The romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 - 1843) is known as one of the four founders of modern poetry. The others are Coleridge, Blake and Novalis, but as a poet he is the most important and he was worshipped and admired during the nineteenth century. Since May the third 1807 he lives in an old defence tower in the rampart of Tübingen, a town in the southern part of Germany. Here he meets his friends, Hegel and Schelling among them. When he dies on June the seventh 1843, he has spend almost 40 years of his life in isolation.

When, in November 1970, the brothers Christian and Jochen (Joachim) von Grumbkow decide to use the name of this poet for their new group they get together with Nanny de Ruig, the daughter of a Dutch general, and several other musicians, they have had a lot of experience with some other groups. Since 1963 they play music of the Beatles with the Beatkids and about 1965 the start orientating on the blues with the Action Issue Blues Band. Besides that the brothers play classical music, on trumpet and cello respectively and since 1970 they are influenced by the work of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Fairport Convention, Pentangle and mainly the music of Traffic.
In May 1971 the group is joined by Christoph ‘Nops' Noppeney, who has a classical training on the viola, sociology student Peter ‘Kassim' Käseberg and the classical trained percussionist Michael Bruchmann and in August of the same year they are contracted by Ohr-Musik. This is the record-label of journalist, manager and producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, who invented the name ‘cosmic music' and can be held responsible for groups to have experience with strangle-contracts, juridical procedures and artistic restrictions.

In January 1971 the group records its first LP entitled Hölderlins Traum (Hölderlins Dream). The personel is on this moment, on the pictures from left to right: Nanny (vocals), Nops (violin, viola, piano, flute), Peter Kassim (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals), Michael (drums, percussion), Jochen (cello, transverse flute, acoustic guitar, piano, organ, mellotron) and Christian (guitar). The music on this record can't be described as symphonic rock, but it sounds more like a form of folk-rock with a strong scent of incense. In my opinion it sounds a bit like the music of John Martyn and Christian von Grumbkow says about it: "I would call our music symphonic folk-pop, or classical influenced folk-rock, because our main lead-instruments in this period were, violin, cello and transverse flute."
The music and the German lyrics are quite dreamy and the low voice of Nanny, who in an English magazine from 1977 is called a German Sandy Denny, appears to full advantage. The lyrics of the song ‘Erwachen' (Waking up) reminds strongly of the work of Friedrich Hölderlin. Other lyrics, like ‘Peter' and mainly this of ‘Wetterbericht' (Weather forecast) are more critical on society. Strange enough these lyrics are not included on the cover.
The record is received very well and after a short period of time this new approach of rockmusic has become legendary. The group tours intensively and only in 1973 they perform almost 90 times, partly together with the lyrical Düsseldorfer poet Niklas Stiller, who is reading his own work, during the performances. Further on the group can be seen in television-program's, like ‘Direct' (ZDF) and ‘Probleme' (SWF/BR).
During this year the sound of the group changes. The arrangements grow more complex, "the mainly acoustic played guitar-parts and romantic string-duets are complemented with firm organ- and violin-solo's" (Christian von Grumbkow). The lyrics are getting political more engaged and become a more literary character. The work of German poets like Berthold Brecht is used. At the end of 1973 Nanny de Ruig, who is married with Christian, disappears from the stage, because she is pregnant and wants to spend more time with the children.
This is a serious loss, because the music is strongly written for her voice. The folk-elements are disappearing and improvisation becomes the keyword. The group is working on a concept-album, and the German lyrics as well as a part of the music are completed, "but in a certain way the whole project broke down. We didn't have the energy to complete the whole thing" (Christian von Grumbkow).
In January 1974 the group can be seen in ‘Aspecte', the cultural program from the ZDF and in February they operate numerous, so-called ‘Knast'-concerts. Then in March, the group plays on festivals in Dortmund, Kassel and Hannover and in April and May they are touring Germany.
On the eight of October 1974 they break the contract with Ohr, because the partly engaged lyrics don't fit in the policy of the label, to release fraternising music. This is preceded with a long period of juridical procedures and that is one of the reasons why it is taking so much time before a new record is released. It should then be made for Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and the group rejects this idea. Besides this, the members still don't know which direction to go with their music.
In February 1975 Hoelderlin is finally enters the studio again, to do some recording for the second album which shall be called ‘For Fritz' and to be dedicated to Friedrich Hölderlin. "‘For Fritz' was a ironic reminiscence to Friedrich Hölderlin, which proves the distance we had taken at this moment" (Christian von Grumbkow).
As well as the lyrics in German and English as the title are rejected and finally it becomes a record with lyrics in English and partly German songtitles (‘Schwebebahn' (the hanging public transport system, which is still functioning in Wuppertal), ‘Nurnberg'). The record is entitled Hoelderlin, which also becomes the new spelling of the groups name, although in several articles it is still spelled in the old way. It isn't a real change of the name, because when it isn't possible to use an ‘Umlaut' (the two dots above a letter), it is replaced by a ‘e' behind the involved letter.
Christoph Noppeney, who on the first record played violin, viola, piano and flute, becomes the most important singer of the group and limits himself to playing the viola ( which is a bit bigger than the violin and is tuned a fifth lower) and the acoustic guitar. Joachim von Grumbkow is also singing and Joachim Käseberg, the brother of bass-player Peter, is helping out on guitar. Besides that he is responsible tor the groups stage-sound, a function he occupies during the existence. The group is helped by Zeus B. Held (also playing in Birth Control) on alto-saxophone, Norbert Jacobson (Release Music Orchestra) on clarinet and the by now deceased producer Conny Plank (synthesizer and voice). The latter is to be heard on Death-Watch-Beetle and I suppose he can be held responsible for the whirling synthesizer which can be heard halfway the song. In this piece the group makes for the last time every effort and in this way the highlight of the record is developing, which, after a few pseudo-endings finishes with some faster growing viola-playing from Christoph Noppeney.
The record, with a cover design by Christian von Grumbkow, is well received by critics. Jürgen Frey, who published in Sounds, is a litttle less enthusiastic about Death-Watch-Beetle and he writes that he sometimes tends to lose the thread in the music. Peter Moser who wrote an article about the group in an English magazine, which I mentioned earlier, is very enthusiastic and calls the song a musical tour de force that reminds him of early ELO or the better things of Gentle Giant. Further he writes: "The production really shows here, every instrument has its place, doesn't crowd or clutter, the classical training of Nops Noppeney is very apparent. This cut alone is worth the entire album, a ‘rock classic' in my book. By now the band abandoned singing in German, English lyrics had been adopted, not merely thoughts translated in English, but entities of their own, intelligent, with a sense of humour." The music had become more electric and although there are still folk-influences to be heard, elements of jazz-rock are also finding their place in the music. The lyrics are mostly a bit dreamy.
In the spring of 1975 Peter Käseberg leaves Hoelderlin and is replaced by Hans Bäär, who earlier that year together with his brother Wolf Maahn established the Food Band. The brothers are coming from Berlin, but they move to Munich, were they form a schoolband. This takes place in 1968 and two years later they move to Cologne, where they also play in all kind of amateur groups. Because Hans didn't want to do his compulsory military service, he registered in Berlin. Inhabitants of this place didn't have to serve in the army. To anticipate the discovery he didn't live in this city, he used another name, something he only gave up for a few years. Now he is calling himself Hans Maahn again and he plays amongst others with Gianna Nannini.
In the same year the group can be seen in a television broadcast from the ZDF about ‘Krautrock'-groups and Hoelderlin is used as an example to show how bad the living and working circumstances are for German rockgroups. They also can be seen in the ARD-programm ‘Scene 75', but are nevertheless by readers of Sounds chosen as the most underestimated band of the year.
In January 1976 the group shows up in the recording-studio once more, for the recording of Clowns and Clouds, their third record, which is called by Peter Moser the highlight of their career so far and I think I can agree with that. Perhaps it is even their best record ever. Peter Moser writes: "It is divided into two guiding themes, a Clown side and a Cloud side, though the album is not really a concept album. ‘Madhouse', a fitting introduction to the Clown side features some great jazz rock playing. The band seems even tighter than on previous recordings. It slowly gives way to the ballad ‘Your Eyes', a further reminder of the bands more romantic past. It is chiefly Jochen's showcase, keyboard dominated and some nice vocals, as well as fine viola playing by Nops. Again this cut leads to the sides highpoint, ‘Circus'. In one flowing motion, a gypsy violin heralds its arrival as you are suddenly surrounded by cheering people, the excitement mounts, you feel like a child again. The master of ceremonies announces the show, clowns and dancing bears fill the centre ring, activities everywhere, so much to see, to do, is it real? ‘Circus' is divided into three sections, ‘Tango Milli', ‘Marching' and ‘Sensations' which cleverly convey the whirl of life under the Big Top. If you listen carefully you will see the illusion for yourself.
The cloud side opens with ‘Streaming'. You are lying in the soft spring grass by a clear, swiftly running brook. At peace with yourself, you just lie there on your back staring upward to the passing clouds. Slowly the ripples of water become gentle synthi weavings, joined by guitars, bass and flute. The music transports you to the clouds and suddenly takes you off on a fancy free flight, what have you got to lose? This piece was entirely conceived by new member Hans Bäär and brings more of a rock feel to the overall sound. The group is also joined here by Jörg-Peter Siebert on sax, flute and percussion. By now it has become apparent that Hoelderlin as successfully made the transition from folkrock to full fledged rock jazz without losing their distinctive style. ‘Phasing' the side closer is a good example of that. In just a little over 12 minutes the band showcases their individual talents. It begins rather solemn, then takes on an airey quality that characterizes this whole side as it slowly progresses and builds into a veritable symphony. Altogether a fine production, very well conceived and recorded."
What can be more said about this record. Perhaps I should mention the screaming saxophone notes in ‘Madhouse', which can't be called beautiful, but are very illustrative for the sphere of the song and they fit perfectly in the piece. According tot Christian von Grumbkow there was much improvisation on the record, which contains "complex rockmusic with a leaning towards the orchestral and surrealistic" (Christian von Grumbkow). The beautiful cover, a watercolour of Christian von Grumbkow, shows both sides and is made when the concept of the record is stands firm. Between 1966 and 1971 he studies with Rudolf Schoofs at the Werkkunstschule in Wuppertal and between 1969 and 1970 he did a guest studie at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. From 1971 to 1981 he teaches drawing, painting and printing technics at the Folkwangschule and the Gesamthochschule in Essen. The photographs of the groups members, which can be seen on the backside of the cover are made by Peter de Ruig, Nanny's brother, who is still working as a photographer in The Hague.
The record is received well and the group is making a breakthrough. They are touring frequently and extensively and next to the Scorpions they have logged more live gigs than any other German band. According to the article of Peter Moser their European reviews suggest that they are even better live than on record. With performances at different festivals amongst which those in Heide and Ingolstad, they prove to belong to the German rock-prominents.
On the first of may they play together with the Scorpions and Guru Guru in the old ice-stadium of Füssen, a performance which brings in bad memories by the group. The stadium is on three sides open and when at seven o'clock the performances begin, with the world famous hard-rockgroup as the opening band, the temperature lies around the freezing-point. Hoelderlin is next and Nops starts of in a pace, as if he wants to compensate the lacking heating and the performance is shorter than otherwise. The encore is for Hans Bäär, who plays his solo on bass entitled ‘Mein Baß und ich' (My bass and I). Guru Guru is the closing band.
The next day the group is joined by Jörg-Peter ‘Büdi' Siebert, because he is also playing at performances in Hamburg, Berlin and Munich. Alas the group gets only a audience of 24 people, due to the fact that the concert hall stands in Ulm, which lies in Baden-Württemberg, whilst the organiser is settled in Illertissen, which lies in Bayern. This leads to the fact that the surroundings of Illertissen are full of posters, but in Ulm itself there is not one poster to be found. When you live in Bayern, you don't cross the boundary's of Baden-Württemberg so easily. The representative of the organiser gives the group the option to take their gear and leave and still be payed, but after a long period of talking the group decides to go on stage and perform a complete set, because the audience has payed the full price. Besides this and perhaps the most important argument is the fact that they can practice the programm with Büdi again. The same night brings also a more positive experience. In the radio program ‘Pop-Shop Spezial', from the ‘Südwestfunk' (the regional radio station for south-west Germany) they play the last record of the group and the presentator is very enthusiastic about the record. He praises the perfect production, the richness of ideas and the brilliant technics.
Around the turn of the year 1976, Michael Bruchmann (drums, percussion), Hans Bäär (bass, double bass), Christian von Grumbkow (guitar, banjo), Jochen von Grumbkow (piano, keyboards and Christoph Noppeney (acoustic guitar, viola) are recording the debut-album of the German singer Ina Deter. She was enthusiast about ‘Hölderlins Traum' and asked the group to accompany her and take care of the arrangements. The members of the group make their debut as session-musicians, although Jochen has already some experience in this branch, because he has played cello on ‘ Zeit' of Tangerine Dream. At the end of 1977 Christoph Noppeney plays on ‘Zeus' Amusement' the first solo-LP of former Birth Control keyboardist and saxophone-player Zeus B. Held.
In January and February 1977 the group is touring again and they do some performances in Sweden. Together with Büdi Siebert they do some radio-performances at the Swedish radio and they play in Göteborg. The public exists mainly of students, who know to appreciate the long jazzy improvisations on guitar, viola and cello. Büdi Siebert is also playing with the group of former Blood Sweat and Tears guitarist George Wadenius, who works in the same year together with Pekka Pohjola on the record ‘The Mathematicians Air Display' on which also Mike and Sally Oldfield and Pierre Moerlen can be heard.
The tour is very successful, musically as well as according to the reactions of the public, but when they are home again "we were physical and mentally completely exhausted" (Christian v. Grumbkow). Christian can't combine his job as artist and teacher, with playing in the group and he decides to quit and limits himself to writing lyrics and functions as the manager and contact person. The group has to look for a new guitarist and when a member of Guru Guru (another German band) tells them he knows someone who could fit in de group, they decide to invite him. It is the Spaniard Pablo Weeber, who auditioned with the former group. Christian is still with the group at repetitions and in the recording-studio and next to this he gives lectures amongst other things about the relation between politics and music, and seminars about rockmusic for teachers.
It becomes a heavy time for the group, which is still working in a very democratic way. "Our sound-engineer earns the same as the musicians and me and he also has the same participation-possibilities. Even the four roadies... When they have any ideas, these are always discussed by everybody" (Christian v. Grumbkow). "The new guitarist was a difficult person, who, being a Spaniard, had troubles with the cold and policecontrols (caused by the problems with the Baader Meinhof group) in Germany. He went his own way and was very demanding, but not very co-operative" (Christian v. Grumbkow). With him, the music is becoming more rhythmic, while the jazz-rock influences are disappearing, which can be heard on ‘Rare Birds'.
This album is recorded between the beginning of June and the end of August and the music is compared with those of groups like Soft Machine, Caravan and King Crimson. Maybe the record is not as good as ‘Clowns & Clouds', but the title-song, which is inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin, who spent almost 40 years of his life locked in a tower, is again a new high-point in the work of the group. It is a melancholy piece, sung by Joachim von Grumbkow, with a beautiful dreamy piano-accompaniment and flute-playing. Later-on the soprano-saxophone, played by Büdi Siebert, appears and it seems to fly away in a beautiful solo. "Rare Bird is never played live, stupid isn't it?" (Christian von Grumbkow). It could have been a beautiful resting-point, but perhaps it doesn't lend itself for a live-performance, because of its fragile nature.
‘Before You Lay Down Rough And Thorny', which is written by Pablo Weeber, seems to fall apart in two parts, but even Christian, who is responsible for the lyrics, doesn't know if it are two separate songs. The lyrics of the song are very personal. Pablo Weeber is also responsible for the instrumental ‘Necronomicon', in which Birth Control drummer Manfred von Bohr can be heard.
The cover design is again made by Christian von Grumbkow. "The bird on the cover is meant as a symbol for the dream, fantasy and creativity and the woman symbolises mankind. From the hair of the woman grows the bird, like the powerful subconscious. The consciousness in fact is just the tip of the iceberg, whilst the subconsciousness is the much bigger part under water. Songs as ‘Rare Bird' and ‘Sun Rays' are connected with this theme, as well as all other songs in broadest view."(Christian von Grumbkow).
In the fall, the group is touring again and they put quite a visual spectacle on stage, with projections on a screen which seizes the full width of the stage and is four and a half metre in height. Christoph Noppeney performs besides this, dressed as a giant bird and an old man, which reminds strongly of Peter Gabriels show with Genesis. On the 24th and 25th of October recordings are made for the live-album ‘Traumstadt' in the Operahouse of Wuppertal. Encouraged by a complete full house, the group performs a fantastic concert, with much dynamics, playing pleasure and a richness of ideas.
The double-record, which is released in the beginning of 1978 and contains two new songs, forms the conclusion of a period. On the record there are almost all pieces of ‘Clowns & Clouds', two pieces of ‘Rare Birds' and one of ‘Hoelderlin'. ‘Skylift' and ‘Before You Lay Down Rough And Thorny' are not included, because they didn't come through good. Because Christian has left the group and Büdi Siebert is also lacking, they don't improvise as much as they used to do. ‘Die Stadt' (The City) is a real frantic viola-solo from Christoph Noppeney, in which everything can be heard what you can hear in a city. Besides the viola, that pierces you to the very marrow, there are to be heard a driving bass and drumming, whilst the viola-solo is interrupted by one of rock-musics few good drum-solo's. At the end, the rest of the group joins in and the piece ends in a powerful final chord. The record is closed by ‘Soft Landing', which is originated during performances.
The songs written by Pablo Weeber weren't reprensative enough and they are not on the record. Besides this he left the group at the end of 1977, because of disagreements and differences in attitude about the music. He is replaced by Tommy Lohr (on the records his name is spelled L'Ohr) who has studied at the Darmstadt college of music and who has played for six years in the surroundings of Frankfurt for American soldiers. In this way he gathered lots of experience. The rest of the group is enthusiastic and within three days he learns the repertory.
In March 1978 he joins the group on a tour which brings them also on the folk-rock-festival of Schwenningen. At the same time, Christian exposes his water-paintings in Remscheid and half of the paintings is sold. Before this he had expositions in Wuppertal, Amsterdam and Düsseldorf.
In the fall of this year the group is touring again and on October the 28th, during a performance in the television-program ‘Pop 78', the group performs ‘Gentle Push' for the first time in public. Christoph Noppeney changes the bow for a scalpel and starts studying medicine. Michael Bruchman is leaving the group too. Again the readers of ‘Sounds' chose the group as the most underestimated. Besides this, they like ‘Traumstadt' the second-best record of the year. Of this album 30,000 pieces are sold, which is quit many in comparison with the other recordings of the group, which mostly sell abound 8,000 pieces. The preceding album ‘Rare Birds' is the worst selling, although some journalists think it is the best product, the group made.
In May 1979, Hoelderlin, extended with new members Eduard Schicke on drums (former Schicke Führs und Fröhling, a group Hoelderlin always had admired, which is mutual) and Rüdiger Elze on guitar, gets into the recording studio again. David Hutchins, who was the recording engineer on Genesis' ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway'and who has also worked with Gong, Camel, Eno and some other groups, engineers and co-produces the new record. Hans Bäär can be heard as a singer for the first time, whilst Tommy Lohr plays not only guitar and synthesizers, but is doing some vocal parts as well. Christoph Noppeney, who has never done much writing on the other records, writes the music of six of the eight songs. In one song he takes the lead vocal. Besides this Michael Bruchmann plays drums on one song and the group is assisted by Büdi Siebert (flute) and Bernd König (vocals).
On ‘New Faces' the group sounds very different. The symphonic elements are gone and because the viola of Christoph Noppeney is missing, Hoelderlin has lost a vital element. The music has become more contemporary and it sounds more direct. This is mainly the responsibility of Rüdiger Elze ("I can't listen to the old recordings of the group, because they contain just a mess.") The recording company has the opinion, that Hoelderlin is no longer a grey mouse and supports the selling with 403 great posters in 30 city's.
The style of the cover is very different from the other album-covers. In the polyclinic in Wiesbaden there are made thermographic photographs of the members of the group and for the first time you can see how ‘hot' the musicians really are. The photographs are also shown on the before mentioned posters.
The record is well recieved and in the fall, they go on tour, without Tommy Lohr, but with singer Bernd König. In the November-issue of Fachblatt Music Magazin the reader can find a photo-reportage of 14 pages, which shows the singer is a real enrichment, especially visually. He moves like a real Peter Gabriel over the stage, with costumes and all and in this way illustrates the music in a great way, without ever imitating the former singer of Genesis. Although the songs on the record are much shorter than before, the group gives it al on stage. The critics in the press are laudatory, they write about a warming rock-show (NRZ) with beautiful, perfect music, which is solid and has a strong drive (Nürnberger Nachrichten).
In 1980 Hoelderlin is touring for the last time in the line-up: Bernd König (vocals, keyboards), Joachim von Grumbkow (keyboards, vocals), Hans Bäär (bas, vocals), Tommy Lohr (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Eduard Schicke (drums). They give 40 concerts and the tour becomes a huge succes. In the Olympiapark in Munich the group draws an audience of 8,000 people and in the ‘Markthalle' in Hamburg, the group has to return 5 times for an encore. The last 30 concerts are fully sold-out. Fans are regularly storming the stage and the critics are praising. They write about a strong mix of melodic rock and a imaginative show, virtuoso solos and optical gags. On the 18th of November the group can be seen in the rocknight in Bochum. The Italian television wants to present the group when New Faces is released and the members join the ‘Rockforum' of the Bavarian broadcasting organisation.
The group around singer and showman extraordinaire Bernd König is seen as a candidate for an international career in rockmusic, but alas this doesn't come through. Because they plan to sign a record-deal with another company, they decide to keep their best songs in store and the last record on ‘Spiegelei', ‘Fata Morgana', which they make between March and August 1981 with engineer and co-producer David Hutchins, turns out to be considerable less. The critics write about an uninspired product, without any concept, a description which is, if you compare the album with the other records the group has made, not completely beside the thruth. Nevertheless this record gives the listener some nice songs. The group is singing in German again, which I like and the refrains are appealing to the ear and songs like ‘Hallo', ‘Manchmal' and ‘Kamikaze' are quite good. On the record appear two guest-musicians namely Rüdiger Braune, who plays drums on $upermarkt, and Wolfgang Schubert, who plays the saxophone on Fata Morgana.
Alas this is the end for Hoelderlin, which I consider one of the best bands in the world. Due to the last product, the recordcompanies seem to have lost al interest in the group and they split up. In the beginning of 1981 Hans Bäär forms, together with his friends Rüdiger Elze, Rüdiger Braune and vocalist Uwe Fellensiek, the group Kowalski. This was the execution of a long time plan and before they formed this group, Hans and Rüdiger Elze are playing with the Italian singer Gianna Nannini. The music of the new group can in no way be compared with any work of Hoelderlin.
Eduard Schicke returns to Oldenburg and becomes the owner of a dancing and gives demonstrations with percussion. Tommy Lohr joins the Beatles Revival Band and is working as a studiomusician in Frankfurt. Christoph Noppeney is now working as a paediatrician and is still making music (classical and covers of Hendrix, Clapton, Gabriel and the Stones, just for fun). According to Christian von Grumbkow he is recording some music for a CD, but this not yet released and I wonder if this will ever happen.
Michael Bruchmann owns a shop for drums and other musical instruments and plays with several groups, while still dreaming of a reunion. Christian von Grumbkow is still working as a teacher and painter. He travels around the world, working in Vienna, USA and differend cities in Germany. In 1996 he celebrated his 50th birthday with an exposition in Wuppertal. His work can be seen on his homepage. His brother Joachim worked as an architect and co-orporated with Christian. In 1990 he died. Hans Bäär, who calles himself Maahn again, is working as a session-musician and tours with Gianna Nannini.
In 1994 the records ‘Hoelderlin', ‘Clowns & Clouds', ‘Rare Birds', ‘Traumstadt' and ‘New Faces' are released on CD by WMMS. ‘Hölderlins Traum' is also released, but by MSI. We have to wait for ‘Fata Morgana' to be released, but I don't think this will happen.
The name of Hoelderlin lives on in Hoelderlin Express, a German folk-group.

The story continues

Renate Methöfer