Meet the Music Makers - amarcord

In conversation with Daniel Knauft, co-founder and bass of the vocal ensemble amarcord:

UChicago Presents: You are all former members of the St. Thomas Choir in Leipzig, where you lived together, learned together, and, importantly, sang together. When did you all meet, and what inspired you to form Amarcord out of that environment?

Daniel Knauft, bass: Around the time when the Iron Curtain fell, we all were active members of St. Thomas Boys Choir. So, the initial line-up had been singing together from around 1988-1991, and in fact, when the wall did come down in the fall of 1989, we all had been on a tour through West Germany with the Boys Choir. I think witnessing this historical event was one inspiration. Gaining the freedom that the arts need would eventually also give us the opportunity to turn a mere hobby into a real and full-time profession. But then, we simply wanted to keep singing, too, after nine years of singing Bach’s music at Bach’s grave.

UCP: Why the name “Amarcord”?

DK: Because of all this. Fellini’s iconic 1973 movie of the same title is about a boyhood gang growing up together in Rimini – once upon a time. The literal meaning of “amarcord” – being the equivalent of “mi ricordo” in Emilia-Romagna dialect – is “I remember”. We remember our shared childhood years as well as we recollect times past through music. But it was the sheer, musical sound of the word “amarcord” and the wealth of its connotations that convinced us, after lively debate.

UCP: In 1997, when Amarcord was still a young ensemble, you founded the A Cappella Festival in Leipzig. The festival just celebrated its 20th anniversary in April. What was the impetus for starting the festival, and what has it been like to watch it grow?

DK: The impetus was our wish to celebrate amarcord’s fifth birthday with other vocal groups we had gotten to know at competitions or workshops. Initially, we planned to present one huge concert, but soon had to realize we couldn’t get all the groups to Leipzig at one given point in time. Consequently, it had to be a festival. After the great success of the first edition, we simply were idealistic (or mad) enough to keep going at our own risk and expense. To have brought Anonymous 4, The House Jacks, and Chanticleer to our home town (only to be talking about U.S. groups) was worth the whole effort. Take 6 called our festival “a cappella heaven” – what else should I ask for?

UCP: Your program celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation is centered around Martin Luther’s own contributions to the hymnal canon, as well as his influence on Bach, that most famous of Lutheran composers. Tell us a little bit more about the program and Luther’s influence on Bach.

DK: The starting point from which to embark when creating this program was one question: What were the musical influences on the young Luther? Serving his time as an Augustine monk in an Erfurt monastery, Luther himself had to sing at mass and for the Liturgies of the Hours. His life-long love for music comes from here, from the core of the Catholic rite. His favorite composer was Josquin des Préz, the epitome of a Catholic court composer. And the hymns and chorals he would later bestow on the new church were in many cases “re-formations” of Catholic originals. Since we grew up singing Bach all day, we also wanted to find out ourselves where the Chorals used in his sacred oeuvre were coming from, originally. We were quite pleased to see that Bach as the Lutheran composer had the tolerance to judge not by denominations, name, or origin, but by quality – just like all truly great artists.

Daniel Knauft, co-founder and bass of the vocal ensemble amarcord, started his singing career as a member of the St. Thomas Boys Choir in Leipzig. Parallel to studying medicine at Leipzig University, a research dissertation on the adolescent singing voice has been complementing his musical work with amarcord.

Today, amarcord, laureate of several international competitions, performs world-wide at music festivals and in major concert halls and has recorded some twenty CDs. In 1997, Daniel initiated together with his amarcord colleagues the Festival of Vocal Music “a cappella” in Leipzig and since then actively supports its continuing success.

Daniel is a proud son of Leipzig and considers himself a cultural ambassador of this city that helped change the world and that carries a special spirit running through the centuries.

When at home after concerts, Daniel enjoys spending time in the garden and, alongside his dear ones, occasionally doing nothing (of importance).