-away echo, in a soft dream-like reminder that greatness is also present in the small details. “Working on ‘Pastoral’, I had the insight that it was a good idea to focus on the quiet parts of the music, that was a milestone in the process of the whole EP”.

The music's fascination also unfolds live, as could be seen and heard at an exclusive "Yellow Lounge" performance at Bonn's Beethoven House, the composer's birthplace. Christian Löffler's music is augmented by the Beethoven Quartett Bonn, adding yet another layer of depth to the re-arranged composition.

Staatskapelle Berlin, Cond. Erich Kleiber - The Moldau (excerpt) (1928) by Staatskapelle Berlin, Cond. Erich KleiberDeutsche Grammophon

Bedřich Smetana: "The Moldau" from "Ma Vlast"

One of Czech Republic’s best-known composers is Bedřich Smetana, who composed a monument to his homeland with the symphonic poems “Má Vlast” (My Fatherland), setting natural images of the country to music. The most popular tune from this cycle is “Vltava”, (The Moldau), composed by Smetana, who similarly to Beethoven suffered from hearing impairments, when he was already completely deaf. Erich Kleiber conducted Berlin’s Staatskapelle for this record of “The Moldau” for Deutsche Grammophon in 1928.

Christian Löffler: "Moldau"

For his interpretation, Christian Löffler toned down the symphonic power of the original, creating a slow build-up with the original tune chiming in from the distance. “I hope my interpretations reach out to people who wouldn’t usually listen to the old masters. There is so much strength, youth and wildness inside this timeless music,” Löffler says about his work. 

Artwork from Christian Löffler's "Parallels" (2021) by Christian LöfflerDeutsche Grammophon

Inspired by his own creative process for “Parallels”, Christian Löffler, who also created the album’s artwork, released an app in collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon which allows music makers and lovers to follow in his footsteps.

The remixing app provides Löffler’s “Moldau” track as well as pre-set sounds — from melody to bassline, strings to synth pads — that can be used to make brand new tunes and share them with the world, building yet another bridge from century-old tracks to contemporary listeners. 

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