Michael Mantler

Michael Mantler at the Moers Festival 2015

Michael Mantler (born August 10, 1943) is an Austrian composer and trumpeter in new jazz and contemporary music.[1]

Career: United States

Mantler was born in Vienna, Austria. He went to the United States in 1962 to study music, and after early activities within the New York avant garde community, including work with Cecil Taylor and the Jazz Composer's Guild, he was a founder of the Jazz Composers' Orchestra Association aka JCOA, a non-profit organisation to commission, perform, and record new compositions for jazz orchestra.

The problems of independently distributing the orchestra's record label led him to form the New Music Distribution Service (as a division of JCOA) in 1972, an organisation which was to serve many independent labels for almost twenty years.

He then had a personal and professional relationship with Carla Bley, to whom he was married from 1967–1992, and with whom he had a daughter, Karen Mantler, now also a musician in her own right. Eventually Bley and he established their own company, WATT a record label, recording studio, and publisher. He toured and recorded extensively with the Carla Bley Band as well as occasionally with his own live performance projects.

Mantler recorded many solo albums with varying instrumentation and personnel, emphasizing his work as a composer rather than as a band leader. Appearing infrequently live, he mostly concentrated on composing and recording. Among others, he recorded an album with the strings of the London Symphony Orchestra plus soloists (Something There), and several albums of songs using the words of writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett (No Answer), Harold Pinter (Silence), and Edward Gorey (The Hapless Child).

Various commissions from and performances with European orchestras followed, including work at Swedish Radio, North and West German Radio, the Lille Opera, and Danish Radio. His 1987 recording, Many Have No Speech, an album of songs in English, German, and French, was based on the poetry of Samuel Beckett, Ernst Meister, and Philippe Soupault. It was written for chamber orchestra, trumpet and guitar soloists, and additionally, for the singing voices of Rock musicians Jack Bruce, Marianne Faithfull, as well as Robert Wyatt.

Career: Europe

In 1991 he left the United States and moved to Europe, dividing his time between Copenhagen, Denmark and the South of France.

A new orchestral piece was commissioned by the Austrian Donau Festival, and was premièred near Vienna in June 1991 by the Nö.Tonkünstlerorchester, conducted by Michael Gibbs, with Andy Sheppard as soloist. New compositions were also commissioned by the Danish Radio Big Band and the North German Radio Big Band in Hamburg.

During 1992 Mantler recorded a new album, titled Folly Seeing All This, released by ECM Records in March 1993, which features The Balanescu String Quartet plus other instrumentalists. The album includes new instrumental compositions, and one song: music set to Samuel Beckett's last work, written shortly before his death in 1989, the poem "What Is the Word", featuring the voice of Jack Bruce.

In 1993 he formed the Chamber Music and Songs ensemble, featuring his trumpet plus Mona Larsen (voice), Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Kim Kristensen (keyboards), and a string quartet consisting of Marianne Sørensen (violin), Mette Winther (viola), Gunnar Lychou (viola), and Helle Sørensen (cello). Its premiere took place at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in September, followed by a studio production at Denmark Radio.

Cerco un Paese Innocente, a "Suite of Songs and Interludes for Voice, Untypical Big Band, and Chamber Ensemble", with words by the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, had its premiere in concert at Denmark Radio in January 1994. Featured were the voice of Mona Larsen, Mantler's ensemble, and the Danish Radio Big Band, conducted by Ole Kock Hansen. The work was subsequently recorded in the studio and released by ECM Records in 1995.

The School of Understanding ("sort-of-an-opera") had its première in August 1996 at Arken, the new Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen. Participants included singers Jack Bruce, Mona Larsen, Susi Hyldgaard, John Greaves, Don Preston, Karen Mantler, Per Jørgensen, and Robert Wyatt. The recording was released as a double-CD by ECM Records in November 1997, followed by a new live production at the Hebbel Theater in Berlin.

His One Symphony, commissioned by the broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk, was premiered in November 1998 by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt, conducted by Peter Rundel. The recording of the work was released in February 2000, together with previously recorded material featuring Mona Larsen and the Chamber Music and Songs ensemble interpreting songs set to texts by Ernst Meister.

Hide and Seek, an album of songs with words by Paul Auster (from his play by the same name) for chamber orchestra and the voices of Robert Wyatt and Susi Hyldgaard, was released in March 2001. Theatrical productions of the work, conceived by Rolf Heim (who has previously worked with Mantler on the School of Understanding performances), were produced in the Spring of 2002 in Copenhagen (Kanonhallen, February) and Berlin (Hebbel Theater, March).

His Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone (originally commissioned by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro in 2001), was premiered at the Hessischer Rundfunk in March 2005 with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Frankfurt, conducted by Pascal Rophé.

During September 2006 Porgy & Bess in Vienna presented a series of retrospective portrait concerts with his "Chamber Music and Songs" ensemble

In recognition of his life's work he received several Austrian awards: the State Prize for Improvised Music, the Prandtauer Prize of the City of St.Pölten (where he spent his early youth), and the Music Prize of the City of Vienna.

The anthology Review (recordings 1968 - 2000), released by ECM in 2006, traced his musical path during more than 30 years of recordings for JCOA, WATT and ECM.

He appeared at the JazzFest Berlin in November 2007 with his Concertos project, featuring the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin under the direction of Roland Kluttig. A studio recording of the concertos with soloists Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Bob Rockwell (tenor saxophone), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Pedro Carneiro (marimba and vibraphone), Majella Stockhausen (piano), Nick Mason (percussion), and Mantler on trumpet, was released by ECM during November 2008.

His next CD (For Two), a series of duets for guitar (Bjarne Roupé) and piano (Per Salo), was released by ECM during June 2011.

New works were commissioned and performed by the Max Brand Ensemble, conducted by Christoph Cech (Chamber Music Eight, Tage der Neuen Musik, Krems, Austria, 2012) and by the Chaos Orchestra, conducted by Arnaud Petit (Oiseaux de Guerre, featuring singer Himiko Paganotti, Forum Blanc-Mesnil, France, 2014).

During September 2013, Porgy & Bess in Vienna presented his Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Update project, featuring the Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band, conducted by Christoph Cech, with soloists Michael Mantler (trumpet), Harry Sokal and Wolfgang Puschnig (saxophones), Bjarne Roupé (guitar), David Helbock (piano) and the radio.string.quartet.vienna. The program included a complete re-working of all the pieces from the original 1968 The Jazz Composer's Orchestra album, as well as of older material from as early as 1963, never before performed or recorded. A selection of recordings from these performances was released by ECM Records during November 2014.


As composer or leader

With Carla Bley

Contributions to Tribute Albums

With others


  1. "Michael Mantler - composer, musician - Biography". Mantlermusic.com. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
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